Since we don’t see these kinds of spectacular symptoms in our streets anymore, we go through life totally unaware that our body is constantly sending and receiving information, and making tiny adjustments to keep us in good health.
A collection of glands located in the brain and the organs produces chemicals, called hormones, which regulate how our body works.This includes controlling our metabolism, growth, development, sexual function and maturity, reproduction, sleep and mood.
The endocrine system is made up of the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, adrenal glands, pancreas, ovaries (in females) and testicles (in males).
While all the different hormones constantly circulate throughout the body, each of them is programmed to target only a specific organ or tissue.
Like a thermostat acting to maintain the temperature of a heating system at a comfortable level, receptors in each organ constantly send information to the brain. In turn, it responds by increasing or decreasing the production of these hormones to keep the body functioning as it should.
Unfortunately, like everything else in life, things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes the body is unable to produce enough hormones, or the body’s thermostat is not working and too much of a chemical gets released into the system.
As an example, the thyroid gland in our throat releases hormones that control our metabolism.
By regulating how our body uses energy, these hormones also have an important influence on our breathing, body weight, muscle strength, bone composition, body temperature, cholesterol level, menstrual regularity and fatigue levels. In children, these hormones regulate growth and brain development.
The thyroid gland uses iodine from the foods we eat to make two main hormones called Triodothyronine (T3), and Thyroxin (T4).
Two little glands in our brain called the hypothalamus and the pituitary keep these two hormones under control by monitoring the release of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH).
When thyroid levels are too low in the blood, more TSH is released to produce more T3 and T4. In contrast, when the levels are too high, less TSH gets released which, in turn, slows down the production of these two hormones.
Optimal functioning of the thyroid gland depends on several factors: an adequate supply of iodine in the diet, healthy hypothalamus and the pituitary glands and the body ‘s ability to convert Thyroxin (T4) into Triodothyronine (T3).
When one of these factors is out of balance, the affected individual will begin to experience either hypothyroidism (an insufficient level of thyroid), or hyperthyroidism (an excess level of thyroid).
In the former case, having a slower metabolism (being hypo), which is quite common in women aged over 40, is like being stuck in first gear in a manual car.
The body is constantly struggling, and everything is slowed down. This will be expressed in tiredness, weight gain, oedema, constipation, impaired memory, depression, and an increased sensitivity to cold or, as in the case of my former neighbour, an enlargement of the throat called “a goitre”. (This can also occur in hyperthyroidism cases)
Hypothyroidism is one of the most common endocrine disorders in the world, and it is more prevalent in women, and the elderly. The standard medical treatment for hypothyroidism has, for many years, been the administration of a Thyroxin replacement called Levothyroxine (LT4), which is taken orally on a daily basis.In most cases, this drug is able to manage the signs and symptoms of this disorder, but one has to be committed to taking daily medication for a lifetime.
Hypothyroidism is frequently caused by a lack of iodine in the diet.
According to the Australian Thyroid Foundation, “More than 50% of children, and pregnant or breastfeeding women living in Australia have been shown to be iodine deficient, and are at risk of developing thyroid disease.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises iodine deficiency as the single most common cause of preventable mental retardation, and brain damage in the world.
The most serious consequences occur during foetal and infant development. Maternal iodine deficiency may cause miscarriage, and other pregnancy complications, such as premature delivery and infertility.
The main sources of iodine are seafood, dairy milk or dairy products, commercial bread, and eggs and foods containing iodised salt. Unfortunately, most of us don’t consume enough fish, and the soil used to grow vegetables in Australia and New Zealand is very iodine- deficient, so vegetables, meat, eggs or milk from animals that have grazed in iodine-depleted areas often only contain marginal levels of iodine.
So what can be done to increase our iodine levels, and treat hypothyroidism, except taking supplements, or visiting a fish shop more often?
We will be answering these questions, and many others next month in NOVA.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com