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The Role of the Thyroid Gland in

Metabolism

The thyroid gland is responsible for the basal metabolic rate and drives the metabolism of every cell. Thyroid gland function is therefore essential for an optimally functioning metabolism, as well as the efficacy of all the other endocrine (hormonal) and biochemical functions of the body, ultimately affecting every cell of the body and its effective functioning and use of fuel for cellular energy.

Associated ailments and illnesses include: hypo- (under-functioning) or hyperthyroidism (over-functioning of the thyroid gland); abnormalities in calcium metabolism and parathyroid glands; diseases and ailments of the throat, ears and neck; toxicity; growths on the vocal cords; hoarse voice; swollen glands; colds; and neck and shoulder muscle spasm.

Hypothyroidism is a common health challenge, and is presented here as an example of the practical implementation model used in mind-body, energy (vibrational) or integrative medicine.

HYPOTHYROIDISM

Hypothyroidism refers to low thyroid gland function and occurs in 10 – 40% of the adult population. It is therefore much more common than we realise. Testing thyroid function (at least thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)) should form part of everyone’s annual medical check-up. Taking your basal body temperature (see below) can also be helpful if you think you might have an under-functioning thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is situated at the front of the neck, just below the larynx (voice box). Since the hormones of the thyroid gland regulate metabolism in every cell of the body, a deficiency of thyroid hormones can affect virtually all body functions.

A deficiency of thyroid hormone may be due to defective hormone synthesis or to lack of stimulation by the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is responsible for secreting a hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland, namely TSH. TSH stimulates the thyroid gland to make and secrete T3 (tri-iodotyronine) and T4 (thyroxine).

CAUSES OF HYPOTHYROIDISM

Ninety-five per cent of all cases of hypothyroidism are primary. In other words the problem is with the thyroid gland and not the pituitary gland. Most patients with hypothyroidism are not born with it; they develop it as adults.

MANIFESTATIONS OF ADULT HYPOTHYROIDISM

Since thyroid hormones affect every cell of the body, a deficiency will usually result in a large number of signs and symptoms. The following is a brief review of the common manifestations of hypothyroidism in several body systems.

Metabolic. A lack of thyroid hormones leads to a general decrease in the rate of breakdown, assimilation and utilisation of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Moderate to marked weight gain, combined with sensitivity to cold weather (demonstrated by cold hands and feet) is a common finding. Hypothyroidism also leads to an increase in capillary permeability and slow lymphatic drainage.  This often results in the swelling of tissue, especially the front of the lower legs, ankles, feet and hands.

Endocrine. A variety of hormonal symptoms can exist in hypothyroidism. Perhaps the most common is a loss of libido in men and menstrual abnormalities in women. Women with mild hypothyroidism have prolonged and heavy menstrual bleeding, with a shorter menstrual cycle.  Infertility may also be a problem.

Skin, hair and nails. Dry, rough skin covered with fine, superficial scales and coarse, dry and brittle hair with hair loss that could be severe are often present. The nails become thin and brittle and typically show transverse grooves.

Psychological. Depression, weakness and fatigue are usually the first symptoms of hypothyroidism, followed later by difficulty in concentration and forgetfulness.

Muscular and skeletal. Muscle weakness and joint stiffness are major symptoms.

Cardiovascular. Hypothyroidism is thought to predispose to the hardening of the arteries due to the increase in cholesterol and triglycerides levels. Hypothyroidism can also cause hypertension and reduce normal heart function, leading to heart failure.

Other manifestations. Shortness of breath, constipation and impaired kidney function are some of the other common features of hypothyroidism.

Undiagnosed hypothyroidism is a serious concern, as failure to treat this underlying condition will reduce the effectiveness of most nutritional therapies. It is critical that thyroid function be evaluated, as hypothyroidism is thought to be an underlying factor in many other diseases or health challenges.

TAKING YOUR BASAL BODY TEMPERATURE (BARNES TEST)

The basal body temperature is perhaps the most sensitive functional test of thyroid function. Your body temperature reflects your metabolic rate, which is largely determined by the thyroid hormones. All you need is a thermometer.

Procedure

  • Shake down a mercury thermometer and place it by your bedside before going to sleep at night.
  • Upon waking, place the bulb of the thermometer in your armpit for a full 10 minutes. It is important to move as little as possible. Lie down with your eyes closed. Do not get up until the 10-minute test is complete.
  • After 10 minutes read and record the temperature and date.
  • Do this for at least three mornings, and give this information to your health care practitioner

Interpretation

Low basal body temperature (consistently below 36.4°C) is quite common and is indicative of hypothyroidism. Common signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism are: low basal body temperature, depression, difficulty losing weight, dry skin, headaches, lethargy and fatigue. A high basal body temperature is less common, but may be evidence of hyperthyroidism (over- functioning thyroid). Common signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism include: bulging eyeballs, fast pulse, hyperactivity, inability to gain weight, insomnia, menstrual problems and nervousness.

