Surprisingly, a lot of health issues (and even difficulty losing weight) often comes down to one gland - your thyroid. Thyroid function can indicate what is really going on beneath the surface. It can also push you in the right direction regarding what changes you might need to make to feel your best. But how do you know if it’s working properly or not? And what can you do to improve your thyroid function if it needs a little help? This article explores the thyroid gland, symptoms of thyroid deficiency, ways to test your thyroid function, and how you can treat your thyroid right.
The thyroid gland overview
The thyroid gland plays a significant role in metabolic function, development, and growth. It also regulates key mechanisms that keep you alive, including your heart rate, digestive function, bone maintenance, and more.This little gland sits at the front of the neck, just below your vocal cords. On average, the thyroid gland weighs about 40-60 grams. And it stores the thyroid hormones, known as T3 and T4.These hormones are what signal to your body to increase metabolism, including raising body temperature, increasing heart rate, and more. Without them, your body simply doesn’t function properly. And when the thyroid health is suffering, a cascade of events occurs, impacting other parts of your body and its systems.
Symptoms of thyroid deficiency
One of the most common questions I get, "How do I know my thyroid is not working properly?" or "How do I know if I have a thyroid deficiency of some sort?" Usually, the following signs and symptoms tell-all:
You feel tired and fatigued all the time.
You’re always cold.
You easily gain weight.
Your mood is all over the place or you may experience depression.
You have muscle aches and weakness.
You have thinning hair and brittle nails.
You have a low sex drive.
You experience irregular or painful periods.
In elderly individuals, they may also experience memory issues. For children, they may grow and develop slower than others their age. Further, if an underactive thyroid remains untreated, complications, such as anemia, hearing loss, puffiness, and a slow heart rate, may result.
The most accurate test: basal body temperature
Since the thyroid gland determines your metabolic rate and health, body temperature is a great way to understand whether or not your thyroid is functioning optimally. Why? Because a high and healthy metabolism burns more calories which creates heat. This means that you should have a body temperature of about 97.6°F or 36.4°C upon waking and about 98.6 or 37°C during the day. Alright, so how do you perform this test?You will need an armpit thermometer and about 10-15 minutes to complete the test. It is important to do right when you wake up since this is the more accurate reading (activities, stress, and more may impact your temperature as you go about your day). This test was created by Dr. Broda Barnes, and it is frequently referred to as the ‘Barnes Basal Temperature Test.’Basically, you want to take the thermometer and place it under your armpit. Leave it here for 10 minutes before recording the reading temperature. If your temperature falls below 97.6°F or 36.4°C, you may have an under-active thyroid.Since women are 75% more likely to have a thyroid problem, we should obviously address the role of menstruation in the BBT reading. If you are menstruating, your temperature will naturally be higher during ovulation as it makes the egg more fertile. This increase in temperature will skew the results.For this reason, menstruating women should not take the test during ovulation but instead should begin on the 2nd day of menstruation and should never get closer to 4 days pre-ovulation for accurate readings.
Reasons for low thyroid
Next up, it’s all about understanding why your thyroid function is low. What’s going on? Is it what you’re eating (usually)? Are your hormones imbalance (likely)? Let’s take a closer look.
Iodine is necessary for the production of the thyroid hormones. If you don’t have enough of it, your thyroid is unable to produce these hormones which regulate various processes throughout your body.Iodine is best obtained through seafood, such as cod or shrimp. Dairy products can also sometimes be a good source of iodine. Always make sure you check the labels or do your own research to ensure you understand what you’re putting in your body.However, you want to make sure you don’t megadose on iodine (in other words, you don’t want too much of it). Too much iodine can result in thyroid inflammation - and even thyroid cancer. This is why iodine is only necessary in trace amounts.
A lack of progesterone can result in low thyroid hormone amounts, and vice versa. This means that if you’re low in progesterone (or you have high amounts of estrogen) it can greatly impact your thyroid function. Progesterone can be increased by reducing stress and eating a healthy and balanced diet. This is where it’s important to look at your diet as a whole and understand where improvements can be made.
Copper also plays a huge role when it comes to thyroid hormone production and the thyroid’s ability to regulate metabolism. Surprisingly, the soil that our food is grown in has become very copper deficient, which is resulting in deficiencies within the general population. However, copper can also be readily obtained by eating 100-200 grams of liver per week or by eating a dozen oysters per week. These are very nutrient-dense foods that don’t only help your copper intake but also contain various other trace minerals. Another surprising source of copper is whole food vitamin C. Even Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, MD, PhD (1893-1986), the Nobel Prize winner who “discovered” ascorbic acid, believed very soon thereafter that ascorbic acid in a whole food form was the true beneficial health factor, not ascorbic acid alone.
