What is the Thyroid gland and what does it do?
All you need to know about your Thyroid Gland.
Learn about what it is, what function it plays and how we can help maintain a healthy one? The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck between your voice box and collarbone and makes two hormones which are secreted into the blood that are essential for all the cells in your body to function normally. These hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine, help to regulate the body’s heart and digestive function, metabolic rate, muscle control as well as brain development and bone maintenance. The hormone levels secreted from the thyroid gland are controlled by the pituitary gland, rather like the thermostat on your central heating controls whether the heating is on or off; if your hormone levels fall, the pituitary gland responds by secreting a thyroid stimulating hormone which activates the thyroid gland to secrete more of the thyroxine and triiodothyronine hormones.
There are certain factors that can affect how our thyroid gland function; some of which are beyond our control and can lead to either an overactive or underactive thyroid. Certain autoimmune disorders, medications or nodules or growths on the thyroid can cause either an overactive or underactive thyroid which in turn can have an impact on how our body functions.
Underactive Thyroid - Hypothyroidism
This is when the thyroid gland is not secreting enough hormones and symptoms can include tiredness, weight gain, dry skin and hair, sensitivity to cold and depression. There are varying degrees of severity in hypothyroidism and a simple blood test can determine where the levels lie and dictate the type of treatment required. It is a finely tuned balancing act of getting the correct levels of medication to ‘normalise’ hormone production and can come with some complications.
Overactive Thyroid - Hyperthyroidism
This is when the thyroid gland is secreting too many hormones and can lead to symptoms such as a racing heart, irritability, difficulty sleeping, increased bowel movements, unexplained weight loss and shaky hands. Treatment for an underactive thyroid gland can be through medication, removal of the gland or radioiodine treatment.
How can you help to keep your thyroid healthy?
Iodine plays an important part in maintaining thyroid health. Too little iodine can cause an underactive thyroid gland (Hypothyroidism) and too much can cause an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism). Iodine is not only found in certain medications, especially those used for cold, flu and sinus conditions, but also in some food groups. Iodine is essential for a healthy thyroid, it’s just about balance. Foods that contain iodine include fish and shellfish (especially those low in fat like cod, Tuna, haddock and shrimp), dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cottage cheese, eggs, especially the yolk, Prunes, Lima Beans and seaweed. Iodine is also present in meat/poultry, nuts and fruit, but in lower doses. The World Health Organisation claims that 32 European countries (including the UK) have a population with Iodine deficiencies probably caused by a diet high in processed foods. Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet is often just associated with aesthetics; how we look, but how we ‘look’ on the inside is so much more important.
The thyroid gland, although small, plays a very important role in how our bodies perform. Having a good nutritional plan will help to keep your thyroid healthy and your hormone levels balanced which in turn can help to stabilize your weight, improve the condition of your hair and skin and reduce fatigue levels which all help with both our mental and physical wellbeing.
For the nutrition and weight-loss advice for a healthy thyroid take a look Metabolic Balance® on Jen's Nutrition Website