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Eat you way back to sport; how diet and nutrition can boost recovery from injury

It’s not easy to get accurate figures when it comes to sporting injuries since so many never get registered at hospitals or become incorporated into nationwide surveys. Most people simply manage their injuries at home and limp along until they get better. Interestingly, back in 2005 Barclays Bank (Barclays Spaces for Sports) commissioned a survey into the rate of sporting injuries in the UK and published some very interesting results; just under 30% of the UK experience a sports related injury every year. That translates to roughly 22 million cases per year, the majority of which are the direct result of over-exertion, lack of preparation and general clumsiness! Most people recover well from injury but some 25% of those injured were forced to quit their sport. By far the most common injuries were sustained in sort tissues such as ligaments and tendons with football injuries leading the pack.

While some 26% choose to leave their injury to nature to heal there are many ways encourage the recovery from injury that could reduce the risk of a problem becoming chronic or forcing early retirement from your chosen sport. All to often little is mentioned about the effects of food, diet and nutrition and its effects on the healing process. Keeping in mind the saying “we are what we eat” it would make sense to look at your when suffering from an injury because your food will, in essence, be the mother-load when it comes to supplying your body with the building blocks for healing and tissue regeneration. It’s amazing that Hippocrates noticed this and famously commented “feed the patient and they’ll get better” over 2000 years ago and its only now that we beginning to re-appreciate the effects of nutrition on healing all over again. In general, the healing time can be viewed as the expected amount of time for wound repair, following an injury or surgery. The disability time refers to the generally expected maximal amount of time within which a person should have regained pre-injury or pre-surgical ability and performance. As a rule of thumb, healing time is always longer than disability time.

From injury to recovery
If someone reaches their expected healing time but continues to complain of pain and disability the condition is said to shift into the chronic phase, a scenario that has many possible implications. To illustrate this with a common example; the healing time for a simple knee ligament injury is in the region of 3 months. Someone complaining of persistent pain and disability after this time is then considered to be suffering from a chronic injury that needs careful investigation in order to discover if there are any maintaining or aggravating issues. Nutritional and dietary factors are now thought to play a key role in healthy resolution of tissue repair following injury and there is special interest in key amino acids, vitamins and zinc. If all the right nutrients are in place injury healing should run like a seamless process and full function should be restored. However, deficiencies and poor diet can cause serious disruption to one or more of the 4 key points of the healing process. If this happens, a weak and ineffective repair will result nudging the problem ever closer to a chronic injury state. Nutritional research has now confirmed that each of the 4 stages (vascular reaction, inflammation, proliferation and remodeling) of the healing process requires specific vitamins, minerals and amino acids for a successful outcome, even from relatively trivial injuries

Healing; a 4-stage process
The initial phase following any sporting injury is characterized by the rapid constriction of blood vessels closely followed by a more prolonged phase of blood vessel dilation as the vessels open up and become leaky. This allows important healing components of the blood to exit the blood vessels and take up residence within the damaged tissue. You tend to notice this phase of the reaction since there will be swelling, heat and pain! Despite this rather unpleasant side effect is vital ti the healing process since it starts to clear away the damaged tissue. Because of the presence of white blood cells any invading bug are confronted and destroyed which prevents opportunistic infections complicating the injury. The second stage of the process is associated with some persistent warmth surrounding the damaged area. Heat is a typical sign of injury and represents the outward effects of inflammatory chemicals and increased blood supply. Its over these phases that the protein-based healing framework is laid down forming a vital scaffolding onto which new tissue will be built as the region is repaired. For this reason, this stage of the healing process is descriptively known as the proliferative phase. In most cases, basic tissue healing is up to 70% complete after four weeks, but the process of remodeling in more extensive injuries can continue for around two years.