Whole food Vitamin C also contains tyrosinase, a copper containing enzyme. Tyrosinase does more than controlling the production of melanin on your skin. This is one of the best forms of bioavailable copper you can have.
Vitamin A deficiency
Vitamin A, in the form of retinol, helps regulate thyroid metabolism. This is another vitamin that many individuals do not get enough of. Again, this can also be obtained through 100-200 grams of liver per week, as well as salmon, beef liver, raw milk, ghee, and grass-fed butter, among others.
You might already know that stress can lead to weight gain. Interestingly, this is caused by the relationship between stress and your thyroid hormone. Stress, like the above deficiencies, results in a slower metabolic rate. By actively practicing relaxation techniques and reducing the stress in your life through frequent meals, avoiding overexercising, and eating the right foods, you can eliminate this as a thyroid disruptor.
The hypothalamus and pituitary gland for thyroid
The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are in charge of the thyroid. If the thyroid hormone levels decrease to a level less than optimal, the hypothalamus jumps into action. It secretes the TSH releasing hormone. This signals to the pituitary gland to release the thyroid-stimulating hormone. From there, the thyroid is told to release the thyroid hormones. This means that if anything is off with the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland, it inevitably will impact the thyroid as well. Thus, when it comes to thyroid health, paying attention to the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus is very important.
Keeping the pituitary gland healthy
What should you know to keep your pituitary gland in tip-top shape? Check out the sections below.
Activate Vitamin D from sun
Your body makes and obtains vitamin D best from sun exposure. This is often why many health experts recommend getting at least 15 minutes of sun per day. The sun’s light rays trigger the cholesterol in the skin to create vitamin D, which then impacts the production and stimulation of various hormones relating to the pituitary gland - amongst other functions.
The need for more Vitamin E
Research has also associated vitamin E with secretion problems of the pituitary. For more vitamin E, ensure you include butter, ghee, and other natural animal sources in your diet on the regular!
Keeping the hypothalamus healthy
Now, we’ve talked about keeping your pituitary gland healthy. But what about your hypothalamus? The following offers insight into how to keep your hypothalamus functioning as it should, as well as general health advice that almost everyone should be following.
The hypothalamus controls the brain during sleep. In other words, it shuts down the arousal signals, allowing you to get the slumber you deserve. It’s important to listen to these signals and get the right amount of sleep you need, allowing the hypothalamus to do its job properly. This means practicing good sleep hygiene and aiming for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
Saturated fats are healthy fats and incorrectly demonized. While too much of anything is never good news, a healthy pat or two of butter each day is actually very healthy. However, there is some research indicating high saturated fat intake is associated with hypothalamus dysfunction and inflammation. Ensure you are only eating the recommended amount each day.
Keeping polyunsaturated fats low
Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) can disrupt endocrine processes, including those involving the hypothalamus, and can cause widespread inflammation throughout the body. These are often overlooked as the culprits for various metabolic disorders. Possibly unsurprisingly, many individuals often blame sugar for many of these issues. It’s best to try to reduce your PUFA intake. This means avoiding the use of canola oils or vegetable oils, specifically overheat. It’s alright to have these once and a while in salads, but overall, you probably need to limit your intake of these. PUFAs are found in almost every pre-packaged and processed food item.
Omega-3s are often put up on a pedestal. Many people take them in supplement form, yet this may be creating more problems as opposed to helping improve your health. Omega 3s, such as in supplements, result in free radicals, lipid peroxidation, and acrolein. Acrolein can cause various issues with DNA and has even been considered a possible cause of colon cancer. Free radicals are further known to cause damage and inflammation throughout the body. In turn, this can disrupt hypothalamus function and more. Remember, isolated oils have been stripped from their protective antioxidants like Vitamin E. Whole food is by far a better source since all necessary vitamins and minerals are available for absorption of fats.
Begin Improving Your Thyroid Health One Step At A Time
It takes time to improve your thyroid health. Yet, it all starts with taking those first steps. Do the temperature test. Is your thyroid functioning as it should? If not, it’s time to start analyzing your diet and your stress levels. What are you missing? Where can you improve? Ultimately, food is your foundation. It’s meant to fuel your body and should be treated as such. Take this knowledge and start nourishing your body with the right foods. Your whole life may improve when you do!Further Reading: How to Speed up and Boost Metabolism for Weight Loss
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