A busy butterfly lives just below your Adam’s apple that is responsible for the regulation of your inner state of balance, or homeostasis. Like a butterfly, the thyroid quietly goes about its business without getting much attention until your doctor checks it with her hands during a routine exam. Unless something unusual is found at that time (e.g., swelling) or symptoms manifest that indicate a problem, there won’t be much further ado about your thyroid. Let’s take a moment to find out what the thyroid does, how to know if there’s a problem, and how to keep your thyroid healthy.
The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, which includes the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, thymus, pineal gland, testes, ovaries, adrenal glands, parathyroid, and pancreas. It makes hormones (e.g., T3, T4) that travel through your bloodstream and regulate your metabolism, brain and heart function, and reproductive and menstrual cycles.
When the thyroid is not functioning properly, a chain reaction of hormonal events takes place that involves many other glands and hormones of the endocrine system and the bodily systems they regulate. The end result is one of two primary types of health conditions: hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
HYPERthyroidism results when the thyroid is overactive. Think of hyperthyroidism like a butterfly that can’t stop fluttering its wings. Everything is on overdrive, including metabolism, frequency of bowels, emotions (anxiousness), increased sweating, and- for lady butterflies only- very light menstruation or cessation of the menstrual cycle. This butterfly often feels hot and can’t maintain a healthy weight. There are also bouts of exhaustion from trying to maintain this intense state of arousal.
HYPOthyroidism results when the thyroid is under-active. This butterfly just can’t get its wings to go. It’s gained weight, feels sluggish, and has brittle hair and nails. It feels cold and tired, is kind of depressed, and suffers from constipation. The lady butterflies usually have irregular, heavy menstruation.
5 WAYS TO KEEP YOUR THYROID HEALTHY
1. EAT FROM THE SEA. The sea provides many natural sources of iodine, a building block of the thyroid hormone. Table salt has a high concentration of iodine, but it can raise blood pressure. Instead, opt for seaweed in a salad. Fish oil provides essential fatty acids that reduce inflammation, which plays a role in causing autoimmune diseases. If taking fish oil, ensure that it is high quality fish oil and third party tested for heavy metal toxicity.
2. EAT FROM THE EARTH. Eat foods high in B vitamins, which are precursors to thyroid hormones and influence cell energy. Balance your diet with nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains.
3. RELAX. A daily relaxation practice, such as just 10 minutes a day of silence and deep breathing, can make a difference in the state of mind and body.
4. MOVE IT! Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Yoga is particularly good for thyroid health, including poses such as butterfly, fish pose, shoulder stand, and child’s pose.
5. GET SUPPLEMENT-AL INSURANCE. Our diets aren’t perfect, so supplementing with a high quality vitamin/mineral or botanical (herb) regimen can provide extra insurance against exposure to stress, toxins, and perhaps your own family history. Be sure to consult with your wellness practitioner about the best nutraceutical products for you.
If you suspect a thyroid condition, talk with your wellness provider right away. There are a variety of tests that can help your doctor create an appropriate treatment plan.
The condition of your skin, nails, and hair are a reflection of your overall state of health. A variety of factors can affect their condition, including genetics, exposure to tobacco smoke, sun damage, medication and drug use, and nutritional deficiencies. Eating a well-balanced diet is the best way to keep the integumentary system—that’s your hair, nails, and skin—healthy. Additionally, vitamin supplementation can support the biological processes that maintain the health of the integumentary system. Supplementation can be especially important for helping to tame the symptoms of hypothyroidism, which is known to adversely affect the condition of hair, skin, and nails.
Vitamin formulas for healthy hair, skin, and nails contain many of the same nutrients that your entire body needs for growth and maintenance of cells. Hair, skin, and nails also respond well to vitamins that support keratin production. Keratin is a protein that is an essential building block for the integumentary system. Talk to your wellness practitioner about the following key supplements that can give strength and shine to your hair, skin, and nails.
