Meet your thyroid – the petite, yet powerful gland that generates essential hormones. It’s located in the front of the neck, under the Adam’s apple and above the collarbone. The butterfly-shaped gland is powered by the pituitary gland and produces hormones that get distributed through the bloodstream to every tissue in the body. It’s job – controlling your metabolism.
So, what could go wrong if this tiny little gland malfunctions? A lot! Metabolism affects your heart rate, weight, body temperature, mood, energy, bowel habits and much more.
For example, an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism contributes to weight gain, depression and chronic coldness. Conversely, an overactive thyroid creates a more worrisome condition known as hyperthyroidism leading to rapid weight loss, heart palpitations, cardiac arrhythmias and left untreated potentially fatal problems. Thyroid glitches are also to blame for goiters, thyroiditis, nodules (small abnormal lumps in the thyroid) and thyroid cancer.
Who’s Most at Risk for Thyroid Issues?
For hypothyroidism it’s those who have a family history of thyroid trouble, are over 60, have received hyperthyroidism treatments, are pregnant or given birth in the last six months or have an autoimmune disease.
Hyperthyroidism, in particular Grave’s disease, typically runs in families. But, while a family risk factor is beyond your control, researchers have also discovered a link between smoking and thyroid disease. Severe stress or emotional trauma can also trigger hyperthyroidism.
The Number One Factor for Thyroid Dysfunction
Your iodine intake is the number one factor for having a thyroid problem. Your thyroid uses iodine to produce thyroid hormone. Since this element doesn’t occur naturally in the body, we must consume iodine as a part of a healthy diet (deficiencies can lead to goiters).
Healthy Doses of Iodine
In the U.S., maintaining an iodize-rich diet isn’t difficult. Look for iodine in healthier foods, while trying to avoid salt-heavy processed foods, such as:
- Dairy: cheese, milk, yogurt
- Beef and eggs
- Seafood: saltwater and shellfish
- Iodized table salt
- Multivitamins containing iodine
Am I at Risk?
Since the thyroid regulates so many of our bodily processes – from the GI and cardiovascular systems to the menstrual cycle – symptoms can imitate other conditions, making it difficult to determine when something is truly a problem. If two or more of the below apply to you, talk to a primary care physician or endocrinologist. The doctor may order a blood test to check your thyroid-stimulating hormone levels.
The following could be signs of hypothyroidism:
- Gaining weight with no change in diet
- Foggy Brain
- Chronically chilly
- Severe leg cramps
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Trouble becoming pregnancy
- Heavy menstrual periods
The following could be signs of hyperthyroidism:
- Racing heart (greater than 100 beats per minute)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent bowel movements
- Muscle weakness
- Excessive sweating
- Trembling in the hands
- Light or missing periods
If you don’t have a primary care doctor or endocrinologist, visit our online directory to find one near you.
Originally published on 4/07/2016.