The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of the neck just below the Adam’s apple. Although relatively small, the thyroid gland plays a huge role in our body, influencing the function of many of the body’s most important organs, including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin. Ensuring that the thyroid gland is healthy and functioning properly is vitally important to the body’s overall well-being. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system. This system makes hormones that help to control and influence the way your body functions. Your thyroid gland produces two main hormones:
- thyroxine (T4)
- triiodothyronine (T3).
These keep your body functioning at the correct speed. If your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones, your body’s cells will work slower than normal. You’ll feel tired and lethargic and put on weight easily. This is called hypothyroidism. If your thyroid gland produces too many hormones, your body’s cells will work faster than normal. This is called hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxicosis. You’ll lose weight, feel hungrier than normal, and feel shaky and anxious. Your heartbeat may be faster than normal or irregular. A part of your brain called the hypothalamus senses if the levels of T3 and T4 in your blood are too low. If they are it sends thyroid-releasing hormones (TRH) into your blood. The rising level of TRH makes another gland in the brain, called the pituitary gland, release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH then stimulates the thyroid gland to produce more T3 and T4.
When outside influences such as disease, damage to the thyroid or certain medicines break down communication, your thyroid might not produce enough hormone. This would slow down all of your body’s functions, a condition known as hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. Your thyroid could also produce too much hormone sending your systems into overdrive, a condition known as hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. These two conditions are most often features of an underlying thyroid disease.
In addition to symptoms of hyperthyroidism, some people with Graves’ disease develop thyroid eye disease. Its features vary from case to case and may be characterized by swollen, bulging, red eyes; widely open eyelids; and double vision. In its most severe form, diminished visual acuity may be present. First, you must understand how to recognize the symptoms and risk factors of thyroid disease. Since many symptoms may be hidden or mimic other diseases and conditions, the best way to know for sure is to ask your doctor for a TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test, a simple blood test to verify your thyroid gland’s condition. Also, take a minute and perform a self Neck Check. And because thyroid disease often runs in families, examinations of your family members and a review of their medical histories may reveal other individuals with thyroid problems.
Iodine is the key to a healthy thyroid and efficient metabolism. Even the names of the different forms of thyroid hormone reflect the number of iodine molecules attached – T4 has four attached iodine molecules, and T3 (the biologically active form of the hormone) has three – showing what an important part iodine plays in thyroid biochemistry. As your body cannot produce its own iodine, it must be obtained from your diet.