May 10, 2011 [Volume 5, Issue 9]
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In this issue of To Your Health:
Maximize Metabolism With a Healthy Thyroid
Perfect Your Posture, Improve Your Health
A Little Fat Can Go a Long Way


Maximize Metabolism With a Healthy Thyroid

So, how much do you know about the thyroid gland? Some people have never even heard of it. Thyroid health should definitely be on your radar because its primary function is to release hormones that control your metabolic rate. In other words, a healthy thyroid helps your body utilize energy quickly for cellular activities. And that's what keeps your body – right down to the individual cells – in motion, using energy efficiently throughout the day (and night) to function properly and stay in good health.

The Basics

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front part of the neck, just below the voice box (larynx). Thyroid activity is stimulated by the pituitary gland, which secretes thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to signal the production of thyroxine in the thyroid. There are two main thyroid hormones consisting of two aromatic rings of tyrosine linked together with the addition of iodine at select places: T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (tetraiodothyronine). When these hormones are insufficiently produced due to thyroid dysfunction, a condition known as hypothyroidism can occur.

When assessing for thyroid function, many doctors will first test TSH levels. As discussed, elevated TSH can be indicative of primary hypothyroidism. Most resources cite 0.4-4.0 mlU/L as normal range. However, many patients express symptoms of hypothyroidism with TSH higher than 2.5 mlU/L. This diagnosis is often referred to as subclinical hypothyroidism. Even in these less severe cases, hypothyroidism can cause many classic symptoms including weight gain, sensitivity to cold, constipation, menstrual problems, fatigue, edema, and dry skin, hair, and nails. Depression is also common in these patients, and many report forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.

Nutritional Factors

When analyzing thyroid function, three nutrients of concern are iodine, selenium, and the amino acid tyrosine. Remember, thyroxine is synthesized from tyrosine bound to iodine molecules. Selenium acts as a co-factor for enzymes known as deiodinases. These enzymes are the catalysts in the reactions involved in thyroid production and conversion. Patients concerned with thyroid health should work with their doctor to carefully monitor their intake of all three of these essential nutrients.

The most common example of nutrient deficiency causing thyroid disease is iodine deficiency. Prior to the introduction of iodized salt in the 1920s, iodine deficiency was common in the Great Lakes and Appalachian regions of the United States. This region was referred to as the "Goiter Belt" at that time due to the characteristic enlarged thyroid (goiter) seen in people with iodine deficiency.

It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of the world's population is at risk for iodine deficiency, and outside of the United States, this remains the leading cause of impaired thyroid activity and mental retardation. Even here in the U.S., despite the prevalent use of iodized salt in our food supply, undiagnosed iodine deficiency remains a cause of hypothyroidism. While the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES I), conducted from 1971-1974, found that 2.6 percent of U.S. citizens suffered from iodine deficiency, NHANES III [conducted from 1988-1994] saw that percentage rise considerably, up to 11.7 percent suffering from deficiency.

If you find yourself expressing symptoms of low thyroid activity, talk to your doctor, who may run tests to check your TSH and T3/T4 levels. And keep in mind that while less common than hypothyroidism, you can also experience hyperthyroidism: an overactive thyroid that releases too much hormones instead of too little. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include weight loss, increased appetite, nervousness, restlessness, weakness, itching, nausea and vomiting, among other unpleasantries. Talk to your doctor about thyroid health and learn more about how to keep your body in motion.

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Perfect Your Posture, Improve Your Health

Ever try balancing a book on your head (for more than a second)? To do it, you need more than just patience; you need ideal posture.

One hundred and thirty thousand years ago, when residents of the planet possessed complete Neanderthalic characteristics, posture wasn't really that high on the list of health priorities, to say the least At the time, we assume finding food, surviving the seasons and avoiding death by all manner of creatures were considerably more important. But this is 2011 and we can stand upright, walk upright and consider our health a precious asset. And yet, like the Neanderthals, our apparent disinterest in good posture remains.

Why is good posture so important? It's pretty simple. When the spine is properly aligned with its natural curvature and the entire body – from the ears to the shoulders to the hips, knees and down to the ankles and feet – is in balance, we maximize spine health and avoid poor posture-related pain and dysfunction. Ideal posture creates ideal balance; it also optimizes breathing and circulation. And shouldn't we all want to achieve that?

May is National Correct Posture Month, so we thought it was high time to get you out of your slumped, bent-back, round-shoulders position that is likely all too common if you work at a computer, spend considerable time texting or checking e-mail on your cell phone (who doesn't these days?), or engage in any of the countless activities that put your back, neck and spine at risk courtesy of poor posture. It's time to stand tall, walk tall and improve your spinal health, all at the same time!