Nutrients are the vital basic raw materials for healing
A quick look at the health section of your local supermarket or health store will reval just how many vitamin and mineral supplements there are, each with their own story to tell! When it comes to injury management there are a few that stand head and shoulders above others, these include vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, L-Arginine and L-Glutamine. Vitamin A is needed for the formation of strong and effective collagen fibres that prevent wounds from breaking down prematurely. This is especially evident in skin injuries. Along with its collagen strengthening function vitamin A is also necessary for an effective immune response that protects against nasty infections that sould seriously delay the healing process. Because of its potential to be toxic, retinol (true vitamin A) is not normally recommended as a supplement. To get round this, it’s non-toxic relative, known as beta carotene, is safe to use by those who have not had a history of smoking related lung cancer. This caveat to beta carotene use follows on from some research findings indicating that it may aggravate this form of lung cancer. In health the body can convert beta carotene into retinol as needed without the worry of toxicity. Foods that are colourful tend to owe their colours to the carotenoid group of compounds of which beta carotene is just one. Select from a variety of foods such as carrots, spinach, kale, apricots, papaya, mango and tomatoes. Vitamin C is another important nutrient needed for the production of strong collage. While scurvy (a gross deficiency state) is unlikely today, an optimal amount of vitamin C is still essential for the healthy resolution of an injury. Vitamin C is also needed for the normal functioning of many immune cells as well as for the strength of blood vessel walls. Collagen, the very glue that holds us together is dependant on adequate vitamin C levels, a lack of vitamin C is commonly associated with fragile and poorly healed injuries. Its interesting that we all tend to associate oranges with vitamin C but its sweet red peppers that actually boast the highest amounts. Other vitamin C foods include cooked broccoli. Contart to popular belief, cooking is known to release more readily available (bioavailable) vitamin C than eating food raw. Also consider eating more ‘greens’, sprouts and tomatoes to boost your vitamin C intake from foods. When we look to the trace element zinc it becomes apparent that a deficiency is known to result in a delayed or poorly healed injury. Zinc is needed to increase scar strength. The need for zinc is thought to be the highest from time of injury especially during the early inflammatory phase. Getting a good boost of zinc from your diet can present vegetarians with a dilemma; the highest amounts are found in oysters (around 77mg per serving), followed by beef, crab, pork and lobster! However baked beans (1.7mg per serving) and cashew nuts (1.6mg per serving) offer fair amounts when eaten on a regular basis. Zinc toxicity can be an issue with higher intakes. Keeping a supplement dose to around 15mg for a few months is a reasonable thing to do over a phase of injury when your zinc needs are higher than normal.

The need for proteins
Protein intake is vital to optimal wound healing, it’s an established fact in all manner of injuries. Out of the many available to the body two key amino acids (Arginine and Glutamine) appear to be essential for soft tissue regeneration and repair. Arginine has a surprising immune function in addition to stimulating the production of complex proteins needed essential for the formation of new body tissue where as glutamine is used by specialist healing cells known as fibroblasts as a primary energy source during the healing process. Fibroblasts are central to the balanced production of fibrous tissue scar tissue. Using supplements of these important amino acids has been shown to enhance repair and healing. Balancing the proteins in your diet is normally the best way to obtain a broad a broad spectrum of well absorbed amino acids with foods such as parsley, raw spinach, fish, meat and beans boasting a high glutamine content with chocolate (yes chocolate!), coconut, dairy products, meat, oats, nuts, raw cereals, peanuts, soybeans and walnuts serving as good sources of arginine. To be on the safe side, those suffering from viral infections or who are pregnant or lactating and those with schizophrenia should avoid taking over 30 mgs of arginine per day while those with liver or kidney diseases, Reye’s syndrome or other disorders resulting in the accumulation of ammonia in the blood need to avoid excessive glutamine intakes.

In managing your sporting injury it is important to remain realistic and understand that healing is a natural process but it can be enhanced with good diet, specific supplements when needed and the careful use of physical therapy and rest.

 

Product link: ST-Repair, nutrients to support tissue healing

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Zinc regulates communication between brain cells

Zinc has been found to play a critical role in regulating communication between cells in the brain, possibly governing the formation of memories and controlling the occurrence of epileptic seizures.

Learn more here: Zinc regulates communication between brain cells.

Zinc: are you getting enough?

