Thyroid – What is it and what does it do?

This series will be broken into two parts … hypothyroidism (which seems to cause more issues) and hyperthyroidism which can actually be quite dangerous. We’ll tackle hypothyroidism first starting next week. Now for some information on what the thyroid gland is and what it does.

The thyroid gland is one of the main components in the endocrine system, which includes your pituitary gland, gonads, adrenal glands and pancreas. It’s no wonder that when the thyroid hormones are too high or too low, that so many other areas of our lives can be affected, from sex drive to insulin resistance to adrenal fatigue.

The thyroid gland produces two hormones … T4 and T3 (amines), which stimulate metabolism and are regulated by TSH which is produced by your pituitary gland. The thyroid gland also produces calcitonin (a peptide), which reduces blood calcium levels and is regulated by the amount of calcium in your blood. The parathyroid glands provide parathyroid hormone (PTH), which is another peptide. PTH raises blood calcium levels and is also regulated by the amount of calcium in your blood.

The thyroid gland secretes hormones that regulate the activities of almost every cell in our bodies. It controls the body’s sensitivity to other hormones, such as estrogen and cortisol. It regulates how quickly we burn calories and maintains our metabolism. It increases the rate at which cells oxidize glucose and is necessary for normal growth and development. This explains why weight control is such a problem when the thyroid is out of whack. In other words, your thyroid is your very own metabolism thermostat. Sluggish thyroid and metabolism are a setup for poor mood, even the slow downward spiral toward cognitive decline.

Iodine plays an important role in the function of the thyroid gland. It is the chief component of thyroid hormones, and is essential for their production. Iodine is obtained from the water we drink and the food we eat. In areas of the world where there is an iodine deficiency, iodine must be added to the salt or bread. The Great Lakes area of Canada and the U.S., the Swiss Alps and Tasmania are such areas. In Canada and the U.S., most of the salt is iodized, thus the iodine intake is more than adequate. Taking excess amounts of iodine in foods such as kelp can aggravate hyperthyroid disease.

When your thyroid is working properly, you feel energetic, think clearly and are upbeat.

  • your weight is easier to manage
  • your bowel moves food along at a normal pace, in a transit time from ingestion to elimination of twelve to twenty-four hours
  • you don’t wear socks to bed or outline your eyebrows with a brown pencil.
  • your cholesterol is normal –not too high and not too low
  • your hair stays on your head
  • your skin is moist and your nails aren’t dried out
  • your sex drive is strong
  • your memory is crystal clear

When thyroid levels are low, we tend to gain weight and the rest of our systems are sluggish. When thyroid levels are too high, we often have trouble keeping weight on and all our systems seem to be in hyper drive. We’ll talk about what happens when thyroid levels are too low next week.

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