The brownish red-colored thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland situated in the anterior part of the lower neck below Adam’s apple and front of the trachea. The thyroid gland consists of two lobes on the left and right sides of the trachea. A tissue called the isthmus connects both the lobes.
Hormones secreted by the thyroid gland:
The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland that regulates metabolism in our body. The main hormones produced by thyroid glands are:
- Thyroxine or tetraiodothyronine (T4)
- Triiodothyronine (T3)
The hormones TRH (Thyroid releasing hormone) and TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone)regulate the level of thyroid hormones in our body. Hypothalamus secretes TRH while the pituitary secretes TSH. Since both the pituitary gland and hypothalamus are present in our brain, thus we can say that it is the brain that controls thyroid functions in our body. When our body needs lower or higher levels of thyroid hormones, both the hypothalamus and pituitary gland send signals to the thyroid gland to regulate the production of hormones accordingly.
Iodine mineral is essential for T3 and T4 synthesis. Since our body can not produce iodine on its own, it depends on various sources of iodine, like fortified iodized salt, to meet its requirement. The deficiency of iodine in our body can jeopardize thyroid hormones production. Iodine deficiency can lead to diseases like goiter, hypothyroidism, and impaired brain development in neonates if a mother is iodine deficient. Due to increased awareness about iodized salts, the risk of iodine deficiency has significantly decreased during recent times.
The function of the thyroid gland
The thyroid gland performs many functions which are very crucial for our body, such as:
- Controls breathing and heart rate
- Regulates digestion of food
- Regulates body weight
- Helps in proper growth and development in children
- Essential for maturation of the brain in children
- Moderates our mood
- Calcitonin is necessary for bone health
Thyroid gland disorders
Thyroid diseases are more common in women, although they can affect people of any age group and gender. The thyroid gland is vulnerable to many diseases and disorders. All these diseases are due to either imbalance of hormonal secretion or unusual growth of the thyroid gland. Some of the common thyroid diseases are:
- Hypothyroidism: Caused by decreased secretion of thyroid hormones
- Hyperthyroidism: Excessive production of thyroid hormones can lead to hyperthyroidism
- Goiter: In goiter, thyroid glands are enlarged to such extent that they start obstructing esophagus and neck organs
- Thyroid cancer: is one of the most common cancers in the human body. Four types of thyroid cancers are:
- Papillary thyroid cancer
- Medullary thyroid cancer
- Follicular thyroid cancer
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: It is chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland
- Grave’s disease: It is an autoimmune disease characterized by excessive stimulation of the thyroid gland.
- Thyroid nodules: These are small growths in and on the thyroid gland. Thyroid nodules are common in iodine deficiency conditions.
Symptoms of thyroid disorders
Sometimes, symptoms of thyroid disorders are not sufficient to diagnose them, as other diseases may have similar symptoms. Though there are different symptoms observed in various thyroid diseases, some of the common symptoms are:
- Poor concentration and memory retention
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Nervousness and mood change
- Increased heart rate and breathing rate
- Continuous pain in muscles
- Unexpected weight gain
- Increased level of cholesterol
How can we maintain our thyroid health?
Many women suffer from thyroid hormones imbalance which affects their overall health and may impact fertility. We can maintain our thyroid function by various methods:
- Iodine-rich food: Iodine is essential for thyroid hormone formation. We should include iodine-rich food in our diet. Iodine-rich foods are seafood like prawns and crayfish, sea vegetables such as kelp and dulse, dairy food, and iodized salt.
- Selenium and zinc: Both are trace elements that are crucial for the conversion of T4 to T3. We should add food items rich in zinc and selenium to our diet. These food items can be avocado, walnuts, fish, seafood, mushrooms, nuts and seeds, cereal grains, and lentils.
- Tyrosine: The amino acid tyrosine is crucial for synthesizing thyroid hormones. Deficiency of tyrosine can lead to non-formation of the thyroid hormones. Foods such as meat, dairy products, wheat, pumpkin seeds, and avocado are rich sources of amino acids.
- Exercise: Daily exercise can boost hormone levels by stimulating the thyroid gland. Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, weight lifting, and some aerobics helps in boosting our metabolism.
- Taking care of Metabolism: Adding low glycemic foods to our diet can normalize our metabolism. Low glycemic foods are berries, leafy vegetables, and whole grains.
- Skipping meals and starving yourself for weight loss can jeopardize our metabolism leading to various diseases. A proper meal plan recommended by a dietitian will help to boost body metabolism and thus resulting in normal thyroid functioning.
Dr. Gaurav Jain | Consultant – Internal Medicine | Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Delhi