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thyroidI’m beginning to notice a higher than normal amount of questions about the thyroid at my nutrition programs. Since January is Thyroid Awareness Month, I decided to refresh my brain and hopefully yours as well about the purpose and structure of the thyroid gland.

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland wrapped around your windpipe. It produces the thyroid hormone, which regulates body temperature, fat and carbohydrate metabolism, respiration, brain development, cholesterol levels, the heart and nervous system, blood calcium levels, and menstrual cycles.

How Does the Thyroid Work?

One of the clearest explanations I’ve found comes from Dr. Jeffrey R. Garber (Harvard Medical School).

“Think of your thyroid as a car engine that sets the pace at which your body operates. An engine produces the required amount of energy for a car to move at a certain speed. In the same way, your thyroid gland manufactures enough thyroid hormone to prompt your cells to perform a function at a certain rate.

Just as a car can’t produce energy without gas, your thyroid needs fuel to produce thyroid hormone. That fuel is iodine. Your thyroid extracts this necessary ingredient from your bloodstream and uses it to make two kinds of thyroid hormone.

When your body needs thyroid hormone, it is secreted into your bloodstream in quantities set to meet the metabolic needs of your cells. If the amount is unbalanced, you may develop a thyroid disorder.”

Thyroid Disorders

There are different types of thyroid disorders, but hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are the most common. Other thyroid disorders can range from a small, harmless goiter (enlarged gland) that needs no treatment to life-threatening cancer.

According to the American Thyroid Association, approximately 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disorder. Other details include the following:

  • Thyroid disorders are common, however 60% of people are unaware they have a thyroid issue.
  • Women are more likely than men to have a disorder. One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime.
  • Stress can exacerbate a thyroid disorder (make it worse).
  • Genetics, an autoimmune attack, removal of the thyroid gland, nutritional deficiencies, and/or toxins in the environment can contribute to thyroid imbalances.
  • Untreated thyroid issues can affect other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Can Food Help?
Eating lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, heart-healthy fats and omega-3s, high-fiber foods, and appropriate portions can help manage or prevent illnesses associated with thyroid disease such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more. Nutrients to monitor include:

  • Iodine: Iodine is a vital nutrient in the body and essential to thyroid function because thyroid hormones are comprised of iodine.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is linked to Hashimoto’s (the most common cause of hypothyroidism). Sources that contain vitamin D include fatty fish, milk, dairy, eggs, and mushrooms, as well as sunlight.
  • Selenium: The highest concentration of selenium is found in the thyroid gland, and it’s been shown to be a necessary component of enzymes integral to thyroid function. Healthy sources include Brazil nuts, tuna, crab, and lobster.
  • Vitamin B12: About 30% of people with autoimmune thyroid disorder experience a vitamin B12 deficiency. Food sources of B12 include mollusks, sardines, salmon, liver, and dairy.

How do you know if you have a thyroid problem?

Many symptoms may be hidden or mimic other diseases and conditions, the best way to know for sure is to ask your doctor for a TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test, a simple blood test to verify your thyroid gland’s condition. Because thyroid disease often runs in families, a review of their medical histories may reveal other individuals with thyroid problems.

Bottom Line?

If your thyroid gland isn’t working properly, neither are you.

Written by:  Donna Green, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County, green.308@osu.edu

Reviewed by: Beth Stefura, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Mahoning County, stefura.2@osu.edu

Sources:

https://www.webmd.com/women/manage-hypothyroidism-17/balance/slideshow-foods-thyroid

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2935336/

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17557-thyroid-disease-description

https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/thyroid-diseases

https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/do-you-need-a-thyroid-test

https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/070112p40.shtml

 

 

 

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