The thyroid is a small H-shaped gland located at the base of the neck. It’s situated between the cartilages of the larynx, also known as the voice box. While it’s not impressive in size, it is impressive when you consider the essential functions it fuels.
What are some of these functions? Even more important, what are some common problems that disrupt the way it works? Last but not least, how can you avoid those issues and keep this important gland in working order?
The Many Responsibilities of the Thyroid
The thyroid is a part of the endocrine system, which consists of several glands. They all release hormones into the circulatory system to be delivered to organs. What hormones are released specifically by the thyroid?There are several, including those that regulate the body’s:
- Metabolic rate—The amount of energy used by a person per unit of time
- Heart function—How well the heart is distributing blood throughout the body
- Digestive function—How efficiently digestion and nutrient absorption are being completed
- Muscle control—How easily a person is able to activate and control muscle movement
- Brain development—The efficiency of the processes that generate and shape the nervous system
- Bone maintenance—The process by which bones maintain their strength and even heal from injury
All the functions above rely on two main hormones. They are thyroxine and triiodothyronine, which are under the control of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The latter comes from the pituitary gland in the brain. It controls the amount of the regulatory substances allowed into the circulatory system.
This raises an important question. What happens when too much or too little of these substances are released?
Two Common Problems
When the gland is overactive, the resulting condition is hyperthyroidism. Symptoms of this condition include:
- Nervousness and/or trembling hands
- Fast pulse
- Muscle fatigue
- Increased perspiration
- Difficulty sleeping
- More frequent bowel movements
- Weight loss
- A lot of energy at first, resulting in severe fatigue over time
On the other hand, when underactive, hypothyroidism results. Symptoms include:
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Cold intolerance
- Frequent muscle cramps and aches
Each of these symptoms is bad enough on its own. Can you imagine several or all of them affecting you at once? That’s the nature of these two conditions. So how can you keep your thyroid healthy?
Keep Your Thyroid Healthy
A major part of maintaining the health of this small but mighty gland is diet. Consider a few examples.
Iodine is one of the most important trace elements needed. Thus, you should eat iodine-rich foods such as seafood, sea vegetables like kelp, and iodized sea salt.
Additionally, the body needs selenium. It’s found in foods such as tuna, halibut, beef, and soybeans. For iron, zinc, and copper, your diet should include sunflower seeds, fresh oysters, and nuts to name a few.
A balanced, nutritional diet can go a long way. Yet, it may be necessary in some cases to take supplements to ensure that you’re getting enough of the right things. Before doing so, though, you should always consult your doctor.
Above all, you shouldn’t hesitate to make an appointment if your regular self-exams reveal anything out of the ordinary. The same goes for any symptoms that you begin to notice like those described above. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can regain control of your health. So be determined to take care of this essential gland that takes care of you!