Its not difficult to get a regular intake of zinc from your diet. The list below is by no means comprehensive but does illustrate the levels you can obtain from food keeping in mind the daily intake should be in the region of just 15mg!

Top Zinc Foods

Oysters: up to 180mg zinc per 100g, around 76mg zinc per 6 average oysters…

Toasted wheat germ: 17mg zinc per 100g – sprinkle on salads, rice etc…

Liver: Veal liver as the most zinc, around 12mg per 100g

Sesame butter: around 10mg zinc per 100mg

Roast pumpkin seeds: 10mg zinc per 100mg of seeds

Dried watermelon seeds: popular in the Middle East and delivering 10mg zinc per 100mg of seeds

Mutton: around 8mg zinc per 100mg of meat

Peanuts: supplies about 6mg zinc per 100mg

Zinc supplements

If you don’t fancy any of the above and are worried that you are not getting your daily zinc intake, click here for a high quality 15mg supplement.

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Eat well to heal well

Most of us never give a second thought to the healing process, we get an injury and it heals up; simple. What we neglect to appreciate is just how complex and well orchestrated the healing process actually is. If any step along the way is defective or interrupted the healing process can become delayed and problems can ensue.

When we damage any tissue in the body the natural process of wound healing jumps in and immediately starts to clear things up. The damaged tissues need to be replaced with new. This process demands the use of precious raw materials such as proteins, specific nutrients and energy in the form of calories to fuel the mechanisms of repair. Even following a small wound the natural reaction of the body is to stimulate the metabolism as part of a stress reaction. In this situation the term stress does not imply the anxiety reaction commonly associated with the phrase but refers to the biological and hormonal stress reaction that places specific demands (stress) on the body. This early phase of wound healing is technically known as the ‘catabolic phase’ because it is characterized by a breakdown of tissue. During this time water can be used at an increased rate along with an increased release of energy from food or stored body fat. In very undernourished individuals, with low body fat, muscle may be broken down for energy. This situation is not good because it starves the healing wound of much needed proteins (since they are being ‘burnt’ to provide energy) when they should be being utilized for the healing process. In such cases, delayed wound healing is the inevitable result.

Common problems that are associated with delayed wound healing

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Liver disease
  • Smoking
  • Kidney disease
  • Poor circulation
  • Poor nutrition
  • Weak immune system
  • Inflammatory disease
  • Being over 65 years old

The importance of protein

Without a good protein supply wounds will not heal well at all. Reduced intake of protein will decrease the production of collagen; the ‘glue’ that literally holds us together. Most diets deliver adequate proteins but over phases of wound healing special attention should be given to high protein foods like grains, seeds, nuts, eggs, fish, meat and if you are not sensitive to it dairy foods.

L-Arginine is an important amino acid found in many protein foods. It’s a vital ingredient for the production of proteins structures needed for repair and a strong healed wound. Supplements containing L-Arginine have been shown to promote collagen production and accelerate the healthy healing of many kinds of soft tissue (skin, muscle, tendon) injuries. Another key amino acid needed for healing is L-Glutamine which is also needed for optimal collagen production. Using a supplement containing these saves the body from mobilizing them from muscle tissue and ensures a ready and adequate supply.

The importance of fats

Fats get a bad press but we do know that there are good and bad fats. All the cells in our body have a fat membrane that keeps the tissues flexible. Making sure that you get enough good fat in the diet can make a big difference to the healing process. There is no need to take excessive amounts of additional oils but 500-1000 mg of flax oil per day would be adequate. Taking too much omega-3 oil (eg. high strength fish oil) may actually reduce the strength of a healed wound.

The importance of carbohydrates

Energy is the currency needed to heal a wound. Carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, cereals, brown rice and potatoes deliver plenty of starch that is readily metabolized into energy for life and healing. However, diabetics need t take care not to radically change their carbohydrate intake without supervision.