TREATMENT SUMMARY

Support the thyroid gland by ensuring adequate intake of key nutrients (see further on) required in the manufacture of thyroid hormone. Use your basal body temperature to determine the effectiveness of treatments and adjust the dosage accordingly.

DIS-EASES AND HEALTH CHALLENGES OF THE THROAT, EARS, VOICE AND NECK

  • Thyroid disease – hyperthyroidism (over-functioning) or hypothyroidism (under-functioning), goitre, Graves’s disease
  • Chronic throat infection or irritation, laryngitis
  • Disease of the parathryoid glands
  • Hoarse voice
  • Inflamed vocal cords, or tumours on the vocal cords
  • Postnasal drip
  • Chronic ear infection
  • Neck muscle spasm
  • Cervical spine problems like arthritis, narrowed disc spaces, etc.

HEALING STRATEGIES

  • Loosen neck and shoulder muscles with yoga exercises, massages and relaxation training.
  • Release your voice through singing, voice training, attending toastmasters, story-telling, writing in your journal or writing letters that you may or may not send – learn to express feelings, thoughts, creative impulses, dreams.
  • Participate in non-goal oriented activity such as creative fun for pure enjoyment – no striving to be the best!
  • Learn how to improve your communication skills.
  • Relax and visualise using your voice and saying or writing what you feel.
  • Positive affirmations to repeat with sincere feeling and believing that they are true and already being manifested:
    • I express my thoughts and feelings calmly and clearly
    • What I have to say is important
    • I say what I mean
    • I live my truth
    • I am true to myself
    • I express myself with joy and freedom
    • I am creative, it flows in and through me
    • I can change
    • I move beyond my own self-imposed limitations

FOOD SUPPLEMENTS AND HERBAL REMEDIES FOR LOW THYROID FUNCTION

  • Norwegian kelp (seaweed: Fructus vesiculosis) supplements. Kelp is rich in iodine that supports thyroid function and would probably help a sluggish thyroid (or the bit of thyroid left after removal), to function better. (The whole thyroid gland seldom gets removed completely, some tissue is left behind).
  • Also take the amino acid L-tyrosine (500 – 1 000 mg a day on an empty stomach). L-tyrosine is a precursor of thyroid hormone and increases the metabolism to more efficiently burn fat and carbohydrates for energy. The amino acids L-glutamine and L-glycine (250 – 500 mg of each a day on an empty stomach) are also important for normal thyroid function.
  • Take an anti-oxidant supplement with 5 000 IUs of vitamin A, 100 IUs of vitamin E, and 200 micrograms of the mineral selenium.
  • Another very effective approach is doing regular yoga therapy exercises. The exercises recommended for the thyroid gland are the shoulder stand, buzzing bee, neck and shoulder asanas, and the lion’s pose. Yoga is also great for relaxation and to increase suppleness in body and mind.
  • It also helps to visualise the little bits of thyroid tissue working their guts out! Do the exercises (above) at the same time.
  • The stress reaction causes secretion of thyroid hormones to maintain the stress metabolism. Unrelenting stress, combined with a tendency to low thyroid function, might very well lead to an under-functioning thyroid gland. Stress management and relaxation techniques (such as daily meditation, guided imagery and visualisation) are therefore essential.
  • Aromatherapy oils for massage of the shoulders, neck and back: lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, neroli and sage.
  • Measuring TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and T4 (thyroxine) levels in the blood may be theoretically sound, but doesn’t always give an accurate indication of low thyroid function. T4 is converted to the active T3 (tri-iodothyronine) hormone. Normal T4 levels might still mask low T3 levels. An easy and accurate home test for thyroid function is the Barnes test (as described above). Pre-menopausal women should take their temperature on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th day of their period. Men and post-menopausal women can take it at any time. If you have an infection, wait until you’re better before taking your temperature.

Roaring lion
Sit on your knees and haunches, with your knees about 45 cm apart. Place the palms of your hands on the floor between your knees. Turn the fingers in towards your body. Lean forward, hollow your back slightly and let your body rest on your outstretched arms and hands. Tilt your head back. Open your eyes and squint upwards. Relax. Keep your mouth shut. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose. As you breathe out, open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue. Try to let your tongue touch your chin. Make a hoarse ‘aaah’ roaring sound like a lion. Close your mouth and repeat a few times. The roaring lion is excellent for all diseases and ailments of the throat, nose, ears, eyes and mouth. It also relaxes tension in the chest and diaphragm.

Buzzing bee
Sit cross-legged on the floor, or in a chair, feet flat on the floor, back straight, head lifted. Close your ears with both middle fingers while making a buzzing sound like a humming bee, lips slightly apart. This exercise is very relaxing and effective, especially when you’re surrounded by moaners and groaners.

