I hope that this article finds you all well. As you all now know, I’m taking a small break to get married and go away on honeymoon. I’m very excited. I’m hoping it doesn’t rain as the wedding it outside, so everyone think positive thoughts for sunny skies on October 8 for me!
This article discusses the thyroid gland and the differences between and over and underactive thyroid.
The Butterfly-Shaped Gland
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland, situated in the front part of your neck, which produces hormones needed for normal metabolism. Essentially, you can think of your thyroid hormones as the drums in an orchestra or band; thyroid hormones set the rhythm and the pace for most of our body functions – they regulate our metabolic rate and how fast or slow our organs and tissues function. Disordered thyroid function, therefore, upsets the whole rhythm of the body.
The Highs and Lows of Thyroid Function
Dysfunction of the thyroid can cause a number of different symptoms. Thyroid problems can affect weight, energy levels, appetite and mood; but the effects will be different depending on whether the thyroid gland is over functioning or under functioning.
Hyperthyroidism is a state of over-activity of the thyroid gland with excessive production of thyroid hormones and an increased metabolic rate – it’s as if the drums that set the rhythm for our bodies have sped up too much and are making everything function too fast. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include:
- Feeling hot and intolerant of hot weather
- Weight loss
- Anxiety, restlessness and insomnia
- Excessive sweating
- Increased heart rate
- Fine tremors of the fingers
- High blood pressure
Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, is a state of under-activity of the thyroid gland with an underproduction of thyroid hormone – it’s as if the drums have slowed down and the beat that is running how our body functions is too slow. When your body does not produce enough of the thyroid hormone, the body’s metabolism slows so much that you can experience symptoms such as:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Weight gain
- Intolerance to cold weather
- Brittle hair
- Slow heart rate
- A croaky, hoarse voice
Herbs to Calm The Thyroid
An overactive thyroid can make you feel anxious and restless and can also be a contributing factor to insomnia. A combination of traditional calming herbs may help to manage these symptoms and slow that beating drum that is increasing your metabolism too much. Lemon balm, Rehmannia, Bugleweed and Phyllanthus emblica are traditional herbs with anti-anxiety actions which can help to calm an overactive thyroid. They also provide anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant protection, reducing the negative effects of oxidative stress and inflammation on the thyroid. Lemon balm is easy to grow and makes a delicious tea. (It’s also great for a nervous tummy!)
Eat more of these foods to calm your thyroid:
Cabbage, brussel spouts, cauliflower, broccoli (all raw)
Almonds and walnuts
Soy milk, tofu and soy fibre
Herbs to Balance The Thyroid
On the other hand an under-active thyroid can make you feel tired, cold and depressed. To increase the rhythm of the drum and improve the activity of the thyroid gland, you can use a combination of herbs traditionally used to energise and warm the body. Ginger, goji berry and rosemary are energising herbs which improve circulation, warm the body and are a great source of antioxidants. Ginger and rosemary are easily included in meals as spices, and goji berries are a great snack. Other herbs that help to balance the thyroid which care available with prescription are Withania, Bladderwack and Bacopa.
As well as these herbs to stimulate thyroid activity, there are some vital nutrients required for an under-active thyroid, including:
- Iodine – Iodine is an essential element for the production of thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency is common in many areas of the world, leading to depletion of iodine stores and reduced production of thyroid hormones.
- Selenium – This trace element has many important roles in the body, including crucial roles as a cofactor in enzymes essential for production of thyroid hormones.
- Zinc – Low zinc levels are associated with poor thyroid hormone production and reduced basal metabolic rate.
These foods can assist in balancing underactive thyroid function
- Apricots, dates, egg yolks, parsley, molasses, potatoes, prunes, raw seeds, and whole grains.
- Make sure all foods from the brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts are well cooked).
- Iodine rich foods such as seaweed.
Testing for thyroid problems
These are the most commonly performed and well known forms of testing done, and you can get these tests done by your GP.
The thyroid has a few different hormones and common practice is to first test TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), and if that is out of balance they will then go on to test the main hormones T3 and T4. If these are out of balance, they will then go on to test for thyroid antibodies, which are an indicator of an issue where the immune system attacks the thyroid, being responsible for the imbalance. Another less frequently tested hormone is rT3 (reverse T3).
Below is a brief guide to thyroid tests:
- TSH: High in hypothyroidism | Low in hyperthyroidism
- T4: Low in hypothyroidism (may appear normal) | High in hyperthyroidism
- T3 (tested less frequently): Low in hypothyroidism | High in hyperthyroidism
- rT3: Higher levels may lead to hypothyroidism symptoms.
Symptoms are a good indicator to a practitioner to investigate further. As well as the symptoms listed above, a sign of thyroid imbalance can be a combination of the following:
- Dull facial expression (drooping eyelids)
- Cold intolerance (with cold extremities)
- Poor circulation
- Dry skin, elbow keratosis, brittle nails
- Prolonged Achilles tendon reflex time
- Diffuse hair loss and lateral 1/3 eyebrow
- Slow speech, movement, heart rate
- Puffy face, swollen eyelids
- Fluid retention (body, legs, feet, hands, belly)
- Low body temperature
- Fibrocystic breast disease
Basal body temperature
Basal temperature is controlled by the thyroid and can be a good indicator of how much T3 is active inside cells.
1. Shake down a thermometer to below 35°C and place it by the bed before going to sleep.
2. Upon waking, place the thermometer under the armpit for a full 10 minutes.
3. Remain as still as possible, resting with the eyes closed.
4. Record the temperature for at least 3 consecutive mornings, preferably at the same time of day. Menstruating women must check basal body temperature on the second, third and fourth days of menstruation. Men and menopausal women can check on any 3 consecutive days.
Ideal basal temperature: 36.5°C- 36.8°C
The thyroid gland itself can be scanned with a radioactive isotope or radioactive iodine scan. This will show whether the gland is enlarged, whether there is a goitre on one or more nodules, and whether particular areas are ‘hot’ (that is, are active and take up the isotope or iodine). An ultrasound can also show up a goitre or nodule and whether it is solid or not. In some cases a needle biopsy of a goitre or nodule may be needed and tissue sent to a pathologist for examination to determine whether it is benign or malignant.