The Thyroid Series: What is the Thyroid? An Introduction

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Welcome to our Thyroid Series of blog articles. This is the first of our series, in which we introduce the thyroid, its function, what can go wrong and what are the various conditions of thyroid disease. In subsequent articles, we will look at the various conditions of the thyroid and how to address each one. We hope you will stay with us and read through the whole series week by week.

What is the THYROID?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that sits at the front of the neck. It is located below the Adam's apple, along the front of the windpipe.

The thyroid controls metabolism, the rate at which the body produces energy from nutrients and oxygen (The Endocrine Society, 2019). It affects critical body functions, such as energy level and heart rate (American Thyroid Association, 2020).

The thyroid secretes several hormones, collectively called thyroid hormones. These hormones influence every cell, tissue and organ in the body. Thyroid hormones regulate multiple functions in the body; the way the body uses energy, consumes oxygen and produces heat (The Endocrine Society, 2019).

Thyroid disorders are fairly common (American Thyroid Association, 2020): 

  • More than 12% of the US population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime
  • Women are 5 - 8 times more likely than men to have thyroid problems
  • One woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime
  • Up to 60% of those with thyroid disease are unaware they have it

Most thyroid diseases are life-long conditions that can be managed with medical attention and/or diet and lifestyle habits. 

We will give you the information on how to manage a thyroid condition through diet and lifestyle in our individual articles on each type of thyroid condition. Please continue following our blog to get our advice! Or call us for a free discovery call today.

How does the Thyroid Work? What does it Do?

The thyroid makes thyroid hormones. It uses iodine to make thyroid hormones (Shahid MA, 2020). Thyroid hormones are essential for proper metabolic activity and have multiple effects on every organ system in the body.

The main hormones produced by the thyroid gland are (Shahid MA, 2020):

  • T4 (thyroxine)
  • T3 (3,5,3'-triiodothyronine) -> a small amount is made in the thyroid gland and more is produced elsewhere, T4 is converted to T3 in other tissues like the liver and gut
  • RT3 (reverse 3,5,3'-triiodothyronine)

These thyroid hormones are controlled by TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) from the pituitary gland.

SYMPTOMS of Thyroid Disorders

Because the thyroid is so critical to metabolism and affects every cell of the body, symptoms of thyroid disorders are so varied.

Common Symptoms of Thyroid Disorders include:

  • Weight problems (either too much weight or too little)
  • Temperature abnormalities
  • Fatigue, weakness or nervousness and anxiety
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Fast or slow heart rate
  • See our article here for more on thyroid symptoms.

What goes wrong?

The most common thyroid problems involve abnormal production of thyroid hormones. If the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormones, this condition is called hypothyroidism. Producing too much thyroid hormone results in a condition known as hyperthyroidism. There can be an issue with the conversion from T4 to T3, which would cause low T3. Thyroid hormone receptor sites can get blocked which would create the same effect. Other thyroid disorders can range from a small, harmless goiter or enlarged gland that needs no treatment.

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