What is the Thyroid and What Does it Do?
Located in the front of the neck and below the voice box (larynx), the thyroid is directly involved in a host of metabolic activities including mood regulation, brain development, bone health, and muscle coordination. The thyroid is a gland within the endocrine system that relies heavily on adequate levels of iodine for proper functioning.
Because of its significant involvement in metabolic function, energy levels, and overall health, this small but powerful gland must be well nourished and cared for appropriately, so that we can function optimally. Diet and exercise are critical in the care and keeping of this gland, though there are genetic and environmental factors that can affect the degree to which it functions, as well. When the thyroid produces too much or too little of its hormones, is removed, or becomes cancerous, disastrous metabolic and functional changes, often in the form of disease states, can occur.
Thyroid Diseases and Disorders
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid does not produce enough of its’ hormones and becomes underactive. In the absence of sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone, one may experience depression, memory problems, gastrointestinal distress, unplanned fluctuations in weight, dry skin, cardiac concerns, exhaustion, temperature sensitivity, and in extremely rare cases, coma and death.
This condition can be caused by a number of preexisting conditions, such as Hashimoto’s Disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid, thereby disrupting the production of thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism may also occur after a thyroidectomy, in which all or some of the thyroid is removed, generally due to cancer or other diseases. While it does not matter how or why one contracts hypothyroidism, it is critical that patients with the condition take thyroid hormone pills for the rest of their lives. This is vital in order to avoid subsequent and compounding illnesses.
When the thyroid produces too much of its hormone, it becomes overactive and manifests as hyperthyroidism. Frequently caused by Grave’s Disease, a condition like Hashimoto’s that attacks the thyroid, hyperthyroidism can also be caused by different types of goiter, itself caused by insufficient levels of iodine.
Hyperthyroidism can be detected when symptoms such as anxiety, shaking, increased sweating, restlessness and agitation, sleep disturbances, brittle or cracking skin, hair, and nails, and unplanned weight loss occur. Treatment includes radioactive iodine, an assortment of medications to address individual symptoms, and in extreme cases, surgery.
Grave’s Disease presents similarly to other thyroid diseases, as it shares much of the same symptomatology. This particular disease is seen most often in middle aged women in their childbearing years and carries with it a few tell tale signs. These include bulging eyes, as well as significantly elevated blood pressure, excessive sweating, and disrupted GI and menstrual functions. Grave’s Disease is most often the result of too little TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) and too much T4 (Thyroxine). There is no, one treatment that can halt the disease, but medications to control individual symptoms are available.
Thyroid cancer, much like other types of cancers, can result from any number of reasons. There are four types of thyroid cancer, papillary, follicular, medullary, and the most aggressive and dangerous of all, anaplastic thyroid cancer. While the occurrence of thyroid cancer is rare relative to other forms of the disease, it can result from preexisting conditions, as well as behaviors that are strongly correlated to the disease. These behaviors include smoking, alcohol abuse, and poor eating habits and obesity. Treatment for each form of thyroid cancer depends on several factors and ranges from mild to irreparably life altering.
Preventing Thyroid Disease
While no, one preventive measure can guarantee a healthy thyroid, there are several ways in which we can conduct ourselves that may greatly decrease our risk.
Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen, as well as a steadfast conviction to responsible drinking, is significant. Making sure you have enough iodine in your diet is critical, as is discussing with your doctor how much soy is safe to eat. There have been links made between soy consumption and thyroid function, but these claims may or may not be substantiated at this time. Additionally, avoiding X-rays of the throat or neck during dental exams is recommended.
Body Systems Wellness and Integrated Medicine is dedicated to the health, welfare, and overall safety of the public we serve. Under Dr. Shahen Kurestian, DC’s care, he and his Glendale, California team can discuss your medical concerns and the best ways to help you maintain a healthy thyroid.