by Isabelle Valley

Though small and unassuming, there is a butterfly shaped gland located in the base of the neck that can have a significant impact on one’s health. This gland is called the thyroid. According to the American Thyroid Association, about 20 million Americans have a thyroid disorder. What is most concerning is that 60 percent of those with these disorders are unaware of their condition and go undiagnosed. Let’s explore five interesting topics on this increasing prevalent health condition.

1. What is the current state of thyroid disorders?

According to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health, autoimmune disease and disorders ranked #1 in a top 10 list of most popular health topics requested by callers. Of these autoimmune disorders, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis ranked the #1 autoimmune thyroid disorder. Hashimoto’s, named after the Japanese surgeon who discovered it in 1912, is due to an underactive thyroid. An underactive thyroid can lead to such symptoms as weight gain, constipation and constant fatigue. Women are seven times more likely to have an underactive thyroid than men.

On the flip side, there is what is called an overactive thyroid. This condition, labeled Graves’ disease, was named after Sir Robert Graves in the early 19th century. Women are eight times more likely to have an overactive thyroid than men. An overactive thyroid can lead to such symptoms as anxiety, excessive sweating and rapid heartbeat. To add confusion to diagnosing these disorders, there are many who fluctuate between “hypo” and “hyper” thyroid symptoms.

2. Why is the thyroid important?

At only 20 grams in weight and about three to four inches long, the small but powerful thyroid stores and produces hormones that affect the function of virtually every organ in the body. Thyroid hormones help the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles and other organs working as they should. The thyroid produces two significant hormones: T3–Triiodothyronine and T4–Thyroxine. If the thyroid produces an excess of these hormones or not enough, one’s state of health can be significantly impaired.

3. How does the thyroid affect energy levels?

The human body is composed of about 100 trillion cells, give or take. These cells make energy. The energy that keeps you functioning and alive is the energy that your cells produce. In order to make energy, cells metabolize glucose. Thyroid hormones are responsible in helping cells metabolize glucose. When thyroid hormone levels are low, such as in hypothyroidism, there is less ability to metabolize glucose and thus less energy is produced. Chronic fatigue is a prevalent symptom of hypothyroid disorders. On the flip side, if too much glucose is being metabolized, then the symptoms of a hyperthyroid disorder occur, involving rapid heart rate, increased perspiration and nervousness. Therefore, the rate in which you metabolize glucose determines how much energy is felt or produced, and the rate in which glucose is metabolized is determined by how much hormones are secreted or not secreted by your thyroid.

4. How does the thyroid affect weight?

Once again this is due to the metabolism of glucose. If glucose is not being metabolized by the cells then it’s staying in the bloodstream. The liver will start to convert and store this excess glucose or sugar in the blood as fat. This is why having hypothyroidism leads to weight gain whereas extreme weight loss may be experienced by those that excrete excess amounts of thyroid hormones and hence metabolize glucose too aggressively.

5. Which foods affect thyroid disorders and why?

There are common foods, some considered health foods, which can have a detrimental effect on the thyroid. The two main thyroid toxic substances in these foods are phytoestrogens and proteolytic enzyme inhibitors. Each impacts the thyroid in different ways.

Phytoestrogens are found in foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes and grains. Soy products rate high in phytoestrogens as well as oils made from seeds. In a clinical study conducted by the Department of Academic Endocrinology, patients given phytoestrogen supplementation for two weeks increased their risk for overt hypothyroidism threefold.

Phytoestrogens are able to disrupt normal thyroid function by inhibiting the body’s ability to use iodine, blocking the process by which iodine converts to thyroid hormones, inhibiting the secretion of thyroid hormone, and disrupting the peripheral conversion of T4 to T3. Researchers also found that infants fed soy formula, naturally rich in phytoestrogens, had a prolonged increase in their thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. TSH is essential in determining how much or how little the thyroid should excrete hormones.

Proteolytic enzyme inhibitors also affect the thyroid. Proteolytic enzymes are crucial for the production of TSH. If these enzymes are inhibited then TSH production is compromised and ultimately thyroid function is impaired. Foods rich in proteolytic enzyme inhibitors are legumes, potatoes, nuts, seeds and grains.

Knowing how the thyroid works and the foods that can lead to thyroid disorders are important steps toward improving thyroid function and overall health. With more research and a change in dietary lifestyle, one can notably improve thyroid disorders.

Isabelle Valley is a Certified Detoxification Specialist at The Raw Oasis center. She specializes in raw food detoxification. Connect with her at [email protected]