Supporting a Healthy Thyroid
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam's apple. Although it weighs less than an ounce, the thyroid gland has an enormous effect on your health. All aspects of your metabolism, from the rate at which your heart beats to how quickly you burn calories, are regulated by thyroid hormones.
How the thyroid is constructed
Appropriately, given its location, the thyroid is shaped like a bow tie. Its two wings, or lobes, straddle the windpipe at the front part of the throat and are joined by a strip of tissue called the isthmus. Although it lies near the surface, the thyroid is normally small and soft, and can scarcely be felt through the skin.
It is composed of two sets of cells, which secrete hormones. The production of these hormones depends on the body being able to derive sufficient iodine from the food we eat.
Millions of hollow, spherical follicular cells, which make up most of the thyroid, secrete iodine-containing hormones into the bloodstream. The most important of these hormones is thyroxine (T4), which accounts for 99.9 percent of the thyroid hormones in the blood. Another hormone, tri-odothyronine (T3), accounts for the other 0.1 percent.
The remaining cells, known as parafollicular cells, occur singly or in small groups in the spaces between the follicles and secrete a hormone called calcitonin.
What the thyroid does
The thyroid works closely with two other hormone-producing glands, the pituitary and the hypothalamus. These three act in concert to balance the thyroid's hormone output, enabling the body to produce just the right amount of energy just when it needs it - low during sleep, higher when we are awake, higher still when we are active.
The pituitary, a pea-sized gland at the base of the brain, controls the thyroid's function with its own thyroid-releasing hormone. The pituitary itself is activated by thyrotropin-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus, a cherry-sized region of the brain just above the pituitary.
It is the T3 and T4 hormones secreted by the thyroid that play a major role in controlling the way our body functions are maintained and our energy is created and used up (our metabolism). They are essential for children's physical growth and mental development. Calcium is also key to growth and healthy bones. Calcium levels are regulated by calcitonin from the thyroid and by parathyroid hormone, which is produced by four pea-sized parathyroid glands located just behind the thyroid.
How to Maintain a Healthy Thyroid
There are two main things you can do that can help maintain healthy thyroid function:
Eat well. A healthy, well balanced diet is your first line of defense in supporting a healthy thyroid. All adults need iodine to support the thyroid. If you have a good diet, you are almost certainly getting your needed amount of iodine. Avoiding excess sugar in the form of simple carbohydrates and reducing your intake of high saturated fats also helps as these foods put stress on the thyroid.
Increasing physical activity. Staying active helps prevent you from becoming overweight. Being overweight also creates additional stress on the thyroid.
What the Thyroid Needs for Proper Function
L-tyrosine is an amino acid that is used by the thyroid, along with iodine, to activate the T3 and T4 hormones. Iodine (naturally derived from kelp), along with L-tyrosine, is essential to the normal, healthy function of the thyroid gland.
Important to the structure of almost every protein molecule in the body, L-tyrosine attaches itself to iodine atoms to form active thyroid hormones. Supplementation of L-tyrosine helps with stress and promotes good sleep. It also aids in the production of melanin (the pigment that gives color to hair and skin) and in the function of the adrenal, thyroid and pituitary glands.
A type of seaweed, kelp can be eaten raw, but is typically used in a powdered form as a dietary supplement. It is an excellent source of natural iodine.
Together with these two nutrients – L-tyrosine and kelp - proteins from other endocrine glands work to support the thyroid. These include the adrenal, thymus, and pituitary. Without the assistance of these glands, and the hormones they produce, the entire thyroid function would be disrupted. The pituitary gland produces Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) when T3 and T4 levels drop too low. Once the thyroid hormone levels rise, the pituitary reduces its TSH production. The adrenal glands maintain salt levels (crucial to proper thyroid function) in the blood, and help maintain blood pressure. A somewhat forgotten gland, the thymus is a central figure in the immune system and some phases of metabolism. These glands work in concert to assure proper thyroid hormone function.
Further thyroid support can be found in natural progesterone (derived from yams).
This hormone works with the thyroid to regulate mood, body temperature, fluid
retention and energy. It also helps stimulate thyroid activity and increases
the effectiveness of thyroid hormones. The use of natural progesterone can be
useful to women.
Quality Support for a Healthy Thyroid
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products above are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please consult your physician before beginning any nutritional program.