How about vitamins and minerals

Balanced diets should deliver all the nutrients needed but some nutrients do appear more important to boost wound healing. It may come as no surprise that vitamin C demands increase. This vitamin is needed for collagen production and immune support. Poor healed wounds and wound infection is associated with low vitamin C levels or intake. The same can be said about vitamin A but this nutrient should only be taken in the form of beta carotene because of the potential for toxic side effects from pure vitamin A (retinol). Eating plenty of coloured fruits and vegetables will boost the dietary levels and a supplement may help as well. Of all the minerals available to the body a healing wound demands extra zinc and iron. Unless anaemic, the body has good stores of iron and supplements are not recommended because of the risk of iron overload (toxicity) or more commonly bowel upset. Supplementation with zinc on the other hand may offer some additional benefit. Slow to heal wounds have been shown to improve with the use of additional zinc and by increasing the intake of key zinc foods such as fish, eggs and shellfish. Eating more red meat, eggs, dried fruit and dark green vegetables can boost dietary iron.

In general wounds healing can be significantly improved by careful attention to diet and fluid intake; it may sound simple but it’s a vital step and makes all the difference between a well healed or poorly healed wound. The preparation ST-Repair will deliver the key additional nutrients L-Arginine, L-Glutamine, vitamin C, beta carotene and zinc in the form of a supplement that have all been associated with optimal healing. Whether you have a surgical wound that needs healing, a sports injury or other soft tissue strain never forget the importance of food and nutrients in the process of healthy tissue repair.

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Feeding your Brain

Food, Mood, the Brain and Beyond
“We used to think our future was in the stars. Now we know it’s in our genes”
James Watson Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of DNA

There is growing evidence that eating the correct diet may help prevent many disorders of the mind such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, dementia and autism but just how powerful is our diet compared to our genetic constitution? Viewed another way, maybe we should be considering the combined power of our genetic make up and diet since genes for certain disorders may only express themselves in special situations. For example, I think many psychiatrists agree that certain people have addictive personalities. In the presence of excess alcohol the gene expresses itself and the person becomes an alcoholic. What is interesting is the fact that most reformed alcoholics often turn to another addiction such as smoking or eating to fill the gap in their lives. Those who win through and turn their backs on destructive addictions may find themselves following strict religious or work-based pursuits. Just as humans can become addicted to alcohol so to can they become addicted to drugs. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests our genetics are at the root of these evils.

Studies of brains from alcohol addicts show that they have fewer dopamine receptors than non-alcoholics; maybe this was genetically determined. Genes have also been implicated in smokers. In one study of 283 smokers over one third had an unusual gene that was not present in non-smokers. The gene, named D-2, was also found to be responsible for the low number of dopamine receptors discovered in the brains of alcoholics. Now we can start to see a strong genetic link developing between the two addictive personalities. With one gene defect we can see two very different addictive behaviours and potential life style and health outcomes. Our addicts may be viewed as “medicating” themselves since both alcohol and smoking will elevate the dopamine levels (by blocking its re-uptake) and stimulate the pleasure centres deep within the brain. So to will certain foods such as carbohydrates since the release of another happy hormone, serotonin occurs.

When it comes to a discussion on diet and health the human brain must feel a bit left out. We are all aware that certain foods and vitamins feed our skin, a low animal fat diet is good for the heart, drinking plenty of water helps our kidneys and our bones benefit from extra calcium whilst the joints often feel better for a oiling up with a daily dose of cod liver oil. What about our brains – they have very special needs but how many of us give this amazing structure a second thought?

Compared to the lightweight brain our closest ancestors, the monkeys, which weigh about 105 grams the average human brain weighs in at a colossal 1350 grams. From a developmental point of view it is the first tissue to develop, at about 16 days after conception. Eating well is vital if you are trying to conceive since you may not be aware that you are pregnant by the time your babies brain has started to develop!

Even though the adult brain forms only 2% of our body weight it receives over 15% of the blood pumped from the heart and consumes well over 20% of the total body oxygen and glucose used each day. Such a high blood supply and fuel consumption shows how essential fresh supplies of brain food are for healthy brain function. However, don’t forget that the feeding of a healthy brain starts before birth!

