A slow or sluggish metabolism can usually be blamed on age, being female, not having enough time to exercise and, of course, hormones that are in flux due to peri-menopause or menopause. But what if you knew that your metabolism has an underlying master control panel? Let’s take a closer look at the intricate relationship between one of our vital endocrine glands and how our bodily functions stay fired up, literally.
Your Thyroid – Master of Metabolism
The butterfly shaped gland found at the front of your neck just below the larynx may be small (and ductless) but it sure is mighty — it may look like a butterfly but it acts more like a hummingbird!
It coordinates dozens of processes in your body, and is known as the master gland of your metabolism as it produces several hormones that dictate the underlying mechanics of how the body makes use of its energy stores, i.e. your metabolism!
The thyroid gland produces 3 hormones:
- Triiodothyronine (T3) – increases basal metabolic rate
- Thyroxine (T4) – inactive form that converts to active T3
- Calcitonin – involved in calcium & bone metabolism
Because the trace element Iodine is a main component of T3 & T4 hormones, and the body is unable to make it itself, it’s very important to get sufficient amounts of it in the diet or to supplement with it if a deficiency has been identified. Selenium is another mineral that is critical to thyroid health.
Thyroid Dysfunction = Metabolic & Body Disharmony
According to PubMed Health, there can be a number of consequences if the thyroid produces too few or too many hormones.
With an overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism, too many hormones are produced. This speeds up energy metabolism too much – you might think that this would actually be a good thing, but it’s not!
Overactive thyroid symptoms
- Racing heart
- Hot flashes and/or sweating
- Trembling, nervousness and/or hyperactivity
- Emotional instability and irritability or fatigue
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Weight loss
- Hair loss
Causes of Overactive Thyroid
There can be many reasons for an overactive thyroid but most often it’s caused by an autoimmune disease called Grave’s Disease.
Thyroid function is normally regulated by a hormone produced in the pituitary gland (thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH for short), which ensures that neither too much nor too little thyroid hormone is produced.
However, sometimes there’s a problem in this Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Thyroid (HPT) Axis and this can also be a cause of hyperthyroidism.
Causes of Underactive Thyroid
On the other hand, if too little thyroid hormone is produced, many of our bodily functions slow down and this is called Hypothyroidism, which can either be genetic or develop later in life.
The Mayo Clinic states that there can be many different causes for an underactive thyroid.
Top 5 reasons of Low Thyroid Function/Hypothyroidism:
- Autoimmune disease – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Treatment for hyperthyroidism – this can throw you in the opposite direction
- Thyroid surgery
- Radiation therapy
- Certain medications
Less common causes of hypothyroidism are congenital disease, pituitary disorder, pregnancy, and iodine deficiency.
It is particularly important for children and babies to have enough thyroid hormones, because a lack of these hormones at an early stage of life can have severe effects on physical and emotional development.
However, it is certainly more common in adults, but many people may not notice symptoms of hypothyroidism for a while due to the fact that it often develops gradually.
Possible symptoms of underactive thyroid can include:
- Chronic fatigue & extreme tiredness
- Difficulties concentrating or a feeling of mental slowness
- Sensitivity to cold
- Slow pulse
- Dry skin & brittle, dry hair
- Deep, hoarse voice
- Puffy face
- Sore, swollen joints
- Loss of sexual desire or lack of libido
- Fertility issues
- Waxy skin thickening and swelling that can be life threatening, called myxedema
- And of course, slowed metabolism, leading to weight gain – sometimes dramatic
Additionally, in hypothyroidism the thyroid gland can get bigger and become visible as a goiter. Hyperthyroidism can also cause visible thyroid enlargement.
Sometimes an enlargement or nodular changes of the thyroid can be signs of a malignant disease. If you notice such changes or are in any doubt whatsoever, please see a Health Practitioner.
Support Your Thyroid, Master Your Metabolism
As you can tell, the thyroid is incredibly important in keeping our metabolic machinery working as it should. But like any other piece of machinery, this requires support, maintenance, and regular tune-ups.
As we age, our thyroid function naturally decreases so we have to pay special attention when we begin to notice the signs of thyroid dysfunction, as noted above.
Natural Support for Thyroid Health
So, if thyroid health is so important to overall health, what are the ways we can support it without resorting to unnecessary medications or hormone replacement?
Well, in many of the same ways we would support our other hormones, such as what we talked about in the article on Estrogen Dominance.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet, choose more high-quality protein, less refined carbs, and get in ample “good fats” like virgin coconut oil and avocados
- Keep stress to a minimum with a daily self-care routine
- Regular exercise that includes both cardio & resistance activities
- Limit caffeine & alcohol, and stay hydrated – you could also try Himalayan Pink Salt Sole! It’s great for nourishing the adrenal glands as well as in supporting a healthy thyroid
- Get adequate sleep – do not underestimate the power of a good sleep!
- Some supplements that are especially supportive of thyroid health and therefore in keeping metabolism boosted are iodine, selenium, magnesium, zinc, Tyrosine (an amino acid), B-vitamins – particularly B12, and the fat-soluble vitamins A & vitamin D
Please discuss the use of iodine supplementation with a qualified Health Practitioner.
Also, if you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), discuss whether adding natural dessicated thyroid hormone to your thyroid balancing plan is right for you.
Want to learn even more about how to support your thyroid? In this guest post, I cover the importance of blood sugar balance, gut health, and stress management.
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