What is the thyroid gland and why is it so important?
The thyroid gland is one, single gland of the body that produces chemicals that go to other parts of the body including organs and glands. The chemicals produced by the thyroid gland help other parts of the body in turn to produce chemicals essential to the proper functioning of the body. The thyroid gland is located in the neck.
When I was a little boy I saw an old woman in church on Sunday who had a huge swelling in the front of her neck as big as a grapefruit. The woman seemed to act as if nothing was wrong and had a serene smile on her face but I was very distressed by her condition. I asked my mother what is wrong with her. My mother answered that the woman had a disease called goiter, something I had never heard of. My mother said people got it who never ate fish. My mother told me people needed to have fish in their diet to get iodine to prevent goiter.
All the people I have met who had thyroid gland problems said they did not like eating fish. Some had to have their thyroid glands removed and have to be on medication for the rest of their lives. Some have thyroid glands that don’t work properly so they need medication to compensate for it. One woman I talked with said she never ate fish but she had an overactive thyroid gland and had to have it removed. This threw me for a moment about what I was saying about eating fish but upon further thought I realized that an overactive thyroid gland is still one that is not functioning properly and in her case it was, also, caused by not eating fish. She had to be on medication the rest of her life as well. The important thing is that the proper functioning of the thyroid gland is absolutely necessary to maintain the proper chemical balance of the body. Amazingly having fish in the diet even once a month can maintain a healthy thyroid gland although obviously having fish in the diet more often is better especially since iodine, a mineral, is needed by the body for other functions.
Iodine is present in ocean going fish and in small amounts in natural, sea salt. This is why boxes of salt used to say iodine on them but now say iodide. This is because salt that is mined or sea salt that is processed too much has no iodine so these boxes of salt have iodine artificially added. Iodine in salt is not enough to prevent thyroid problems. Natural, sea salt only has a trace of iodine hence the term,”trace sea minerals”.
There are vegetarian sources of iodine such as natural brewer’s yeast, salt water seaweed such as dulse and kelp. Some plants if grown in iodine rich soils may be a good source of iodine such as asparagus, green peppers, lettuce, lima beans, mushrooms, pineapple, raisins, spinach, summer squash, swiss chard , turnip greens, and whole wheat. (See the article, WHY ORGANICS?, about how food does not have the nutritional value people think it does unless the nutrition is in the soil.) I recommend brewer’s yeast which can be sprinkled on food before eating as a seasoning. It has a great taste that people call nutty tasting. I say it has a taste all its own. Brewer’s yeast is sometimes known as nutritional yeast and it is no wonder. Natural brewer’s yeast has protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals as well as iodine. It has lots of iron. Iron, iodine and vitamin B12 work together to help the body produce healthy, red blood cells.
The latest research shows that the chemicals that the thyroid gland produces, also, go to the brain to help the brain produce it’s own chemicals. The chemicals the brain produces for its own functions have to be in proper balance for mental health.
I associate the refusal of some people to eat fish because they don’t like the taste or smell with the way children refuse to eat some vegetables because they don’t like them when they first taste them. I think pure stubbornness persists when people still refuse to eat fish into their adulthood even though they know it is healthy for them. When I was a little boy my brother and I didn’t want to eat peas after we first tasted them. My mother and father forced us to eat them. After awhile I started to love peas and still do to this day. In fact I can’t imagine being vegetarian and not eating peas since beans and legumes such as lentils, peanuts and peas are important sources of protein in vegetarian meals. My brother doesn’t like fish, not even canned tuna, but he does love fish and chips and so he makes it a point to eat fish and chips at least once a month. Even if one researches on the internet about iodine and its nutritional value one will be told in articles on the internet that having salt in the diet that has iodine added is sufficient to prevent thyroid problems. I know that this is not true because of all the people I have met with thyroid problems who refused to eat fish who certainly got a lot of salt in their diet with added iodine. One such man I met was mentally ill because he did not even use medication even though his thyroid gland was removed. For myself personally I always make sure to get fish in my diet although I get iodine from vegetarian sources as well.
It is important to note that women who are carrying a child or are breast feeding need extra iodine in their diets. Do not eat raw sushi when pregnant.