It has been said that the seeds of good adult health are sown before conception, during pregnancy and during infancy. The seeds of health being the specific nutrients contained in our daily diet. It has been recently been discovered that certain oils (belonging to the fat family known as “omega-3’s”) are essential for the normal development of the brain and nervous system during pregnancy. This reliance on the omega-3 fats continues for the first couple of years of life. One specific member of this fat family known as docosahexaenoic acid or DHA for short, has the ability to stimulate the growth of the retina (the light sensitive inner part of the eye) and the brain itself. DHA can, therefore, be considered to be a specific brain nutrient. Apart from the brain DHA plays an important function in the correct functioning of the immune system.

The developing baby is reliant on it’s mother for an adequate DHA supply. Dietary intake accounts for the majority of DHA used by the baby and obtained through the placenta and later on in the breast milk. Many formula milk are very low in DHA. In fact the fat content of most formula feeds are based in commercially processed oils which contain high levels of potentially damaging fats known as “trans fatty acids”. It has been estimated that breast milk contains over 30% more DHA than formula feeds; breast is always best!

Just take a trip around any supermarket and you will be confronted with an enormous and ever-growing variety of low-fat or fat-free food products. These foods are being aimed at our obsession with low fat diets promoted by the media. With our ever growing knowledge about the importance of essential fatty acids it is questionable if this new style of eating is the healthy option it is made out to be. However, this is not an invitation to throw caution to the wind and pig out fatty foods. I would still advise moderation in animal (saturated) fats while increasing oily fish, and foods high in monounsaturated fats – the good fats!

The shift in modern eating habits is causing serious concerns regarding the growing followers of the low-fat culture. This diet trend is causing a drop in the essential fatty acid intake in the general population. Most worrying is the potential adverse effects this may have on mothers to be and their babies developing nervous system.

Recently, an item of news announced the fact that the brains of pregnant women shrank over the cause of their pregnancy. The study was carried out at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School. The scientists were investigating the causes of pregnancy related blood pressure problems when they stumbled across the unexpected finding showing that the brains of the women they were studying were shrinking. The investigating team discovered that the mothers were deficient in essential fatty acids that were needed by the developing babies brain and nervous system. Such was the demand that the stores contained in the mothers brain were mobilised into the general circulation for delivery to the developing baby. The adult brain is a rich reserve pool of these special fats. Happily, however, the brains returned to normal after 6 – 10 months but the fact remains that the reserve pool was tapped into demonstrating the absolute necessity for these fatty acids.

It is common knowledge that folic acid is essential for the healthy formation of the nervous system. Most pregnant mothers are now given tablets of 400 mcg folic acid to prevent spina bifida, but what about oil supplements?

Deficiencies of the omega 3 family can lead to learning difficulties because of their importance in the development of the nervous system but because learning and behavioural problems are only normally noticed some years after birth and are not life threatening, unlike spina bifida, it has not prompted much attention. There is a popular misconception that fats act as nothing more than storage systems for energy or as packing material. Only recently has it become acknowledged that fats have a very significant role in the metabolism and development of the body. There is a clear need for a greater understanding of the role of fatty acid metabolism in the maintenance of cell membrane health. There is evidence accumulating that any dietary programme aimed at helping an autistic child should involve a balance of both omega 3 and 6 fatty acids rather than gross overloading of one form . Evening Primrose Oil consists largely of Gamma Linolenic Acid, an Omega 6 acid. There are other, richer sources of Gamma Linolenic Acid, such as Borage (Star Flower) Oil but it is claimed that this is less well tolerated than the oil from Evening Primrose. Fish oils such as Cod liver oil have the added advantage of including supplementary Vitamin A, which is likely to be, is short supply in people with autism.

Flax seed oil is a rich source of Omega 3 acids. A daily dose of flaxseed oil will re-balance the situation. Taken at a dose of 1 – 2 grams a day it will provide all the necessary fatty acids needed for health. Flaxseed oil is a richer supply of omega 3’s than fish oil, almost twice as concentrated in fact. From the high content of linolenic acid contained in flax oil the body can make all the DHA it needs.

