What does the Thyroid Do?

Dr. Tasreen Alibhai, N.D.
Dr. Tasreen Alibhai

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that spans approximately two inches long in the front of the neck. It is an important part of the endocrine system and is responsible for producing hormones that control many of the body’s vital functions, including metabolism.

You’ll find your thyroid just below your larynx (voice box), near the base of the neck. The thyroid makes two different hormones that help regulate the metabolism, which controls how food is broken down in the body to create energy. The thyroid also plays a role in other body functions, such as how fast your heart beats, whether you lose or gain weight, and how deep you breathe. The chemical processes resulting from the thyroid can also help control cholesterol levels, body temperature, and menstrual cycles.

A normally functioning thyroid is crucial to the development of children and the long-term well-being of adults. Sometimes the thyroid can develop a problem in which it starts producing too much or too little hormone. It can also become enlarged or develop lumps of extra tissue. About 12 percent of people develop a thyroid problem in their lifetime.

The endocrine system is made up of glands that store, produce, and release hormones into the bloodstream, which in turn reach the body’s cells. The thyroid also uses iodine from the foods you eat to produce two hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). For the thyroid to remain in balance, these two hormones cannot go too high or drop too low. There are two glands in the brain, called the pituitary and hypothalamus, that communicate to maintain the balance of T3 and T4 in the body.

When the hypothalamus creates TSH Releasing Hormone (TRH), it sends a signal to the pituitary gland to have the thyroid produce more or less T3 and T4. This is achieved by either decreasing or increasing the release of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). When T3 and T4 levels are too high, the pituitary gland releases less thyroid-stimulating hormone to slow the production of these hormones.

It is common to develop symptoms when T3 or T4 levels fall too low. Your heart rate may be slower than normal, and you may experience constipation or weight gain. You may also have trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, heavy periods, depression, dry hair and skin, joint and muscle pain, and sensitivity to cold temperatures. When T3 and T4 levels are too high, you could develop anxiety, moodiness, nervousness, hair loss, hand trembling, sweating, and missed or light menstrual periods.

If your thyroid is acting up, it’s important to get help to resolve any symptoms you’re experiencing. There are some changes that you can make at home, such as eating healthy, exercising, and reducing your stress. As each person is unique, you may experience many symptoms, just a couple of symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Only a healthcare professional can help you determine if you indeed have a thyroid problem and how best to treat it.

At Vitalia, we offer laboratory testing that analyzes various blood markers of thyroid health, including several types of thyroid hormones, such as T3 and T4. These labs also look for antibodies typically present in auto-immune thyroiditis, also referred to as Hashimoto’s disease. If hormone levels are found to be too high or too low, there are supplemental and prescription-based treatments available to help correct these types of hormonal imbalances.

For more information about the thyroid, how it functions, and how to treat thyroid problems, contact our Vitalia Naturopathic Doctors in Vancouver at 604-566-9355.

Dr. Tasreen Alibhai

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