BIOTIN & THE MIGHTY B VITAMINS. The B-complex (B12, B3, and B6) is vital for hair and skin growth. Biotin, also a B vitamin, is sometimes used to help reduce or prevent hair loss. Some people do not get enough biotin in their diet, resulting in a deficiency. In such cases, research has shown taking biotin supplements may help alleviate hair thinning. Biotin-rich foods include peanut butter, eggs, avocados, legumes, and bananas.
VITAMIN D is important for hair follicle cycling, especially for individuals who live in northern parts of the United States where sunlight is limited. Mushrooms, organic liver (because the liver is one of the primary organs involved in filtering toxins, only eat liver that is from a trusted source), and grains are great sources of vitamin D.
ZINC is a key mineral for hair growth, wound healing, healthy skin, and immune function. Zinc is found in foods such as red meat, oysters, lamb, turkey, pumpkin seeds, and chocolate.
HORSETAIL, a herb, acts as an antibacterial and has a re-mineralizing effect. It is rich in flavonoids, potassium, and silicon, which are vital to the functioning of rapidly growing tissues such as skin and nails. It also has a key role in the synthesis of collagen.
VITAMINS C & E both have many important functions, including protecting cells from damage and boosting immunity. Good sources are seeds, dark green veggies, safflower oil, and citrus fruits.
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS. Omega-3 and omega-6 fats have been shown to reduce inflammation and support skin and scalp health. Although you can obtain essential fatty acids from eating cold-water fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies, tuna, pollock, or shrimp, these fish can contain high levels of heavy metals— not a good thing. If you are averse to eating fish, or are vegan, a flaxseed oil supplement is a wonderful alternative.
RECIPE: BRAZIL NUT BUTTER
Making freshly ground nut butters at home gives you the opportunity to enjoy these nutritious spreads without added sugar, salt, or preservatives often found in store-bought varieties.
There is a 2 to 1 ratio of nuts to nut butter. To make 1 cup of nut butter, start with 2 cups of shelled nuts.
• 2 cups organic raw nuts
Optional flavor add-ins (all to taste; opt for organic and locally sourced):
• Himalayan or Persian blue salt
• Stevia, honey, maple syrup, coconut butter, coconut oil
• Vanilla or almond extract
• Cocoa powder (smooth spread) or cacao nibs (chunky spread)
• Puree of dried fruit or dried fruit bits* (apricot, raisin, cherry, cranberry)
To make the nuts more digestible, soak and dehydrate the nuts to extract phytic acids (compounds that bind minerals). Before grinding, soak nuts in water and cover for 8-12 hours. Dehydrate about 10 hours. Soaking activates the nuts and dehydration removes the water.
Equipment: Food processor or high-speed blender (e.g., Vitamix).
Place nuts into a food processor along with the optional flavor add-ins and start blending. If you want chunky bits in your nut butter, leave the dried fruit buts and cacao nibs for last. You may need to grind at various speeds or intervals until you reach the consistency that meets your taste preferences. The nuts will go through several stages and you’ll need to keep pressing the contents into the center of the blender as you go through the process. The nuts will crumble, clump, ball, redistribute, and then finally … the oils will release, and you’ll have a nice spread.
Mix in your choice of flavor add-ins by hand. Nut butter keeps in the refrigerator for about a month.
Source: Anton Health and Nutrition. "Homemade Nut Butter."
Radiant Life Company. "That’s Nuts! A Complete Guide to Soaking Nuts and Seeds."
BRAZIL NUTS (Bertholletia excelsa)
Reaching 160 feet tall and living up to 700 years, Brazil nut trees produce fruit in pristine forests, native to regions such as the Guianas, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela. Native Amazonians cherished these behemoths for their delicious nuts, which provided them much-needed protein, fats, and other essential nutrients.
Indeed, Brazil nuts are calorie and nutrient dense. High in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-6 fatty acids, a one-ounce (6-7 nuts) serving provides about 185 calories, 5 grams of protein, and a rich supply of magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and selenium. In fact, Brazil nuts are the highest natural source of selenium (543 mcg in 1 oz.).