The adult brain is not a static structure. Our ideas about the brain have changed since the early days of neurology and its plasticity (the ability to change and adapt to different situations) has now been appreciated.

The chemical environment of the brain is all important. Even minor nutritional deficiencies can major implications on healthy brain function. It has been noted that symptoms of dementia can occur long before the levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid are shown to be low in blood tests. The findings of vitamin B12 deficiency is not uncommon in Alzheimer’s disease further supporting the importance for a good nutritional balance. Unfortunately by the time symptoms start to be noticed supplementation may come too late. A long term minor deficiency has been suggested to cause slow and irreversible changes in the nervous tissue that is unresponsive to corrective supplementation.

As with many nutritional substances there is a good deal of interaction between the food chemicals that enter the brain. Vitamin C, for example, plays an essential part in the healthy actions of another important brain food, the amino acid known as phenylalanine. Phenylalanine works to produce nerve transmitting substances (called neurotransmitters) which regulate the electrical activity of the brain.

Neurotransmitters are responsible for an elevated and positive mood, alertness and mental well being, a lack causes many brain disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.

As well as vitamin C the mineral zinc has a part to play in mental health. It has been noticed that many people suffering from irritability, nervousness and anxiety have higher than normal levels of copper circulating in their bodies. Copper and zinc have an interesting relationship in that a deficiency of zinc causes an excess of copper to accumulate. Supplementing your diet with zinc can help re-balance the situation but care must be taken to avoid taking too much zinc which will cause a copper deficiency! It is best to take professional advice before taking large doses of zinc but a 15mg daily dose is considered quite safe for general uses.

Zinc has been studied in great detail and a team at the University of Michigan has shown a significant relationship between high academic grades and high zinc levels. Zinc deficiency is prevalent in our society mainly because of poor soil quality, food processing and bad cooking techniques.
Just like a fire an epileptic fit starts with a single spark, but the spark in this case is an abnormal brain impulse. The neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyrate acid or GABA for short plays a key role in controlling brain impulses. GABA is the most prevalent transmitter substance in the brain and has many functions, the most important of which is a calming effect over the nervous system.

The brain of epileptics, hyperactive children, insomniacs, cerebral palsy sufferers, hypertensives, anxiety sufferers and those with learning problems, anti-social behaviour and mental retardation all benefit from elevating the GABA levels. GABA has no serious side effects even in doses of up to 40 grams (the normal dose ranges from 250 mcg – 1,000 mcg daily).

It is interesting to note that zinc again makes an appearance in the natural treatment of epilepsy. Zinc is needed for the production of GABA, along with another amino acid called glutamic acid. Numerous experiments have shown that a zinc deficient diet aggravates epilepsy and causes more frequent fits and seizures.

So far it can be seen that we need adequate zinc, glutamic acid and vitamin C for the correct balanced production of neurotransmitters but the list does not stop there. Vitamin B6 acts as a special co-factor and helps convert the glutamic acid into GABA. If this vitamin is low in the diet, despite of adequate amounts of zinc, vitamin C and glutamic acid, the reactions will not occur and GABA levels will fall.

The major structural fats found in the brain are called phospholipids. One particular phospholipid known as phosphatidylserine appears to be important in the control of mood and mood related problems. Normally this substance is produced naturally in the brain but in individuals who have deficiencies of vitamin B12, folic acid and other essential fatty acids the production of phosphatidylserine is dramatically reduced. Low levels are often found in the brains of elderly subjects but it’s concentration in younger people may be directly related to depressive mood states.

The primary use of phosphatidylserine in nutritional medicine is in the treatment of depression and impaired mental function in the elderly. Very good results have been obtained in a number of studies. Supplementing the diet with phosphatidylserine appears to improve neurotransmitter release (especially acetylcholine), memory and age related changes.

How phosphatidylserine aids in the treatment of depression is unknown. It does not affect serotonin levels like classic antidepressants nor does it interfere with other neurotransmitters. Phosphatidylserine does, however, improve the quality of brain cell membranes and helps control the levels of cortisol, a hormone released from the adrenal glands which has been found to be elevated in depressed subjects.

