Situated in the neck in front of and below the larynx, this is a two-lobed organ, each lobe lying on one side of the trachea. Most thyroid cells produce thyroxine (T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3). Iodine is required for the healthy function of the thyroid and small amounts are stored in the gland. The main sources of iodine are water, sea foods and sea vegetables such as seaweeds (especially kelp). In areas where there is low iodine in the drinking water (such as Derbyshire) the thyroid can enlarge and cause a non-toxic lump or goitre. When iodine is added to the diet, usually as salt, often the goitre resolves. Sea salt contains iodine.
Secretion of thyroid hormones is stimulated by exercise, cold, pregnancy and hypoglycaemia. Thyroid hormones increase the basal metabolic rate and play an important part in the maintenance of body temperature. They work with the pancreas and adrenal hormones to ensure normal production of energy. They also stimulate protein synthesis and increase the breakdown of fats as well as enhancing cholesterol excretion in the bile.
The parathyroid glands are four small glands in intimate contact with the thyroid and are involved solely with calcium management (not metabolism).
Too much hormone
Sometimes too much thyroid hormone is produced causing thyrotoxicosis. Everything about the metabolic rate is speeded up. Sufferers are generally nervous, on edge, highly strung and anxious. In spite of a good appetite there may be marked weight loss plus a sensitivity to heat which induces sweating. There may be a fine tremor in the hands. Classically the eyes are bulging and the eyelids may not close if the condition is severe, but thankfully better detection makes this now unusual. The strain on the heart may be considerable, producing tachycardia and possibly heart failure.
Conventional treatment is a drug called carbimazole taken daily. The worst side effect of the drug is a reduction of white blood cells and this immune compromise may prove fatal with an infection. As a general rule, people on carbimazole are taken off the drug if they complain of sore throats, malaise or fevers, and infections are radically treated. It is difficult to maintain good control of this drug. An alternative treatment is surgical removal of the bulk of the gland – this is often attempted but it is not a straightforward operation as the parathyroid glands must be left intact. Radioactive iodine treatment can destroy the bulk of the gland, but thyroid deficiency diseases are much more likely to develop after some years.
Not enough hormone
Under-secretion of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) results in a lower metabolic rate. It can lead to a severe form of hypothyroidism called myxoedema. Sometimes the treatment for an overactive thyroid produces this effect. In other cases, the individual develops antibodies to their own tissue and the gland is gradually destroyed (Hashimoto's thyroiditis). With hypothyroidism or myxoedema there is sluggishness and sensitivity to cold. There is often a big increase in weight and the skin can become coarse, thick and puffy. The metabolism slows and causes constipation and a slow pulse. The memory is poor and the patient is often tired. Drug treatment is in the form of thyroxine given daily. Side effects of the treatment include heart irregularities and general effects of thyrotoxicosis (too much thyroid hormone) if the dose is not regularly checked.
A simple temperature test can be carried out to give an indication of thyroid function. Your basal body temperature can be determined by placing an old-fashioned mercury thermometer under your arm for 10 minutes first thing as you wake in the morning. For women, this test is best carried out during the menstruation week. Do this for several days in a row. Plot your temperature on a chart in order to determine your average trend. It can naturally fluctuate but should be around 97.8 – 98.2ºF or 36.6 – 36.8ºC. An average basal temperature below this range could indicate not only an underactive thyroid but also low adrenal function, so it is always advisable to take your results to a GP or nutritionist to get them further analysed.
An overburdened or overheated liver is known to affect thyroid function, so liver-friendly foods and herbs will often help. Liver conditions often occur during pregnancy, leaving many women with short-term or long-term deficiencies, which, if left untreated, may become chronic. It is, therefore, important to support the liver and adrenals in order to assist the thyroid. Adrenal insufficiency or adrenal fatigue can affect thyroid function and the treatment of the adrenal glands is often the key to re-balancing the thyroid. Always work on prevention to avoid chronic health problems.
- For an underactive thyroid there is a need for adequate levels of vitamin A, zinc, and selenium. Superfood Plus is a wonderful source of these nutrients.
- EnergiRevive Powder is a food product based on Siberian ginseng, a herb that you can read about on the free download at the link provided. Siberian ginseng feeds and rests the adrenal glands and thyroid, and its nurturing and balancing action makes it effective for someone suffering with overactive thyroid disorders as well.
- With an underactive thyroid, circulation is often sluggish and the person can feel cold, so naturally stimulating foods and spices such as ginger, cayenne, paprika, horseradish, garlic and mustard have a place for daily consumption. Onion & Horseradish Concentrate can be taken as a hot drink or added to food. Avoid caffeine-containing drinks which can "push" the adrenals and exacerbate adrenal insufficiency, with a knock-on effect on thyroid function.
- Digestion can be sluggish, so include thyme, oregano, artichoke, lemon, basil, rosemary, caraway and as many other culinary herbs as you are able to find. Mediterranean Medley Mix is a good starting point.
- If blood sugar fluctuation is a problem experiment with star anise, cinnamon and liquorice. Try Mullein & Star Anise herbal tea which contains all of these.
- For overactive thyroid use cooling herbs like cumin, caraway, basil and coriander leaf to calm the system but to perk up digestion.
- Castor Oil Packs placed over the thyroid can help to regulate its function.
- Exercise and cold will stimulate thyroid function. Hot and cold showers directed to the throat area will encourage circulation to the thyroid.
- Take exercise and practise deep breathing.
- Low metabolism can start to slow down gut action, resulting in constipation and a feeling of back-up and fullness to the liver or even kidneys. If you feel this is the case then read some of the literature we offer you from Dr Richard Schulze such as his “5-Day Bowel Detox”.
- You can ask us for samples of some bowel products.
- Deeper cleanses would be desirable but work with a practitioner. You can find a practitioner at the websites for The Association of Master Herbalists or The College of Naturopathic Medicine.
Our herbal formulae are strong flavoured and effective. Our herbs enjoy a long history of use. A large proportion of them are grown in English soils, harvested using bio-chemistry analysis and many of them are processed fresh, which heightens their remedial properties. The majority are grown organically and are sustainable and wild-crafted. All manufacturing is carried out using licensed good manufacturing practice.