Your thyroid gland controls much of how your body works and is important in many surprising ways.
In this article:
- What Is A Thyroid Gland?
- Where Is My Thyroid Gland Located?
- When Does The Thyroid Gland Activate?
- What Are The Common Thyroid Gland Disorders?
- Who Is At Risk For Thyroid Gland Disorders?
- Why Is The Thyroid Gland Important?
- How Do I Keep My Thyroid Gland Healthy?
Thyroid Gland: Your Most Burning Questions Answered
What Is A Thyroid Gland?
A thyroid gland is an organ in the shape of a butterfly that sits at the base of your neck. It secretes hormones that manage your metabolism.
Your thyroid gland also regulates a host of other important functions of your body:
- Heart Rate
- Body Temperature
- Levels Of Cholesterol
- Body Weight
- Menstrual Cycle
- Muscle Strength
- Nervous System
The thyroid gland is an important part of the endocrine system, which consists of a series of glands that manufacture, store, then release your hormones into your bloodstream.
Your thyroid gland primarily uses iodine to produce the hormones Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). Then, the glands, hypothalamus and pituitary, communicate with each other to ensure that the T3 and T4 levels are properly balanced.
What is T3? Triiodothyronine is a thyroid hormone that affects physiological bodily processes. This includes metabolism, temperature maintenance, growth, heart rate, and development.
What is T4? Thyroxine is the main hormone secreted by the thyroid gland. It is responsible for regulating digestive and heart function, brain development, muscle control, and bone health.
Where Is My Thyroid Gland Located?
Feel around on your neck and locate your Adam’s apple. It is that hard protrusion right in the middle of your neck, called the thyroid cartilage.
The thyroid gland itself is about 2 inches long and sits right in the front of your throat. It has two lobes spread at either side of the windpipe and is usually connected together by an isthmus, a small strip of thyroid tissue.
Some people don’t possess an isthmus, so their thyroid glands are composed of two separate lobes.
When Does The Thyroid Gland Activate?
The thyroid gland is active at all times and puts itself to work whenever you consume iodine. It converts the iodine into the T3 and T4 hormones that are then released into your bloodstream to do their business of regulating several bodily functions.
The hypothalamus, then, produces TRH (TSH Releasing Hormone), which tells the pituitary gland to produce more or less of either the T3 or T4. The thyroid gland does as it’s told by releasing more TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone.)
When levels of T3 and T4 are low, the pituitary gland churns out more TSH to inform the thyroid gland that it needs to make more thyroid hormones. But when T3 and T4 levels are high, the pituitary gland dials back on producing TSH to slow down the thyroid gland’s hormone production.
What Are The Common Thyroid Gland Disorders?
- Goiter – This is commonly seen as a bulge in the neck. It is caused by hyperthyroidism (which turns it into a toxic goiter) or an iodine deficiency (which results in a non-toxic or endemic goiter).
- Hypothyroidism – This condition comes as a result of having too little thyroid hormones. In babies, it causes mental retardation and abnormal bone formation, while in adults it causes reduced appetites, sluggishness, increased sensitivity to cold, and noticeably speedy weight gain.
- Hyperthyroidism – This comes as a result of having too much thyroid hormones. They are increasingly sensitive to heat, have huge appetites and tend to be hyperactive.
- Thyroiditis – This is a thyroid inflammation that is usually a result of an abnormally functioning thyroid, often hyperthyroidism. The inflammation often leads to cell death, preventing the thyroid from producing the right amount of hormones to maintain regular metabolism.
- Thyroid Cancer – This type of cancer is common, but has a higher long-term survival rate compared to other cancers. Symptoms include neck pain, swollen and enlarged lymph nodes, and hoarseness of the voice.
- Solitary Thyroid Nodules – Also called lumps, this condition is apparently so common that at least 50% of the population can have one in their thyroid. Many nodules are benign though, and a quick, non-invasive biopsy can determine if cancerous nodules are present.
Who Is At Risk For Thyroid Gland Disorders?
Genetic conditions such as Graves’ and Hashimoto’s disease can put anyone at the risk of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, but there are several other factors to consider.
Physical injury or trauma to the thyroid can result in depleted functions, for example. Severe psychological stress can also increase your risk of developing a thyroid condition.
Women and people over the age of 30 are more likely to develop thyroid cancer. People who constantly smoke are also at risk for thyroid disorders, as tobacco has substances that cause inflammation and prohibits proper iodine absorption.
People who consume high amounts of iodine and mood stabilizing medications such as lithium are also at risk.
Women over 60 and anyone with a pre-existing condition, particularly celiac disease, or type 1 diabetes are more likely to have hypothyroidism. Pregnant women are also at risk.
Females are also more at risk for hyperthyroidism, as well as those with a genetic history of lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease. Those with selenium and vitamin D deficiencies are also at risk.
Why Is The Thyroid Gland Important?
Your thyroid is important as it helps regulate the vast majority of your bodily functions. It is important at every various stage in your life, from the time you’re a fetus, to the time when you’re much, much older.
In the womb, your thyroid gland is the first among the other parts of the endocrine system to develop. As a 12-week-old fetus, you gain the ability to synthesize thyroid hormones but remain dependent on your mother for the ingestion of iodine.
This ability helps fetuses undergo proper brain and growth development. Upon birth, your TSH rises within half an hour, but you remain dependent on your mother’s leftover hormones for the next few weeks.
Upon reaching puberty, your thyroid starts producing more hormones, resulting in growth spurts and rapid sexual development. Low-functioning thyroids can result in slow growth, late-onset puberty, and delayed menstrual cycles.
In people over 60 years of age, thyroid diseases are harder to detect as aging comes with a variety of other age-related conditions. The thyroid does tend to slow down, and people at this age should still pay attention to their thyroid health to ensure their bodies are functioning at peak capacity.
How Do I Keep My Thyroid Gland Healthy?
You don’t need to have a faulty thyroid to focus on taking care of it. Prevention is the best medicine after all!
Eating more fruits and vegetables is recommended for improving and maintaining thyroid health. 4-5 servings of vegetables and 3-4 servings of fruit daily, paired with healthy proteins and fatty fish are ideal for maintaining thyroid health.
Avoid processed food packed with preservatives, added sugars, fats, substitutes, and dyes. These can trigger inflammation, resulting in autoimmune breakouts, which can occur not only in the thyroid but in other parts of your body.
Surprisingly, eating high amounts of raw, cruciferous vegetables should also be avoided. Uncooked watercress, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, for example, are high in goitrogens, which trigger goiter (don’t worry, as long as you cook them everything is okay).
Also, an added tip is to steer clear of environmental toxins and physical and psychological stress.
Check out this video from Bestie on how to cure your thyroid gland and balance its hormones:
Your thyroid may be small and rather whimsically shaped, but its function in your body is paramount. Don’t forget to stay healthy and pay attention to your body — your thyroid gland may just be trying to tell you something immediate and important.
How do you take care of your thyroid health? Share tips with us in the comments section below!
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