The thyroid gland is a topic of common discussion among health enthusiasts. If you’ve ever experienced persistent weight gain, cold hands and feet, lethargy, thinning of hair and mood disorders, you may have been advised to make sure your thyroid is healthy.
According to statistics — by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) — approximately 27 million Americans have a thyroid disorder, half of which remain undiagnosed.
While health-care professionals are well-trained in the function and anatomy of the thyroid, there remains some confusion over what makes the gland function optimally.
So what does it take to keep this essential gland happy and healthy?
One of most fundamental building blocks begins with minerals. The thyroid requires a variety of essential minerals (selenium, zinc, etc.) to function, but it’s iodine that’s most important. More common than once thought, iodine deficiency can lead to lower thyroid hormone synthesis and, consequently, symptoms and conditions of hypothyroidism.
Approximately, two billion of the world’s population is iodine deficient. According to recent surveys, urinary iodine levels have dropped in North Americans by 50 per cent since the 1970s. Nearly 10 per cent of the population has some degree of iodine deficiency.
In those areas of the world with severe iodine deficiency, pregnant women are at increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirths or giving birth to children with cretinism and severe neurological and developmental defects.
Even in areas of the world with mild iodine deficiency (including some regions of the North America), children born to mothers who are iodine deficient during pregnancy can have impaired intellectual development and are at an increased risk for developing attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.
But, like most things in life, too much of a good thing can be a problem. High iodine levels — resulting from consumption of high iodine containing foods, like seaweed or supplements, can disrupt normal thyroid function. Too much iodine can cause goiters and both hyperthyroidism/hypothyroidism.
So the best way to ensure your thyroid is healthy is to talk to your primary health-care provider to get them to do a proper thyroid physical exam — this includes blood tests for TSH, Free T3, Free T4, Anti-TPO, RT3 and your iodine levels.
From there, meet with a nutritionist or a naturopathic doctor to ensure you’re getting enough (and not too much!) iodine in your diet. Some of the richest sources of iodine include yogurt, eggs, strawberries and certain cheeses.
Dr. John Dempster is a Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto. He’s the founder of The Dempster Clinic — Center for Integrated Medicine and embraces the biochemical uniqueness of each patient. With a large focus on regenerative and anti-aging medicine, he focuses on optimizing nutritional and biochemical imbalances. Dr. D can be contacted through his website, www.thedempsterclinic.com