Hormones 101-Your Thyroid Gland

Happy January!  This happens to be Thyroid Awareness Month.

Our hormone system is like an orchestra.  We have hundreds of hormones and neurotransmitters coursing through our bloodstream, working together in intricate and beautifully detailed ways to send and receive messages, controlling how our bodies function and stay healthy, like an orchestra playing an exquisite and complicated Rachmaninov symphony.  When one or more of those hormones is out of whack, it’s like the violins suddenly start playing something by the Rolling Stones, and there is discord and chaos, and we feel like crap.

The thyroid gland is a major player in this symphony.

The thyroid gland sits at the base of the throat, and looks a bit like a butterfly.  It is an extremely important endocrine gland, meaning that it manufactures and excretes specific hormones into the bloodstream.  Other endocrine glands include the hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenals, ovaries, testes, pancreas, and pineal.  It is such a complicated and intricate system that I will be barely scratching the surface of how it works, but I hope to give you a tiny bit of insight about it here.

What does the thyroid d0, you ask?

The thyroid, along with cooperation from the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain, produces thyroid hormones which are responsible for controlling your metabolism.  For most people, the first thing they think of when they hear the word metabolism is of course, weight.  Weight gain is often attributed to a sluggish thyroid, but metabolism is about so much more than just the jiggle in your middle.  The hormones produced by this gland affect virtually every part of your body from your skeleton to your heart, and control the metabolic functioning of every single cell.  Your energy levels are largely controlled by this gland.  The hormones secreted by the thyroid are also important for protein synthesis for the building of your muscles and tissues, and calcium levels, which affect your bones and the proper rhythmic functioning of your heart, among other things.

What happens when something goes wrong with the thyroid?

The hypothalamus, pituitary, and thyroid glands work together sort of like the thermostat in your house.  When the level of thyroid hormone is low, the endocrine glands in the brain signal the thyroid to produce more.  When the level is high, the signal goes out for the thyroid to stop production of hormones.  Sometimes the system goes awry, and the messages between the hypothalamus, pituitary, and thyroid don’t go through as they should.  The result can be either chronically elevated hormones (hyperthyroidism), or chronically low levels (hypothyroidism).  Both of these conditions cause all sorts of symptoms. When thyroid hormones are too high, agitation, nervousness, tremors, rapid unexplained weight loss, thin brittle hair and sensitivity to heat are common symptoms.  If hyperthyroid conditions are chronic and sever, Grave’s disease can be the long term result.  If the hormones levels are too low, the results can be sluggishness, weight gain, low libido, sensitivity to cold,  memory and concentration problems, depression, and low body temperature.  Hypothyroidism that is chronic and severe can eventually become Hashimoto’s Thryoiditis.

Here are four ways to keep your thyroid healthy:

AVOID GLUTEN-Gluten is a protein found in some grain foods, especially wheat.  Gluten is similar to thyroid tissue in it’s structure, and can cause problems with the proper function of this important gland.  For more information about gluten, see my earlier post: http://chefamynutrition.com/whats-all-the-fuss-about-gluten/

CHOOSE THE RIGHT FATS-Fat is a vital nutrient, despite the misguided popularity of low fat diets.  Good quality fats are extremely important to the manufacturing and functioning of our hormones, including the thyroid hormones.  What do I mean by “the right fats”?  I mean fats that are produced naturally and not highly processed.  Butter from grass fed cows, extra virgin olive oil, organic unprocessed coconut oil, and yes, even lard and bacon fat from pastured animals are all good choices.  Stay away from highly processed vegetable and seed oils like canola, corn, and soybean oil.  If it comes in a clear plastic jug and sits on a grocery store shelf under fluorescent lights, pass it by. 

BE SURE TO GET ENOUGH IODINE AND TYROSINE-These two nutrients are vital for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland.  Iodine is a mineral that is abundant in things like sea vegetables such as nori, dulse, and kombu, and fish and shellfish (as long as it’s wild caught).  It’s also added to most salt, so is fairly easy to get into your diet.  Tyrosine is an amino acid and is found in meats and seafood, eggs, cheese, nuts, and seeds.  Other nutrients necessary for good thyroid health include selenium and iron.

EXERCISE-Of course we all know that moderate regular exercise can benefit pretty much every system in the body, and the thyroid gland is no exception.  Exercise helps to boost the production of thyroid hormones and keep the metabolism humming, and can also alleviate some of the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, such as low energy and depression.

Show your thyroid some love this month!

This little gland does so much for you, so be sure to send it some good thoughts!  Take care of it, and it will do the same for you.

Thanks for reading!






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