A potent micronutrient, scientific evidence to date suggests that selenium might play a role in the prevention or treatment of heart disease, cognitive decline, liver disease, some types of cancer, and thyroid disease. Selenium concentrations are highest in the thyroid gland, and it has a vital role in the functioning of the gland. Just two Brazil nuts a day make it easy for most people to meet their daily selenium requirement.
Don’t go overboard on Brazil nuts—too much selenium in the diet can cause brittle nails, alopecia, rash, upset stomach, and fatigue. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences advises a maximum limit of 45 mcg of selenium for kids and 400 mcg for adults daily. The best way to enjoy Brazil nuts is to combine a few with other types of nuts, seeds, and raisins. Sprinkle on salad, yogurt, or blend into a smoothie.
LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis)
Native to Europe, lemon balm’s clusters of small, light yellow flowers grow all over the world. It is found in backyard herb gardens, in crops grown for medicine and cosmetics, and is used to scent candles and furniture polish. In the spring and summer, the flowers grow where the leaves meet the stem. If you rub your fingers on these leaves, your fingers will smell tart and sweet, like lemons. The leaves are similar in shape to mint leaves, and come from the same plant family.
As far back as the Middle Ages, lemon balm was used to soothe tension, to dress wounds, and to treat ailments such as toothaches, skin irritations, and sickness during pregnancy. As a medicinal plant, lemon balm is considered a calming herb that has traditionally been used to soothe menstrual cramps, reduce stress and anxiety, promote restful sleep, and ease gastrointestinal complaints (e.g., indigestion, gas, bloating, and colic). It is often combined with other herbs in teas or tinctures for relaxation, such as valerian and chamomile. In modern times it has been used to treat cold sores (oral herpes).
In Europe, lemon balm has been used for treating thyroid problems and has shown an ability to regulate thyroid hormone production. It has been used in the U.S. as a complementary treatment for Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition in which the thyroid gland is overactive.
Lemon balm may be formulated as a tea, tincture, or cream/ointment. Herbs do interact with other medicines and should not be taken without consulting your wellness practitioner for appropriate dosing.
REFLEXOLOGY FOR THYROID HEALTH
Reflexology is a gentle, complementary and alternative medical (CAM) therapy in which pressure is placed along reflex points on the feet, lower leg, hands, face, or ears. A Reflex Map identifies various reflex points and corresponding regions or systems throughout the body. A certified reflexologist uses specific patterns of touch and pressure to stimulate these points.
The theory that underlies reflexology is that stimulation of the reflex points opens the flow of energy (referred to as Life Force or Chi) and nutrients throughout the body. It is believed that reflexology taps into the body’s natural healing process by enhancing the functioning of the lymphatic system (a major part of the immune system), which helps move fluids and waste products from within the tissues into the circulatory system, ultimately for excretion from the body.
Generally, reflexology is suitable for everyone, from newborn babies to those receiving end of life care. A reflexologist tailors each session to the individual, taking into account both physical and emotional factors that might be affecting you. Reflexologists aim to work alongside both allopathic and holistic healthcare practitioners to promote well-being for their clients.
CAM researchers have investigated reflexology for a variety of health conditions, such as breast cancer, diabetes, anxiety, back pain, menstrual issues, post-operative recovery, chronic fatigue, and thyroid dysfunction. The premise for treating thyroid conditions with reflexology is that opening the energy flow through the thyroid gland can balance both hyperthyroid and hypothyroid conditions by supporting the gland in regulating homeostasis, the body’s ideal state of equilibrium. In some studies of thyroid goiter or cancer, reflexology reduced pain and promoted relaxation, which can boost healing.
While there have been promising results in many case studies (of just one person or a small group), there is still a need for further research to definitively indicate the effectiveness of reflexology for treating illness.
The information offered by this newsletter is presented for educational purposes. Nothing contained within should be construed as nor is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. This information should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider. Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before embarking on a new treatment, diet or fitness program. You should never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information contained within this newsletter.