Monday, January 21, 2013

How to Protect Your Thyroid in a Toxic Environment

Threats to your thyroid abound, but you can take preventive steps like eating selenium-rich foods such as sardines.

Sardines on plate
Sardines and other selenium-rich foods promote thyroid health.

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits just below your Adam’s apple. It is small, but has a big job: Your thyroid is responsible for making hormones that affect just about every aspect of your body’s organs, cells and tissues. Thyroid hormones help to regulate things like your heart rate, body temperature and metabolism. Think of your thyroid as your metabolic engine; keeping this little powerhouse healthy is vitally important to keeping your whole body healthy. Unfortunately, there are threats to thyroid health that include:

  • Stress
  • PCBs — a banned chemical still found throughout the environment
  • X-rays of the head and neck region
  • Cigarette smoking

The result of damage to the thyroid gland is either too much or too little thyroid hormone released. Too much can cause sweating, changes in appetite, fatigue, weakness and sleep disturbances. Too little and you may experience weight gain, dry skin, constipation and depression. To protect your thyroid, reduce your exposure to these threats where possible. Luckily, diet can make a difference in helping your thyroid gland protect itself from environmental harm.

  • Selenium-rich foods such as tuna, halibut, sardines and Brazil nuts support systems that protect the thyroid gland.
  • Iron, found in red meat, dark leafy greens and legumes, is essential for thyroid health.
  • Iodine is also essential for thyroid function. Iodized salt is one primary source, while yogurt, milk, fish and shellfish also are good sources.

Of the thyroid threats listed above, stress is one of the most common and the most in your control. Go for a walk. Practice yoga. Spend time with friends. Read. Breathe deeply. Decrease your stress and protect your thyroid powerhouse.

By Elisha Rain, MS, CN, Bastyr dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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