A SYNOPSIS OF THE MIND-SOUL-BODY ENERGY ANALYSIS

The 5th subtle energy wheel that radiates from nerve plexuses in the spinal cord involves the throat and neck area. It corresponds with the thyroid gland that secretes the thyroid hormones. Tri-iodothyronine (T3) and thyroxin (T4) are the hormones responsible for the metabolism of the body, for growth and balance. The 5th chakra is where feelings and thoughts are transformed into expression and creativity: in words, laughter or tears. It relates to everything that has to do with sound, on the physical and vibrational level. This energy area enables you to share your deepest thoughts and emotions, to express who you are, your whole being, what you do to live your life and its purpose. It gives expression to all your creativity, flowing up from the 1st subtle energy wheel in the base of the spine, right up and through the 7th subtle energy wheel and back again, in an ever-evolving spiritual circle of transformation.

The throat area, between the 5th and 6th cervical vertebrae, where the thyroid and parathyroid glands are situated, symbolically and on an unconscious level, represents creativity, communication (i.e. speaking your truth) and symbolic thinking.

Blocked, mostly unconscious mental and emotional issues in the throat area include the inability to express your innermost thoughts and feelings and your true creativity; talking too much without saying anything meaningful or skimming the surface; fear of silence; telling lies; and holding secrets that you consider too shameful to share. Blocks in this area are also often involved as unconscious shadows in alcoholism or drug abuse in families where tribal members aren’t allowed to be who they are, or to speak their truth (we deny our feelings, we don’t listen to each other, trust or speak our truth and innermost beliefs). Alcohol and other drugs become a temporary means to divert thoughts and feelings from where they are stuck in the throat, to body cells where they become embedded in cellular memory. The only way to release these memories is through thinking, feeling and speaking your truth.

BALANCED CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SUBTLE THROAT ENERGY AREA

  • Living your creativity
  • Clear resonant voice
  • Open and free communication
  • Listening and validating others’ opinions and ideas
  • Good sense of your own natural rhythm and timing and that of your environment (earth, plants, animals, people)
  • Sense of inner core balance, peace and harmony.

 

UNDERLYING MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL ISSUES TO CONSIDER IN ANY CONDITION IN THE NECK AREA

  • Inability to express oneself appropriately
  • Fear of speaking out
  • Small, weak voice
  • Difficulty putting feelings or thoughts into words
  • Should have said this or that
  • Nobody hears me or listens to me
  • I often feel thwarted
  • Feelings of anxiety, restlessness
  • Fear of silence

DIS-EASES AND HEALTH CHALLENGES OF THE THROAT, EARS, VOICE AND NECK

  • Thyroid disease – hyperthyroidism (over-functioning) or hypothyroidism (under-functioning), goitre, Graves’s disease
  • Chronic throat infection or irritation, laryngitis
  • Disease of the parathryoid glands
  • Hoarse voice
  • Inflamed vocal cords, or tumours on the vocal cords
  • Postnasal drip
  • Chronic ear infection
  • Neck muscle spasm
  • Cervical spine problems like arthritis, narrowed disc spaces, etc.

HEALING STRATEGIES

  • Loosen neck and shoulder muscles with yoga exercises, massages and relaxation training.
  • Release your voice through singing, voice training, attending toastmasters, story-telling, writing in your journal or writing letters that you may or may not send – learn to express feelings, thoughts, creative impulses, dreams.
  • Participate in non-goal oriented activity such as creative fun for pure enjoyment – no striving to be the best!
  • Learn how to improve your communication skills.
  • Relax and visualise using your voice and saying or writing what you feel.
  • Positive affirmations to repeat with sincere feeling and believing that they are true and already being manifested:
    • I express my thoughts and feelings calmly and clearly
    • What I have to say is important
    • I say what I mean
    • I live my truth
    • I am true to myself
    • I express myself with joy and freedom
    • I am creative, it flows in and through me
    • I can change
    • I move beyond my own self-imposed limitations

