What is the Thyroid Gland & What Does it Do?
Picture this…one day, you begin to notice you continuously wake up unrested and tired despite eight or more hours of sleep, you barely eat two meals a day yet you have added on a good 30 pounds, you are always cold despite it being the middle of summer, and to top it off, you experience and discover the real meaning of the words “anxiety attack and depression.“ But life wasn’t like that a few years ago. What happened?
You assume the symptoms are all just the effects of aging. After all, the body begins to deteriorate at some point right? But wait…should the effects be manifesting in your 20s or 30s?
So, you decide it may be a good idea to mention to the doctor that something is going on. He or she runs labs and comes back with a word not currently part of your vocabulary…thyroid. The first two questions that come to mind...what is the thyroid and what exactly does it do?
Do you know where your thyroid gland is located? It is not uncommon for people to assume that the thyroid gland lies anywhere from right under the base of the chin down to just above the collar bone, or simply not knowing at all. In fact, many have never heard the term thyroid gland to begin with, until mentioned by a doctor, that is. And yet, if you Google thyroid, you might be surprised at how much information is available on this interesting and influential little gland. Although the Internet may offer and abundance of information, the thyroid is one of the body’s organs that is most overseen and sometimes even ignored by medical professionals.
Located directly below the larynx, otherwise known as the Adam’s apple, the thyroid is formed of two lobes connected by a small bridge-like tissue called the isthmus, sitting across the windpipe (see image below). And when joined, the two lobes together would be about the size of a plum.
However, the thyroid gland, as small as it is in size, has one of the most important roles in our bodies.
The thyroid gland is responsible for producing thyroid hormones that are essential to just about every part of the body; traveling via the bloodstream and into the liver; it is there that the hormone converts into a more active form for proper cell and tissue function. Thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), the iodine-containing hormones produced by the thyroid, affect just about every tissue in the body to include the brain, nervous system, skin, hair, eyes, heart, and intestinal tract. Therefore, any malfunction of the thyroid gland tends to manifest through symptoms such as irregular heartbeat, temperature changes, menstruation irregularities, body pains, and loss of energy to name a few. Well, that explains why the diverse and countless symptoms can be so difficult to pinpoint to this particular organ.
Unfortunately, too much or too little activity of the thyroid hormones can develop into disorders leading to other health conditions or chronic illnesses and if ignored, can significantly complicate an individual’s overall health.
In part two of the three part series, you will learn about different thyroid disorders, symptoms, and risk factors in relation to the thyroid gland.