The Thyroid—The Engine of Your Body
IF YOUR THYROID ISN’T WORKING PROPERLY, NEITHER WILL YOU.
The thyroid gland regulates vital metabolic processes in your body including growth and energy use. Your physical, mental, psychological and emotional states all of which eventually affect your spiritual state rely on your thyroid to function.
To use an analogy, which part of a car represents your thyroid? The Engine!
Let’s explain. The thyroid sets the pace for your body to function and operate. Like a car engine, it produces the needed amount of energy to move at whatever speed you want.
Your thyroid gland produces enough thyroid hormones that prompt your cells to function at a certain rate, or metabolic rate. Just as a car needs fuel, your thyroid needs “fuel” to make these hormones as well. This “fuel” is none other than iodine! Your thyroid extracts this necessary ingredient from your bloodstream or oral intake of iodine. Although iodine is found naturally in food, it is often removed during food processing. As a result, we eat way too little iodine.
Just like how a car accelerator produces more energy, your body “accelerator” controls how fast it goes. This accelerator is no larger than a pea and is known as the pituitary or “master” gland. Located at the base of your brain, it controls your thyroid functions and all the other glands that make up the endocrine system. Together, they secrete hormones directly into the circulatory system to be carried to a distant target organ.
What happens to your body when your thyroid breaks down?
When your thyroid breaks down, it manifests physically in your body from head to toe. Two common but serious conditions called hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism will affect your entire body. While they both affect the thyroid, they have opposite effects on your body. In a nutshell, here is the difference.
- Hyperthyroidism—overactive thyroid like racing car engine with symptoms of fast metabolism Excessive thyroid hormone production. Hyperthyroidism is most often caused by Graves disease or an overactive thyroid nodule.
Hypothyroidism: underactive thyroid like a clock winding down and sluggish metabolism Low production of thyroid hormone. Thyroid damage caused by autoimmune disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism .
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism or Overactive Thyroid
- Sudden weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) often more than 100 beats per minute
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or pounding heart (palpitations)
- Sweatier than normal
- Feelings of nervousness, anxiety and irritability; being quarrelsome
- Trembling hands
- Sensitivity to heat
- Continual fatigue and muscle weakness especially in upper arms and thighs
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hair growth that is increasingly brittle or loss in scalp hair
- Fast growth of fingernails and tendency of fingernails to separate from nail bed
- Thin and delicate skin
- Change in menstrual pattern
- Increased likelihood for miscarriage
- Protrusion of eyes, with or without double vision (in patients with Graves’ disease)
- Accelerated loss of calcium from bones which increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism or Underactive Thyroid
- Difficulty learning
- Persistent fatigue
- Weight gain and fluid retention
- Dry, brittle hair and nails
- Itchy skin
- Bloated face
- Muscles healing slower than normal, thereby getting bruises
- Heavy and/or irregular menstrual flow
- Increased frequency of miscarriages
- Increased sensitivity to many drugs
Other Thyroid Dysfunction Conditions
These 6 thyroid dysfunctions may either stand alone or precede hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. In all cases, they are closely linked to iodine deficiency.
When your thyroid swells, this condition is also called goiter. Although goiters may be harmless, they could also signal iodine deficiency or thyroid inflammation disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
When your thyroid is inflamed, you get thyroiditis which can be painful or have zero symptoms. The inflammation is either cause by a viral infection or autoimmune condition.
- Graves Disease
This is an autoimmune condition in which the thyroid is over stimulated, leading to hyperthyroidism.
- Thyroid Cancer
The good news is that this is an uncommon form of cancer so chances of getting it are low.
- Thyroid Nodule
Extremely common, thyroid nodules are small, abnormal lumps in the thyroid gland which are usually not cancerous. They may however secrete excess hormones, leading to hyperthyroidism or cause no problems at all.
- Thyroid Storm
When thyroid hormone levels become extremely high, you suffer from this rare form of hyperthyroidism which causes severe illness.
The thyroid secretes several hormones, collectively called thyroid hormones that act throughout your body. The main hormone is thyroxin, also known as T4. These hormones influence metabolism, growth and development, and body temperature. During infancy and childhood, having adequate thyroid hormone is crucial for brain development. Nerves that are important for your voice quality also pass through your thyroid.
8 Powerful Functions of Your Thyroid
- Delivers energy to all your moving parts
The human body operates like a complex factory with lots of assembly lines, machines, moving parts and workers going about their business. All these moving parts require energy which comes from your thyroid.
- Regulates growth of every cell
The glands throughout your body regulate the function, growth and development of virtually every cell, tissue and organ in your body. Making up the endocrine system, these glands secrete chemicals called hormones directly into your bloodstream.
- Signals cells to perform certain actions
These secreted hormones are molecules that signal the cells of your body to perform certain actions. Some of them affect many types of cells while others are more specialized.
- Keeps your body running smoothly
Your thyroid works in concert with a whole team of glands to keep your body running smoothly.
- Produces two very special hormones essential to entire body
Your thyroid’s main job is to produce two very special hormones, or peptides containing iodine. The first is triiodothyronine and the second thyroxine (or tetraiodothyronine), known respectively as T3 and T4. T3 gets its moniker from having three atoms of iodine while T4 gets four. Iodine is absolutely essential for the human body to function properly in every manner.
- Assesses if cells need more oxygen or nutrients including the brain
When hormones are release by your thyroid, they make their way into the bloodstream and get to work. They stop at every cell, knocking on the door to tell the cell if it needs more oxygen or nutrients, thereby stepping up its rate of metabolism or vice versa.
- Ensures normal growth and brain development
Your thyroid hormones stimulate heart muscle and nerve function, increasing the utilization of cholesterol and nutrients which ensure normal growth and brain.
- Keeps calcium levels in balance
Apart from the majority of follicular cells in your thyroid, there are others which produce two important hormones calcitonin and parathyroid hormone. They work in tandem to keep your body’s calcium levels in check—calcitonin to decrease calcium in your blood and parathyroid hormone to beef it up. Too much of calcium is not ideal while too little will cause diseases like osteoporosis. Keeping it in perfect balance is crucial, which is why your thyroid produces these hormones. Calcitonin is created by parafollicular cells or C cells while parathyroid hormone by four teensy parathyroid glands embedded at the back of your thyroid.
Reference: American Thyroid Association