For tips on the best ways to perfect your posture, look no further than Straighten Up America, a health promotion initiative developed in 2005 with an admirable vision: to educate the public about the importance of good posture and spinal health, to the point that "every American will take two or three minutes every day to care for their spinal health, just as they care for their dental health." Straighten Up, which partners in promoting the nation's health with the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, is designed to get children and adults up and moving while they improve their posture and spinal health. The Straighten Up program also includes healthy lifestyle recommendations congruent with the goals and objectives of Healthy People 2010, America on the Move, Steps to a Healthier US and the 5 A Day programs.

One of the earliest tests of this program proved quite encouraging: After five weeks of daily practice of "Straighten Up" exercises, more than 80 percent of participants reported improved posture; just under 80 percent said they had strengthened their core muscles; and 80 percent reported that after performing the exercises, they now sat and stood more upright, and their backs felt more comfortable in that position.

Are you and your family ready to perfect your posture? To download the complete list of Straighten Up exercises and for more information, visit www.straightenupamerica.org.

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A Little Fat Can Go a Long Way

Let's face it: Too many of us eat too much fat, and when we do, it's usually the bad kind, not the good. What are good fats? We're talking monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, and research demonstrates moderate consumption of these fats confer a number of health benefits. Yes, a little fat can go a long, long way, for better or worse; let's learn more about the healthy variety and why they're so important for your health.

As of 2008, an estimated 205 million men and 297 million adult women were obese; that's more than half a billion adults worldwide. The United States is the biggest (no pun intended) offender, with the highest collective body-mass index (greater than 28 kg/m2) among high-income countries. In fact, from 1980-2008, BMI rose the most in the U.S., increasing by more than 1 BMI point per decade.

While there are many causes of obesity, excess intake of fat – particularly saturated fat – is a major contributing factor. Fortunately, not all fat is bad in moderation. Replacing some of that saturated fat intake with small amounts of healthier fats can not only help you avoid the health conditions listed above, but also provide a variety of other health benefits.

Try Mono/Polyunsaturated Fats

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. Most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. Oils from plant sources (vegetable and nut oils) do not contain any cholesterol. Common cooking oils include canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. Additionally, walnut and sesame oil are often used for their full-body flavors. (Coconut oil and palm kernel oil, however, are high in saturated fats and for nutritional purposes should be considered solid fats.)

Canola Oil - Rich in omega-3 alpha-linoleic acids, canola oil may counteract elevated levels of fibrinogen, a blood clotting factor that, at elevated levels, is associated with increased risks of inflammation and inflammatory processes including coronary heart disease. Researchers from the University of Helsinki (Finland) investigated whether consumption of canola (rapeseed) oil, rich in omega-3 alpha-linoleic acids, could counteract elevated levels of fibrinogen. The researchers evaluated the effects of canola-type rapeseed oil on serum lipids, plasma fibrinogen, and fatty acids in 42 men and women with elevated fibrinogen and cholesterol. Study participants replaced one-quarter of their dietary fats with canola oil. During the six-week study period, canola oil doubled the intake of alpha-linoleic acids, while fibrinogen levels were reduced by 30 percent. The alpha-linoleic acids also helped to decrease plasma omega-6s and increase docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels.

Olive Oil and its phenolic compounds, oleuropein and cafeic acid, exert beneficial effects on fat oxidation and cardiac energy metabolism. In that previous studies suggest anti-diabetic, anti-atherosclerotic and anti-inflammatory effects, Geovana Ebaid, from Sao Paulo State University (Brazil), and colleagues investigated the effects of olive oil and its compounds on calorimetric parameters, myocardial oxidative stress and energy metabolism in heart tissue.

Walnuts / Walnut Oil is rich in polyunsaturated fats, walnuts and walnut oil may help the body to better respond during times of stress. Sheila G. West, from Penn State University, and colleagues studied 22 healthy adults with elevated LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, supplying each subject with meal and snack foods during three diet periods of six weeks each in duration. The first diet period consisted of an "average" American diet: a diet without nuts that reflects what the typical person in the U.S. consumes each day; the second diet included 1.3 ounces of walnuts and a tablespoon of walnut oil substituted for some of the fat and protein in the average American diet; and the third diet was comprised of walnuts, walnut oil and 1.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil.

More Healthy Fat Means Less Fat on You

Being overweight or obese can lead to serious health consequences, and fat is a major culprit. In short, we consume too much fat, and when we do, it's often the saturated variety, the kind that contributes to high cholesterol, heart disease and other major issues. Now don't get us wrong; "healthier" fats, the mono/polyunsaturated fats and fats containing omega-3 fatty acids, are still fats; but evidence suggests that in moderation, they can actually improve our health in many ways, rather than the other way around. Now that's some good news. Talk to your doctor to learn more.

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