Thyroid – What is it and what does it do? (Hyperthyroidism)

This series has been broken into two parts’ hypothyroidism, which we addressed some time ago and hyperthyroidism, which can actually be quite dangerous. For those who did not see the introduction to hypothyroidism, here’s 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 so many other areas of our lives can be affected; from sex drive, insulin resistance to adrenal fatigue.

The thyroid gland produces two hormones; T4 and T3 (both are amines), which stimulate metabolism and are regulated by TSH (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. Calcium levels in the blood work on a negative feedback loop. If there’s too much calcium in the blood, your body produces more calcitonin; if not enough, it produces more PTH.

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. When the thyroid gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism) the body’s processes speed up and you may experience nervousness, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, hand tremor, excessive sweating, weight loss, and sleep problems among other symptoms.

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 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
  • you think clearly
  • you 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 because your feet are freezing
  • your eyebrows are not sparse or partially missing
  • 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 clear

When thyroid levels are too high, we often have trouble keeping weight on and all our systems seem to be in hyper drive.

Next week we’ll go into more detail about what happens when the thyroid goes into overdrive.

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