Vital FIeld

Thyroid Health: Function, Disorders, and the Keys to a Healthy Gland 

As a holistic wellness specialist and frequent traveler for my work with FrequenCell, my experience working in Austin, TX, was a memorable one. There, at a pop-up energy center, I was blown away by the high prevalence of thyroid disorders among the local population of clients we treated. This observation sparked a deep dive into potential reasons behind this trend. Is it the water source? The high consumption of smoked meats? (After all, Austin is the barbeque capital.) While I was unable to find a definitive answer, my research led me to the intriguing work of Dr. Ray Peat, whose pro-metabolic dietary approach and research offer fascinating insights into thyroid health.

In this 3-part article, we’ll explore the thyroid gland from various angles—its function, common disorders, and how both diet and light exposure play critical roles in its health. Whether you’re new to the topic or seeking deeper understanding, I hope to provide valuable insights that resonate with your wellness journey.

Part 1: Understanding the Thyroid Gland

The Role of the Thyroid in the Body

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ situated at the front of the neck, below the Adam’s apple. This gland is fundamental to metabolic processes in the body—it produces hormones like thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which regulate the body’s metabolism, influencing how we burn calories, how much energy we have, our temperature regulation, and even our heart rate.

Common Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid disorders can disrupt this delicate balance and lead to a variety of symptoms, affecting overall quality of life. Here, we look at the two primary conditions:

  • Hypothyroidism: An underactive thyroid produces too little hormone, leading to symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, dry skin, hair loss, and depressive moods. It’s often caused by autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where the body mistakenly attacks thyroid tissue.
  • Hyperthyroidism: In contrast, an overactive thyroid pumps out too much hormone. Symptoms include unexpected weight loss, anxiety, irritability, tremors, and a rapid heartbeat. Graves’ disease, another autoimmune disorder, is a common culprit.

Who is Affected Most?

Thyroid disorders predominantly affect women, with statistics showing that they are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems. Women face unique challenges when dealing with hormonal imbalances. Excessive levels of estrogen, for instance, can impede liver function, hindering the conversion of T4 into T3, the active thyroid hormone. This interference further complicates thyroid dysfunction. Other factors such as genetics, autoimmune conditions, and even certain environmental exposures can increase susceptibility.

Here are some common symptoms linked to hypothyroidism; however, it’s important to note that you don’t need to have all of these symptoms to have the condition:

As you can see, the wide range of symptoms–many of which are general in nature–can make it very difficult to deduce a thyroid-related issue. This is part of the reason why so many suffer for years, sometimes decades, before receiving a diagnosis.

Diagnostic and Monitoring Approaches

Diagnosing thyroid issues often starts with a clinical evaluation of symptoms and includes blood tests to measure hormone levels, and in some cases, imaging tests to examine the structure of the thyroid gland. However, this standard diagnostic approach doesn’t always capture the full picture of thyroid health. Factors like stress, mineral deficiencies, and low protein intake can interfere with the conversion of T4 to T3, potentially leading to misleading test results. Because of these complexities, it’s essential to monitor thyroid function regularly. This ongoing assessment helps ensure that treatments remain effective and allows for timely adjustments to medication as needed.

Part 2: Dietary Recommendations for Thyroid Health

Dietary choices are crucial in maintaining thyroid health. Certain eating habits and food types can impact thyroid function negatively, some of which are a stark contrast to what we’ve been taught is “good” or “bad” for optimal health. For instance, prolonged fasting or chronic protein deficiency can suppress thyroid activity. Moreover, foods like beans, lentils, nuts, and polyunsaturated fats, when consumed in excess, may hinder the gland’s performance. Additionally, cruciferous vegetables—such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and mustard greens—harbor compounds that could disrupt thyroid hormone production if these vegetables are eaten undercooked. 

Embracing Dr. Ray Peat’s Pro-Metabolic Dietary Philosophy

Dr. Ray Peat’s approach to diet focuses on enhancing metabolic health, which directly supports thyroid function. He emphasizes the inclusion of specific nutrients and foods that can aid thyroid hormone production and improve metabolic rate. He also, to some controversy, emphasizes the importance of fruit intake, the right types of oils (such as coconut oil), and specific recipes like his carrot salad, which purportedly aids in regulating estrogen and supports thyroid health. Click here for Ray Peat’s carrot salad recipe.

Key Components of the Ray Peat Diet

  • Sufficient Protein Intake: Dr. Ray Peat emphasizes the importance of consuming adequate protein from sources such as dairy products, eggs, and seafood, which are rich in essential amino acids vital for maintaining liver health—an organ pivotal for hormone conversion. He advises a moderate intake of proteins from dairy and gelatin, and certain types of seafood, particularly those low in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). While he recommends limited consumption of muscle meats and eggs, he suggests choosing fattier cuts of meat like ribeye steak, pork belly, and chicken thighs over leaner options such as chicken breast, sirloin steak, or turkey breast.
    Dr. Peat also suggests a generous intake of organ meats like liver, which not only support thyroid health but are also abundant in crucial vitamins A and D. These nutrients are essential for optimal thyroid function.
  • Carbohydrates and Fruits: Peat’s approach deviates from many contemporary diets. He advocates for the inclusion of fruits and root vegetables, which provide natural sugars and vital nutrients. These components are key to supporting thyroid function and helping to moderate stress hormones. Remember that when consuming fruits, it’s essential that they are:
    • Low-sugar, anti-inflammatory fruits such as berries, apples, and pears,
    • integrated slowly and carefully, especially if fruits have been previously excluded or restricted,
    • consumed in a balanced way, as part of a complete diet.
  • Healthy Fats: The right types of fats are crucial; butter and coconut oil, for instance, are recommended for their medium-chain fatty acids, which are easily metabolized and supportive of thyroid health. Peat also encourages the consumption of raw, unpasteurized dairy products.

