Thyroid Awareness Week
June 1st to 7th is Thyroid Awareness Week. A healthy thyroid gland is vitally important for good health. Your thyroid gland sits at the base of your neck and produces hormones that perform the following functions:
- Controls the metabolic rate of your body
- Regulates heart rate
- Maintains a normal body temperature
- Maintains normal body weight
- Maintains fertility and enables the growth and development of the foetus during pregnancy
Thyroid problems are incredibly common and strike women far more often than men. An under active thyroid is the most common disorder, but the thyroid gland can also become over active, enlarged (goitre), become cancerous or develop nodules.
Unfortunately the rates of thyroid cancer are rising. A recent study published by the Mayo Clinic in the USA found that while overall cancer rates are falling in the USA, the rate of thyroid cancer is climbing. Thyroid cancer is three times more common in women than men. Thyroid cancer occurs when cells of the thyroid gland grow in an out of control manner. The tumour usually begins as a thyroid nodule. Thyroid nodules are common, but luckily more than 90 percent of them are non-cancerous.
It is important to get familiar with the look and feel of your neck. So many patients who come to our clinic have an enlarged thyroid or a growth on their thyroid which was discovered at a late stage because no one noticed it before. You can check your own thyroid gland with what is appropriately known as the Thyroid Neck Check. This is described in our book called Your Thyroid Problems Solved, and you can find instructions on this website:
If you find anything unusual please see your doctor.
The Australian Thyroid Foundation is trying to make all Australians aware of the importance of iodine in their diet. This is certainly a worthwhile endeavour because so many Australians are iodine deficient. Your thyroid gland uses large quantities of iodine to manufacture thyroid hormones. Deficiency of iodine can cause your thyroid gland to enlarge, and it can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and overweight. The majority of the iodine you ingest goes to your thyroid gland and iodine acts like a shield, helping to protect your thyroid gland against harm caused by environmental factors. We know that radiation, pesticides, insecticides, flame retardants and other chemicals are capable of causing thyroid nodules, thyroid cancer and autoimmune thyroid disease. If an iodine deficient person is exposed to enough of these substances, they are almost certain to develop a thyroid condition. But if you have plenty of iodine in your body, you are far less susceptible to harm.
Getting enough iodine into your diet is tricky. It is predominantly found in seafood, seaweed and iodised salt. Many Australians do not eat enough of these foods, and much of the seafood available for sale now has been farmed, therefore is a poor source of iodine. Since October last year iodine has been added to all bread (except organic bread), but we do not recommend you increase your bread intake in an attempt to obtain this mineral.
How to test for iodine deficiency
A urine test is available to check your iodine status. This test can be ordered by your GP and any pathology company can perform it. The normal urinary iodine level is 100 – 299 micrograms per litre, and 150 – 249 micrograms per litre for pregnant women. Iodine deficiency is frighteningly common in pregnant women and this can have devastating consequences for the intellectual health of a child. Experts fear that widespread iodine deficiency among pregnant women will produce an intellectually compromised future generation. If you are iodine deficient we recommend you take a supplement of between 160 and 350 micrograms of iodine per day.
What else does your thyroid gland need for good health?
Apart from iodine, we recommend the following:
- Selenium is a mineral that works closely in association with iodine and it is required for the activation of thyroid hormone.
- Avoid consuming large quantities of raw cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts). These vegetables contain goitrogens that reduce the ability of the thyroid gland to use iodine.
- Ensure you receive plenty of vitamin D. This vitamin greatly reduces the risk of cancer and surprisingly many Australians are deficient. Your skin manufactures vitamin D when exposed to sunshine, but in most parts of Australia the sun is not strong enough to achieve this in winter.
- Reduce your exposure to environmental chemicals. We live in the chemical age and it is impossible to avoid all chemicals entirely, but you do have a lot of control over what you come in contact with. There are numerous natural toiletries, cleaners and household products available. Avoid drinking water from plastic bottles and don’t ever heat food in plastic containers.
For detailed information about all thyroid disorders and how to treat them, see our book Your Thyroid Problems Solved.