All in all, there is much evidence to suggest that the brain needs specific nutrients and it responds very well to corrective supplements. Feeding your brain well will make sure that it functions optimally and guarantees that long term deficiency symptoms do not occur. Such symptoms are so slow in developing that they are often written off as being age related changes for which nothing can be done. This is just not satisfactory when prevention is so easily achieved by a knowledge of what to feed your brain with.

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The missing link in low energy

Have you checked your tick over?
It may come as a surprise but many of us could have a metabolism that is running a bit on the slow side. There is a host of rather non-specific signs that could suggest a thyroid problem is underlying a general state of low health well before conventional blood tests suggest so. Many patients attend the clinic complaining of fatigue, irregular heart beat, hormonal and menstrual problems, weight and fluid gain as well as recurrent chest infections, poor memory and skin changes. These problems can slowly accumulate over time to a point where a catalogue of complaints prompt a battery of blood tests all of which prove normal. Its only when you consider that a blood test if great for gross abnormalities in gland function but does not offer much help in very early stage illness or when the body is compensation and just getting by. In this situation we have to enter the world of functional medicine, a somewhat fringe area in which the healthy functioning of a gland is considered important not the gross pathological changes associated with overt disease.
One key player in this sphere of healthcare is the thyroid gland. Sitting up in the neck this gland produces vital hormones that maintain the bodies health on so many levels its difficult to find a tissue or organ that is not influences by thyroid hormones. Its main product is a hormone called thyroxine (also known as T4) but it is actually a lesser-known hormone called triiodothyronine (also known as T3) that does 90% of the work in the body. For this reason, T3 is often known as biologically active thyroxine and is made through a conversation process in the body from T4 that takes place in the liver and kidneys. It is a sensitive process and can be influenced by diet and vitamin and mineral deficiencies that include vitamin B2, zinc, selenium, iodine and the amino acid tyrosine. If this conversion is adversely influenced general health can be affected in many ways but conventional blood tests will prove normal since the T4 levels will be stable. The entire thyroid gland is under the control of the pituitary gland. This is the master gland seated just under the brain and releases a stimulating hormone that causes the thyroid to produce more of its hormones. Logically enough, this hormone is called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH for short).

The female hormone connection
There is a close relationship between changes in female hormone and the healthy functioning of the thyroid gland, and for that matter, vice versa. Even when there are no obvious causes for female hormone problems such as ovarian cysts, endometriosis, fibroids and alike the thyroid can have adverse effects on normal tissues to the point where menstrual and menopausal symptoms become more severe than the have to. One of the pioneers behind detecting and treating subtle thyroid problems, Dr Broda Barnes, even went so far as to check the healthy functioning of the thyroid on both partners in cases of persistent infertility of unknown origin.

How to check your thyroid at home
Dr Barnes developed a simple test that, although it never caught on in main stream medicine, forms an important test for those working in the functional medicine area. For women who are still menstruating and prone to temperature changes linked to the cycling hormones, it’s recommended that this test is performed on the second and/or third day of their period. Women who are menopausal and men can perform the test at any time.

Step 1. Shake down the thermometer and leave it on the bed side table
Step 2. On waking, place the thermometer under the armpit.
Step 3. Don’t move for 10 minutes, lie perfectly still!
Step 4. Read off your temperature and note it down.

How is your thyroid?
97.8 – 98.2 F (36.5 – 36.8 C): Normal
Over 98.2 F (36.8C): Over active thyroid or infection
Under 97.8 F (36.5C): Under active thyroid

Despite the controversy surrounding this simple test and its interpretation, simple dietary changes and then use of specific supplements aimed at supporting the gland can help many cases of chronic fatigue, hormone related lethargy and weight gain not to mention support a healthy heart and brain function. If you feel you may have a thyroid that is underperforming rather than medically malfunctioning this test may open new doors to regaining your health.

Helpful links
Broda O. Barnes M.D Research Foundation
British Thyroid Foundation

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