The thyroid gland is a small and delicate butterfly-shaped gland, within the endocrine system, that sits low on the front of the neck. It has two side lobes, connected by a bridge (isthmus) in the middle. The thyroid secretes several hormones, collectively called thyroid hormones. The main hormone is thyroxine, also called T4 (the 4 denotes the amount of iodine molecules it has).
Thyroid hormones affect nearly every cell in your body. They help control growth, repair and metabolism (the process where your body converts what you eat into energy). Your metabolism affects how fast you burn calories. When the thyroid gland receives a signal, called TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), it releases thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. This signal is sent from the pituitary gland, a small gland at the base of your brain, when thyroid hormone levels are low.
Occasionally, the thyroid gland does not release thyroid hormones, even when there is plenty of TSH. This is called primary hypothyroidism. Those with hypothyroidism often feel cold, fatigued and may gain weight easily.
Approximately 90% of primary hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis), an autoimmune disease where your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid gland.
Acute and repeated stress, whether it be physical stress your body endures from poor food choices and lack of exercise or mental stress from constant worry and negative thoughts, is one of the primary reasons that can alter your normal thyroid hormone secretion.
Different structures of the central nervous system and peripheral tissues, such as the hypothalamus, and the pituitary and adrenal glands, help mediate the stress response. These structures encompass what’s referred to as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
Once activated, the HPA axis instantly puts us on alert and primes the body to either flee the situation or defend against it. This response begins in the hypothalamus, a tiny cluster of cells at the base of the brain that controls functions such as your body temperature, thirst, sleep cycles, and energy levels. The hypothalamus also releases a compound called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) that drives your hormonal response to stress.
As CRH is released, it travels to the pituitary gland, causing it to secrete a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) that cues the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones, especially cortisol.
When the stress response becomes constant, the HPA axis remains active. Think of it like a stuck gas pedal that constantly revs the engine in your car, flooding it with a steady stream of gas (cortisol). Over time, this can lead to dysfunctional HPA and thyroid glands that can result in severe adrenal exhaustion. Conditions that follow this may include cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, obesity, skin rashes, asthma, arthritis, and depression. Therefore, it is important to manage your glands through diet, exercise, and stress management.
Foods for glandular health
- Fish, eggs, beans, yogurt, and apples for natural iodine
- Organic chicken and grass-fed beef for zinc
- Bananas, spinach, nuts, and seeds for magnesium
- Berries and carrots for antioxidants
- Broccoli and Cauliflower for vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, and potassium
- Brazil nuts and brown rice for selenium
- Spices such as celery seed and turmeric for anti-inflammation
Try this recipe for a quick selenium boost
Nuts for Pesto
- 1 Head Broccoli & 1 Head Cauliflower
- 1/2 Cup Parsley, coarsely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon Basil Leaves, chopped
- 1/2 Teaspoon Rosemary
- 1 Large Garlic Clove, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons Water
- 1/2 Teaspoon Lemon zest, finely grated
- 1/4 Cup Brazil nuts, coarsely chopped
- 6 Tablespoons Olive oil
- 3 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Wash and cut broccoli and cauliflower into small florets, stems discarded, set aside.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. In a food processor combine the parsley, basil, rosemary, garlic, water, lemon zest, and Brazil nuts and pulse to a coarse paste. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the Parmesan and process to a slightly smooth paste; season with salt and pepper. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the florets with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and spread in an even layer. Roast the broccoli and cauliflower in the center of the oven for about 10 minutes or until the florets are browned and crisp-tender. Transfer to a platter, drizzle the pesto on top, and serve. This dish is great as a snack or a side at lunch or dinner. Makes 4 servings.
Pro-Tip: Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium. A one serving of Brazil nuts (4) gives you 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber; as well as, a good amount of selenium, potassium, magnesium, riboflavin, copper, zinc, and vitamin E.