FOOD SUPPLEMENTS AND HERBAL REMEDIES FOR LOW THYROID FUNCTION

  • Norwegian kelp (seaweed: Fructus vesiculosis) supplements. Kelp is rich in iodine that supports thyroid function and would probably help a sluggish thyroid (or the bit of thyroid left after removal), to function better. (The whole thyroid gland seldom gets removed completely, some tissue is left behind).
  • Also take the amino acid L-tyrosine (500 – 1 000 mg a day on an empty stomach). L-tyrosine is a precursor of thyroid hormone and increases the metabolism to more efficiently burn fat and carbohydrates for energy. The amino acids L-glutamine and L-glycine (250 – 500 mg of each a day on an empty stomach) are also important for normal thyroid function.
  • Take an anti-oxidant supplement with 5 000 IUs of vitamin A, 100 IUs of vitamin E, and 200 micrograms of the mineral selenium.
  • Another very effective approach is doing regular yoga therapy exercises. The exercises recommended for the thyroid gland are the shoulder stand, buzzing bee, neck and shoulder asanas, and the lion’s pose. Yoga is also great for relaxation and to increase suppleness in body and mind.
  • It also helps to visualise the little bits of thyroid tissue working their guts out! Do the exercises (above) at the same time.
  • The stress reaction causes secretion of thyroid hormones to maintain the stress metabolism. Unrelenting stress, combined with a tendency to low thyroid function, might very well lead to an under-functioning thyroid gland. Stress management and relaxation techniques (such as daily meditation, guided imagery and visualisation) are therefore essential.
  • Aromatherapy oils for massage of the shoulders, neck and back: lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, neroli and sage.
  • Measuring TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and T4 (thyroxine) levels in the blood may be theoretically sound, but doesn’t always give an accurate indication of low thyroid function. T4 is converted to the active T3 (tri-iodothyronine) hormone. Normal T4 levels might still mask low T3 levels. An easy and accurate home test for thyroid function is the Barnes test (as described above). Pre-menopausal women should take their temperature on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th day of their period. Men and post-menopausal women can take it at any time. If you have an infection, wait until you’re better before taking your temperature.

Roaring lion
Sit on your knees and haunches, with your knees about 45 cm apart. Place the palms of your hands on the floor between your knees. Turn the fingers in towards your body. Lean forward, hollow your back slightly and let your body rest on your outstretched arms and hands. Tilt your head back. Open your eyes and squint upwards. Relax. Keep your mouth shut. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose. As you breathe out, open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue. Try to let your tongue touch your chin. Make a hoarse ‘aaah’ roaring sound like a lion. Close your mouth and repeat a few times. The roaring lion is excellent for all diseases and ailments of the throat, nose, ears, eyes and mouth. It also relaxes tension in the chest and diaphragm.

Buzzing bee
Sit cross-legged on the floor, or in a chair, feet flat on the floor, back straight, head lifted. Close your ears with both middle fingers while making a buzzing sound like a humming bee, lips slightly apart. This exercise is very relaxing and effective, especially when you’re surrounded by moaners and groaners.

 

COLOURS, VISUALISATION AND AFFIRMATIONS

The colour of the 5th subtle energy centre is blue. Surround yourself with shades of blue for a sense of peace and relaxation. Blue as in blueberries, sage and plumbago, helps to improve concentration and lessens anxiety. This will help to balance the glands and other structures in your throat. Put plumbago, cornflowers or blue irises in your house and office, and look at them frequently. Wear scarves in shades of blue. Place a few drops of lavender, frankincense, chamomile, sandalwood, neroli, or sage oil in a burner and absorb the aroma of calm and peace. Sit there every day. Focus on the different shades of blue around you: the sky, water, flowers. Blue is the colour of calmness. It helps for insomnia. Blue shades allow you to state definitely and mindfully who and what you are, what you think, who you want to be and how to express yourself. Wear something blue for an important interview or meeting, or if you feel stressed and tense. Say to yourself: I share my thoughts and feelings freely and clearly.

Do a visualisation meditation: Sit relaxed in a chair or on a bench in the garden, or lie in the dead man’s yoga pose looking at the blue sky above you. Breathe in deeply to the count of four and slowly breathe out to a count of four. Release all tension in your muscles. When you’re totally relaxed, form a picture of yourself in your mind’s eye. Imagine yourself in a difficult situation. Feel how the appropriate thoughts and emotions arise and see yourself expressing them clearly and calmly. Experience the sense of satisfaction of having spoken your mind. Remember this feeling whenever you’re in a similar situation. If you find visualisation difficult, write or draw a similar situation or scene.

Look for the following crystals to place in your home or office, or wear as jewellery: blue agate, lapis lazuli, blue quartz, aquamarine and turquoise.

Prepare your relaxation space by burning lavender oil or frankincense to clear the air. Do one of the relaxation exercises in preparation for meditation. Then try a mantra or the abovementioned positive affirmations during meditation for balancing this area. Your thought energy becomes your physical energy. Use the power of voice vibration to soothe and balance your throat area. Do the exercises religiously, diligently, but always with enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment every day.

Increase your inner awareness by measuring your progress and how you feel, and note what, how and when you express yourself. Are you able to express your thoughts and feelings, allowing your voice its audible outward expression? Write down your thoughts and ideas. Contemplate them. How does your body feel after doing the recommended balancing exercises? Is the humming bee effective in excluding irritating squabbles and senseless arguments from your immediate space? Do the roaring lion and buzzing bee at least help you laugh?

It is clear that in an integrative approach, health challenges are considered to arise from a deeper level of our being; this provides us with many tools and opportunities for inner healing and personal growth.

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