1. Located at the base of your neck, the thyroid gland is a butterfly shape, about 4cm long, with two fibrous lobes either side of the trachea that store thyroid hormones. The two lobes are connected by a piece of tissue known as the isthmus. The outer capsule connects to voice box muscles, vessels, and nerves.
The thyroid gland secretes 2 major hormones, being thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), that affect every body cell and regulate the speed with which your metabolic processes work; that is – that way your body uses energy. T3 and T4 make all your cells in the body work harder to create energy. T3 normalises the body’s control of the heart rate, blood pressure, energy storage and expenditure, core body temperature and assists the digestive system managing fats and carbohydrates. T4 controls health of the muscles, bones and brain development. Another hormone produces calcitonin which regulates calcium and phosphate levels in your blood. These are vital for bone preservation.
It is actually the pituitary gland that sends out a hormone (TSH) that tells the thyroid to produce and secrete the required hormones. Both glands also work together with the hypothalamus, which also releases a hormone (TRH) and this self-regulatory network of three adapt to your metabolic changes to keep your metabolism balanced. The thyroid gland produces the exact number of hormones necessary. It is important that T3 and T4 levels are balanced. Pituitary gland hormones remain constant in your circulating blood, but if T4 levels change, then this network of 3 reacts immediately to communicate and keep T4 at a stable level.
If the thyroid gland performance is disrupted and becomes either overactive (producing too many hormones) or sluggish (producing too little hormone), your metabolism will be affected with an assortment of symptoms such as fatigue, constipation, dry skin, weight gain, muscle weakness, change in body temperature, hoarse voice, thinning hair, puffy face, uneven heartbeat, anxiety, tremors or sleeping issues.
Nutritional deficiency of iodine, which is required to produce the thyroid hormones, is the most common cause of thyroid complications. Cells manufacturing thyroid hormones are very specific in extracting and absorbing iodine from the blood, then integrating it into the thyroid hormones. Iodine is recognised as the critical element for optimal thyroid health. Your body cannot create iodine, so we source it from our diet, whereby iodine is absorbed into the bloodstream from food in the bowel, before being carried to the thyroid gland. Iodised salt, seaweed and seafood is a good source. Consuming a portion of essential fats with each meal is known to enhance thyroid hormone levels. You could also try one or 2 drops of Lugol’s iodine in a glass of water each day. Excessive iodine is not recommended as this causes negative effects, in that the thyroid produces less hormones. Before engaging on self-medication, do check with a medical practitioner.
Other essential vitamins and minerals for treating hypothyroidism are vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium, zinc, magnesium, tyrosine and turmeric. Vitamin B12 is necessary for red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis. Vitamin D is crucial in helping the body absorb calcium and phosphate. Selenium contributes to the antioxidant defence by eliminating oxygen free radicals created during the manufacture of thyroid hormones. It has a primary role of regulating the immune system and preventing thyroid tissue damage. Magnesium converts T4 into the more active T3. An amino acid, tyrosine is an essential forerunner to thyroid hormones. When iodine oxidises, those molecules attach to tyrosine to form hormones. While turmeric does not cure thyroid issues, research suggests that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compilation of turmeric and curcumin can positively affect thyroid function.
7. Autoimmune diseases affecting the thyroid occur when the immune system attacks the thyroid, leading to Graves or Hashimoto’s Graves is the over-production of the hormones. Inflammation of the thyroid gland is called thyroiditis and a special form of thyroiditis is Hashimoto’s, which is a genetic disease. Occasionally it can occur in women after giving childbirth.
8. About 200 million people in the world, of all ages, have some kind of thyroid disease. This equates to approximately 1 in 6 Australians experiencing issues. Unfortunately, women are 5 to 8 times more likely to have thyroid problems and the problem becomes greater with age.
9. For people with low levels of thyroid hormones, hypothyroidism becomes a life-long condition, that can be controlled with medication.
If the thyroid gland grows in size, this is a condition called goitre. Individual lumps can grow on the gland, and this is called nodular goitre. In cases of cancer, the thyroid is removed. And yes, you can live without your thyroid by taking daily hormone substitution medication.