It’s January. How’s your thyroid doing?
The other day Kari brought to our attention that January is Thyroid Awareness month. Who knew? To which I replied, “I don’t think I even know what my thyroid does.”
Kari reminded me that her development of Kari Skin products came about as a way of dealing with her autoimmune disorder to keep her endocrine system in balance. So I did a little research, and goodness, the human body really is complex! Let’s just cover some basics.
Why is it called a thyroid? It comes from the Greek word meaning shield, it’s a butterfly-shaped gland located in front of the windpipe.
What does it do? The thyroid is a hormone-producing gland that helps the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working properly.
Even though it’s small, it’s mighty: every cell in the body depends upon thyroid hormones for regulation of their metabolism.
Here’s an analogy I liked:
Think of it as your body’s furnace, and your pituitary gland as the thermostat. Your thyroid hormones (furnace) communicate with the thermostat (pituitary), which regulates it to turn off or on. As the room heats up, thyroid hormones increase and shut off the thermostat (pituitary) decreasing thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) production and the furnace decreases its heat or (hormones).¹
Okay, so why is it important to be aware of your thyroid?
- More than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime.
- An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease.
- Up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.
- Women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to have thyroid problems.
- 1 woman in 8 will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.
Your body’s thyroid (i.e.furnace) can malfunction because of a deficit of thyroid hormones – Hypothyroidism – or an overabundance of those same hormones – Hyperthyroidism.
When thyroid hormone levels are too low, the body’s cells can’t get enough thyroid hormone and the body’s processes start slowing down. As the body slows, you may notice that you feel colder, you tire more easily, your skin is getting drier, you’re becoming forgetful and depressed, and your appetite may decrease. The only way to know for sure whether you have hypothyroidism is with a simple blood test for TSH.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is not only the most common form of thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland) but also the most common thyroid disorder in America. (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is named after the Japanese surgeon who discovered it in 1912.) The disease, which is also known as autoimmune thyroiditis, affects 14 million people in the United States alone. Autoimmune diseases affect women more than men, and women are 7 times more likely to have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
The most common treatment is thyroid hormone replacement therapy
Hyperthyroidism is the opposite in which the thyroid gland is overactive and makes excessive amounts of thyroid hormone, which makes your body’s processes speed up. Symptoms can include nervousness, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, hand tremor, excessive sweating, weight loss, and sleep problems, among others.
There’s a variety of treatments for hyperthyroidism, depending on how it’s affecting you. These include: anti-thyroid medications, radioactive iodine (not as scary as it sounds), surgery to remove thyroid (which will then require thyroid hormone supplements), as well as beta blockers to block the action of thyroid hormone on your body.
The best way to initially test thyroid function is to measure the TSH level in a blood sample. Blood tests to measure TSH, T4, T3 and Free T4 are readily available and widely used.
Along with your regular physician, an endocrinologist who specializes in diseases related to the glands can be an excellent partner in diagnosing and treating thyroid disorders.
Keeping your thyroid healthy will help to keep your whole body humming along happily.