What to avoid

  • Limited Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAS): Avoid seed oils and omega-3-rich fatty fish due to their believed inflammatory properties. Canola, corn, soybean, sunflower, and safflower oils are examples that should not be ingested.
  • Certain proteins: High consumption of muscle meats and organ meats is discouraged due to their iron, tryptophan, cysteine, and methionine content. 
  • Fermented foods and certain vegetables: Soy products, fermented foods, and ‘above-ground’ vegetables like nightshades and crucifers are excluded due to their goitrogenic and antinutrient content. 
  • Specific carbohydrates: Minimized consumption of grains and legumes due to their antinutrients. Maple syrup is also prohibited. 
  • Oxalates: Commonly found in plant foods like spinach, kale, almonds, beet greens, soy products, and sweet potatoes, can hinder thyroid health by blocking iodine absorption. Since iodine is essential for thyroid hormone production, this interference can disrupt thyroid function and worsen thyroid conditions. 

Potential Pitfalls and Considerations

It’s important to note that Peat’s dietary recommendations might not be suitable for everyone, especially those with certain inflammatory conditions or diabetes, as the diet can potentially exacerbate symptoms.

Part 3: The Role of Light Exposure in Thyroid Health

Light and its effects on our biological rhythms

Prolonged exposure to darkness can place significant stress on the body, triggering an increase in the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Elevated levels of cortisol can contribute to degenerative processes in the body, potentially having a negative impact on overall health.

Dr. Peat emphasizes the profound impact of natural sunlight on our health. Sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythms, which dictate not just our sleep patterns but also hormone release, including TSH. As previously discussed, an imbalance in TSH can lead directly to thyroid dysfunction. This is a point in my research where I learned yet something else I was previously unaware of… 

Getting back to my work with FrequenCell, I am frequently asked “Which Cell should I get to help with my [enter ailment here]?” I’m often able to quickly point them in the right direction, but one condition that I never thought any of our FrequenCells would help is the thyroid. Through my research connecting light exposure to hormones, I was surprised to learn that the health of your pineal gland can have a direct affect on the thyroid. 

The pineal gland 

Nestled deep in the brain, this tiny gland produces melatonin, a hormone that, as we know, regulates sleep cycles and influences our circadian rhythms. What’s intriguing is how melatonin interacts with thyroid function. Proper melatonin levels ensure that our sleep patterns support the rhythmic release of thyroid hormones, maintaining a balanced metabolic rate. Disruptions in this delicate balance, often caused by inadequate sleep or exposure to light at night, can lead to irregular thyroid activity. Knowing this now, I can confidently suggest the Pineal Gland Trio, a set of 3 FrequenCells designed to detox, strengthen, and activate the pineal gland. FrequenCell’s Balance Cell may also offer support in this area. Stay tuned as we uncover more about how embracing the sunshine can quite literally brighten our health outlook.

Sunlight and Vitamin D

Vitamin D, synthesized through our skin in response to sunlight, plays a crucial role in managing autoimmune responses. Autoimmune thyroid diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease could potentially be mitigated by ensuring adequate Vitamin D levels. It’s a link that, while still under research, offers a hopeful angle in managing thyroid health proactively.

Dr. Peat’s advocacy for red and orange light

Dr. Peat’s research advocates specifically for the benefits of red and orange wavelengths found in natural sunlight, which he believes support mitochondrial function and, consequently, cellular energy production. This specific light exposure, according to his findings, could be key in supporting a healthy thyroid.

Practical advice on sun exposure

As modern humans, our engagement with natural environments—or lack thereof—reinforced the need to revisit how we interact with light. Here are a few recommended suggestions:

  1. Increase outdoor activities. Aim to spend more time outdoors, especially in the early morning or late afternoon when the light is rich in beneficial wavelengths, and rays are gentle to the skin.
  2. Rethink sunglass use. While protecting eyes is important, allowing them to receive natural light directly can help in regulating important bodily functions, including those governing thyroid health.
  3. Embrace red light therapy. Especially in regions with less sunlight, red light therapy could be a useful adjunct to mimic the benefits of natural light wavelengths.
  4. Optimize indoor environments. Positioning workspaces near windows and choosing lighting solutions that mimic natural light can make a substantial difference.
  5. Enjoy the sun safely. Did you know that ingesting or applying PUFAs make your skin more susceptible to burn? Coconut oil mixed with zinc oxide makes a great natural sunscreen, due to its stability and does not cause risk of causing oxidative damage when exposed to the sun’s rays.

Conclusion

As we wrap up our comprehensive exploration of thyroid health, I hope you’ve found the insights into thyroid function, dietary influences, and the crucial role of light both informative and empowering as I have. While the answer as to why thyroid issues were so prevalent in the Austin area may simply be a coincidence, I learned that understanding the delicate interplay between our lifestyle choices and thyroid health is key to fostering wellness that resonates through every aspect of our lives.

Embracing the principles discussed, from Dr. Ray Peat’s nutritional insights to the transformative power of light, can significantly enhance your thyroid function and, by extension, your vitality. As always, I encourage you to take these insights and conduct your own research before weaving them into your daily routines. Experiment with what works best for your body and always consult with healthcare professionals when making significant changes, especially concerning thyroid health. Remember, each small change you make—be it simply understanding your body’s signals—can lead to profound improvements in your state of wellness.

* Important Note: This article explores perspectives on thyroid health that may differ from conventional medical approaches. The information presented, including Dr. Peat’s views, is intended to be informative and encourage further discussion. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional for diagnosis, treatment recommendations, and to discuss any integrations and considerations associated with thyroid health management.

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