The Functions Of The Thyroid GlandApr 08, 2022
The thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck and is positioned in front of the windpipe. This butterfly-shaped gland measures approximately 5 cms. in width and typically weighs about 20 grams. A normally sized thyroid gland is not visible during an external examination and cannot be felt when normal finger pressure is applied to the neck. Thyroid gland is vital to the functioning of the metabolic system and this means that its proper functioning is essential to good health.
What The Thyroid Gland Does
The gland produces 2 hormones - triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones play a vital role in the body’s growth and development. These hormones are essential for the development of the skeletal system and brain in infants. Later in life, these hormones continue to support the development of children until they reach adulthood. In adults, the hormones play a critical role in controlling wellbeing. Thyroid hormones help to regulate the functioning of the heart, digestive system, muscles, brain development and bone strength.
The functioning of the thyroid gland is controlled by another gland – the pituitary gland which is located in the lower part of the brain. This gland produces and releases a hormone known as thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The TSH is carried in the blood, and when it reaches the thyroid gland, tells it (the thyroid) the amount of T3 and T4 to be produced and released. The level of TSH in the blood will vary, depending on the body’s need for T3 and T4.
Complex though this may sound, there is another level of control that must be understood. The pituitary gland reacts to the body’s need for thyroid hormones, but it is also controlled by another gland called the hypothalamus, which sits in the brain, above the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus releases a hormone called thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) which stimulates the production of TSH. This complex network of glands is known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis (HPT).
Iodine is an essential component of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland. Since Iodine is not naturally present in the human body, it is essential that an adequate supply is made available through the diet. Iodine deficiency can lead to thyroid disease and malfunction.
Types Of Thyroid Malfunction
It is estimated that globally about 200 million people suffer from some form of thyroid malfunction or disease. The problem affects people of all ages, sex and races, but overall, women are more likely to suffer from thyroid conditions by a significant margin.
Thyroid disease falls into 2 categories –hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism typically include weight loss, muscle weakness and tremors, sleep problems and insomnia, heat sensitivity, vision problems, irritability and/or nervousness, irregular menstrual cycles, and a high heart rate.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism are in some, but not all, ways the opposite of hyperthyroidism. They include weight gain, fatigue, heavier and more frequent menstrual periods, inability to withstand cold, dry hair and skin, hoarseness of voice, slow heart rate and more. In the case of hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland itself may become enlarged resulting in a condition known as goitre.
Causes Of Thyroid Malfunction
Hyperthyroidism is often associated with Graves Disease, a condition that causes the thyroid gland to become overactive and produce excess amounts of hormones. This ailment is also called diffuse toxic goitre. Thyroiditis is a type of inflammation that causes the thyroid gland to release the hormones that were stored in it. This is often a short-term condition and is often seen in women after childbirth which is known as postpartum thyroiditis.
Also Read: A Guide to your Pregnancy Hormones
Hypothyroidism is often caused when the thyroid gland becomes inflamed, due to infection or other causes, which causes the production of hormones to drop. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a genetic disorder that results from diseases that affect the immune system.
Iodine deficiency is a leading cause of all types of thyroid problems. As already mentioned, the thyroid gland uses iodine in the production of T3 and T4. Nutrition-related iodine deficiency is estimated to affect over 100 million people across the globe. As opposed to iodine deficiency, an excess of iodine in the body can also lead to serious consequences. An excess of Iodine, often caused by the use of both prescription and over-the-counter medicines, can cause the thyroid gland to improperly regulate hormone production, resulting in either low or high hormone levels, both of which are bad for the metabolism.
Another cause of thyroid malfunction is the development of lumps or swelling in the gland. These swellings or nodules are often harmless and need no treatment, but they must be checked to determine if there is a possibility of cancer. If cancer is diagnosed, a common course of action is the removal of the thyroid gland itself. Humans can live without this gland but they need to take medication that will function as a replacement for the naturally produced hormones.
Enhancing Thyroid Health
There are no special exercises or foods that help to increase thyroid health. A healthy lifestyle and diet, which is good for overall wellbeing, is all that is needed. In addition, the consumption of adequate amounts of iodine must be ensured. Only a micro amount is needed every day. The consumption of a normal amount of iodized salt in the diet is the best way to ensure that the right iodine levels are maintained in the body.
The wide range of health checkup packages that are available at the New Medical Centre will spot any early signs of thyroid gland problems so that early action can be taken to treat the problem before it becomes a serious health issue. Check out the NMC website to learn more.
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