Thyroid Health part 1
What is the thyroid & what does it do?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped hormone gland located at the front of your throat below your Adam's apple. A normal thyroid gland is not usually outwardly visible or able to be felt if finger pressure is applied to the neck. If your thyroid is visible or is able to be felt please see a doctor immediately.
The thyroid plays a major role in the body's metabolic rate, playing a role in the brain, heart, muscle, and digestive function, brain development, and bone maintenance. Thyroid function is so important in controls the force and speed of your heartbeat. It also dictates how fast or slow our body uses energy from food, there are few organs that are not affected by thyroid function.
Thyroid function is controlled by the pituitary gland, located in our brain. The pituitary gland produces and releases a hormone called TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) which tells the thyroid gland how much of the thyroid hormones T3 & T4 to produce and secrete.
T4 is converted into T3 by the thyroid and other organs involved in the conversion process are the liver, kidney, and muscles.
Thyroid hormone levels are closely monitored and adjusted. For example, if there is too much T4 circulating in the blood, the pituitary reduces the amount of TSH produced, which then causes thyroid activity to slow. If there is too little T4, the pituitary increases the amount of TSH. The pituitary gland, in turn, is overseen by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
What can go wrong?
The 4 main thyroid disorders, hyperthyroid, hypothyroid & autoimmune thyroid issues & sub-clinical hyper/hypothyroid. Thyroid issues are more common in women than men and are becoming more prevalent all the time.
Hypothyroid: Is an underactive thyroid when the thyroid isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone (often shows up as high TSH and low free T4 in blood tests, more on test in the next post). Symptoms are varied but the most common are:
weight gain, slower heart rate, fatigue, more frequent and stronger menstrual periods, forgetfulness, dry skin and hair, hoarse voice, and intolerance to cold and is often accompanied by an enlargement of the thyroid gland known as goiter.
Hyperthyroid: is an overactive thyroid ( blood tests often show a low TSH and high free T4) which the most common symptoms being:
weight loss, fast heart rate, high irritability/nervousness, muscle weakness and tremors, infrequent menstrual periods, sleep problems, eye irritations, and heat sensitivity.
Autoimmune thyroid issues: Hashimoto's disease can cause hypothyroidism due to the body's immune system attacking and destroying its own thyroid cells. Graves’ disease causes hyperthyroidism is an immune disorder that results in the overproduction of thyroid hormones. (Better Health.vic.gov.au has great information on both conditions). A blood test, testing for Thyroid antibodies is needed to diagnose immune-based thyroid issues. It is a good idea to test for antibodies if you have a family history of thyroid issues or if you have thyroid issues to be able to rule in or out an autoimmune cause.
Subclinical hyper/hypothyroid: when your test results are trending towards indicating a thyroid problem OR you have physical symptoms of either disorder that can not be attributed to any other issues. It is important to treat subclinical thyroid issues, this can be difficult as most doctors will only treat once there is an issue but it is better to prevent the development of thyroid issues, this includes people who have a positive yet “low” anti-body test. The next post will discuss thyroid test results.
for information on testing for Thyroid health, see blog post "Blood Tests for Thyroid Health"