Thyroid Health

Thyroid problems can take on many forms, as thyroxin, the thyroid hormone affects the function of every cell in the body. Therefore, if the thyroid is not functioning properly, neither are you. Thyroid problems can have a big impact on general wellbeing, with energy, mood, temperature tolerance, menstruation and in some cases fertility being affected.

The thyroid gland is a small butterfly shaped gland in the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. Often when thyroid problems occur, there is some enlargement or nodules found in the gland, but there may be no signs of enlargement at all.

If the thyroid is under active, it means that all the processes of the body are also sluggish. This can mean low energy, weight gain, depression, constipation, feeling the cold, poor concentration, dry coarse hair, which may be falling out, heavy periods and brittle nails. (There are, of course, many other reasons for these symptoms too.) When there doesn’t seem to be a logical reason for symptoms, your health professional may suspect a thyroid problem.

A goitre is an enlargement of the thyroid which often indicates an under active thyroid caused by a lack of iodine in the diet. Low iodine diets are a cause of goitre, easily remedied by using iodised salt.

Goitre is estimated to affect over 200 million people world wide, and the vast majority of these are caused by an iodine deficiency.

If the thyroid is overactive, the body speeds up. There is weight loss along with an increased appetite, feeling hot, little sleep, high energy, rapid heartbeat, and in long term cases, the eyes can look bulgy.

In Australia thyroid disease is quite common, affecting one in 20 people. It is especially common in women, with one in 14 women experiencing a thyroid problem at some time in their lives, either during their 20’s and 30’s, at menopause, or after the age of 60. Thyroid problems can, however affect anyone at any age, and where there is a family history of thyroid problems, there is a higher risk of developing a problem.

Thyroid disease is simple to diagnose with a blood test. If diagnosed with a thyroid problem, it is important to have follow up blood tests to monitor progress.

The major cause of an under active thyroid problem is caused by a lack of dietary iodine. Iodine deficiency in Australia has climbed steadily since farmers switched from using iodine to a chlorine compound to clean their milking equipment. Without knowing it, we were all getting plenty of iodine through the milk supply. Now that supply has gone, iodine deficiency in Australia is increasing at an alarming rate. Some 50% of Australian schoolchildren tested, have some level of iodine deficiency. (This also raises a mental development issue, but that’s another story.)

It's easy to find out if you have enough iodine - a simple urine test from your doctor will tell you your iodine levels.

Australians need to consume more iodine in their diet, which in some cases, may help avoid hypothyroidism. Iodine is found in seaweeds, (available in supermarkets & health food stores) kelp and spirulina supplements, seafood and iodised salt. Of all these options, iodised salt provides the most consistent supply for the whole population. Not all brands of salt are iodised, so you need to check the label.

Other nutrients necessary for normal thyroid function are vitamins A, B’s C and E, plus zinc; they’re necessary for the manufacture of the thyroid hormone. It is well recognised by authorities that zinc deficiency in the population is common, especially among women, and supplements are an easy way of ensuring your zinc intake is adequate.

Finally, exercise stimulates the thyroid gland, and makes the cells in the body more sensitive to the thyroid hormone, which will increase the metabolic rate and use more energy. Many overweight women have an underactive thyroid, so exercise may help to make the thyroid more active.

Thyroid disease can create a mass of sometimes perplexing symptoms that don’t seem to add up. It is simple to diagnose with a blood test. If your symptoms don't add up, and are not responding to usual treatments, suspect thyroid problems. And yes, there are loads of natural options to get thyroid health back to normal.