According to the NHS, 15 in every 1,000 women and 1 in every 1,000 men now suffer from an underactive thyroid in the UK. But what are the key causes and symptoms of this increasingly common thyroid problem and how can it be prevented with the help of the natural superfood extract, kelp powder?
Underactive thyroid – what is it?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, which produces hormones that help to regulate your metabolism and growth. An underactive thyroid, which is also known as hypothyroidism, occurs when your thyroid gland no longer produces enough of the thyroxine hormone, or T4 for short.
Underactive thyroid – key symptoms
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid often develop slowly over time and you may not notice them for several years.
Key symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:
- Tiredness, lethargy and fatigue
- Sensitivity to cold
- Reduced libido
- Decreased heart rate
- Dry hair, hair loss
- Sadness, depression
- Poor hearing
- Abnormal weight gain
- Hoarse, raspy or deeper sounding voice
- Puffy face, swollen eyes, dry skin and swollen ankles
- Muscle pain and muscle cramps
- Forgetfulness, lack of concentration
Left untreated an underactive thyroid can ultimately lead to a number of more serious conditions, such as:
- Goiter (a swelling of the neck or larynx resulting from enlargement of the thyroid gland)
- Overactive thyroid (or hyperthyroidism)
- Mental disorders
- Problems with growth and development
- Hypersensitivity to radiation
- Miscarriage, death in utero, birth defects (both mentally and physically)
- Hearing and speech disorders
- An increased risk of certain types of hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer
Underactive thyroid – key causes
Many cases of underactive thyroid are caused by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland or a damaged thyroid. However, as the body requires iodine in order to manufacture thyroxine, a lack of dietary iodine is also associated with an underactive thyroid.
Underactive thyroid – the iodine link
A 2011 study by the British Thyroid Association research team suggests that the UK is now iodine-deficient, indicating an urgent need for a comprehensive investigation of the UK iodine status and recommendations to safeguard public health.
Iodine is a mineral that is required by your body for the manufacture of T4 thyroid hormones (thyroxine) and T3 (Triiodothyronine), both of which are released into the blood stream and transported throughout the body where they control metabolism. As your body does not produce iodine itself you must obtain it from your diet.
Hypothyroidism is one of the first conditions to develop in response to an iodine deficiency. That’s because between 70-80 percent of iodine is stored directly in your thyroid gland. In the event of an iodine deficiency, the thyroid gland uses up your supplies of iodine and, after a few years, it becomes totally depleted. It is at this point that your thyroid function slows down and symptoms of hypothyroidism materialise. This means that you’ll normally only notice an iodine deficiency after a delayed period of time.
Incidentally, iodine is also essential for the regulation of other important hormones, including insulin, cortisol, growth hormone and testosterone. An iodine deficiency can therefore not only trigger thyroid problems, but also have an impact on your overall health and wellbeing.
Why is the UK iodine deficient?
These days our modern diet contains too little iodine. Indeed, soil erosion and poor farming methods have left UK crops lacking in essential nutrients and many vegetables that were once naturally rich in iodine contain far less iodine than ever before.
Treating an underactive thyroid
In the UK, those suffering from an underactive thyroid are typically prescribed hormone-replacement tablets that raise thyroxine levels. Unfortunately these must usually be taken on a daily basis and for the rest of a patient’s life. Which is why preventing an underactive thyroid problem in the first place is, of course, preferred.
Preventing an underactive thyroid
Whilst some cases of underactive thyroid can never be prevented (for example, when it is caused by your body’s own immune system attacking the thyroid), an underactive thyroid disorder caused by a lack of iodine can.
Adults require around 0.14 mg of iodine per day – many recommend boosting your iodine intake by consuming bread, as this contains ‘bakers salt’, which in turn contains a significant amount of iodine. However, bread also contains gluten, which can trigger certain digestive problems that prevent the absorption of minerals, including iodine. Similarly, kitchen salt is often suggested as it contains potassium iodide. Yet kitchen salt is not only highly refined, too much of it can also raise your blood pressure and put you at increased risk of other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke.
The best way, therefore, to prevent an iodine deficiency, and in turn avoid an underactive thyroid, is to add plenty of iodine rich foods and superfoods to your daily diet*.
Iodine rich superfoods include:
- Wild oily fish, such as sardines, anchovies and salmon
- Irish moss
- Kelp powder
- Kelp noodles
- Organic vegetables that have been cultivated close to the sea (and thus on iodine-rich soil)
*Always consult your GP before increasing your iodine intake, particularly if you suffer from a thyroid problem, as certain types of thyroid disorder, such as an overactive thyroid caused by Graves’ disease, can be made worse by increasing your iodine consumption.
Kelp powder – the natural solution for an underactive thyroid
Kelp powder is a natural superfood extract made from kelp – a special type of seaweed that contains a unique combination of nutrients and is extremely rich in iodine. It is also an exceptionally versatile kitchen ingredient that can be stirred directly into smoothies, shakes, protein drinks and juices, and is an ideal addition to rawfood soups, sauces and salads. Kelp powder is a common component in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cooking, and is therefore particularly delicious in oriental dishes.
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