What is a thyroid? If you haven’t had any problems with this area of the body, you may not even know where it’s located. For newcomers to thyroid health, the thyroid is a 2-inch-long gland found in the front of your neck. It lies underneath the adam’s apple, or the piece of cartilage that protrudes from your neck.
Most people don’t start thinking about their thyroid until a doctor tells them to—but they should. Thyroids affect heart rate, digestion, breathing, and energy levels. So taking good care of it can benefit you in many ways. Let’s explain the role that thyroids play in your overall health.
What Does a Thyroid Do?
Thyroids produce hormones that allow the organs throughout your body to communicate. They disperse hormones into your bloodstream to act as messengers to the rest of your body. These hormones bind to receptors (protein molecules within a cell) to induce a change in activity in that particular cell.
Thyroids use a nutrient called iodine to produce two hormones: triiodothyronine and thyroxine. These hormones influence your metabolism in multiple ways. They help you burn fat and impact your basal metabolic rate, the fat you burn when you’re not being active. Thyroid hormones also activate glucose production which supplies your body with energy.
Thyroids also play a role in maintaining consistency in menstrual cycles and regulating body temperature. They tell your body to produce more hormones when you’re cold and less when you’re warm. Essentially, your body could not function without these hormones. The thyroid thus plays a huge role in the homeostasis of your body.
What Are the Symptoms of Thyroid Problems?
Thyroid problems are either caused by an overproduction or underproduction of hormones. Hyperthyroidism is when your body produces too much and uses up its energy too fast.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Fast heart rate
- Weight loss
Hypothyroidism occurs when you don’t produce enough thyroid hormone. The side effects of this are:
- Weight gain
- Weak muscles
- Slowed heart rate
Some of the most common causes of thyroid problems are iodine deficiency, inflammation, tumors, lumps, and autoimmune diseases. Medical treatments like radiation can also lead to thyroid problems. Thyroid conditions are usually influenced by genetics and commonly occur in patients with a family history of them. Regardless, people with and without thyroid issues should aim to improve the health of their thyroid.
How To Support a Healthy Thyroid
Many symptoms of thyroid problems resemble other health issues. For example, hypothyroidism has similar side effects to heart disease and diabetes. Similarly to these health issues, diet and exercise can help lessen the symptoms. Here’s how.
How Diet Influences Thyroid Health
As we’ve mentioned, iodine deficiency is a contributing factor to thyroid problems. And your body cannot produce iodine on its own. So the only way to get more of it is through food like milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, and seafood. If you are significantly deficient, iodine supplements can also benefit your thyroid.
As with many health conditions, junk food can be detrimental to your thyroid. These foods are filled with salt, which can lead to thyroid health risks like high blood pressure. Excess sugar over-activates your thyroid gland. This causes your hormones to burn out and stop working properly. Foods with high-fat content can also slow down the production of thyroid hormones. So cutting back on fatty, over-processed, and high-sugar foods can improve thyroid health.
Some healthy foods can actually be detrimental to people with an existing thyroid problem. Cabbage, kale, watercress, cauliflower, rutabaga, soybeans, peanuts, and brussel sprouts can cause thyroid gland enlargement. The common thread between these foods is goitrogen. This chemical can hinder thyroid function. Luckily, goitrogen is most potent with raw foods, so cooking these foods will mostly rid them of their anti-thyroid properties.
The Link Between Exercise and Thyroids
Another impactful way to boost thyroid health is through exercise. That’s because it increases your metabolism by amping up your heart rate. As thyroid hormones impact your metabolism, exercise can also improve your hormone production. Working out prevents weight gain, muscle loss, energy lulls, and depression—all symptoms of hypothyroidism.
If you’ve experienced these symptoms or have a family history of thyroid problems, there are further steps you can take. Getting a thyroid blood test checks your blood for thyroid hormones and antibodies. If a problem is detected, you may be prescribed thyroid medication. As hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are very different conditions, they require different care plans. For example, those with an under-active thyroid may receive artificial hormone treatment. Patients with hyperthyroidism; however, need medication to decrease hormone levels.
Keep Your Thyroid Healthy
Taking care of your thyroid is imperative whether you have a thyroid condition or not. Any lifestyle change towards better thyroid health is good for your overall health. Eating iodine-rich foods and exercising are excellent ways to prevent hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. So keep tabs on potential symptoms and do all you can to maximize the health of one of the most important glands in your body.