What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped hormonal gland that sits at the front of your throat. It sits just below your Adams apple and has two lobes that rest on either side of your wind pipe.
The thyroid is like the conductor at the orchestra; it directs the speed of the rest of the body. It manages your weight, mood, temperature and even your memory! Your thyroid also works closely with your adrenal glands (the stress and energy centers of the body) and the blood sugar system to regulate energy.
Overall, the thyroid gland is responsible for the speed of cellular function, known as metabolism (metabolic and chemical processes) in your body. This includes reflex speed, heart speed, mental speed and many other functions by affecting every cell, tissue, organ and system in your body. The thyroid gland is therefore essential for life, growth and development. It works with all the hormones in the body to tell them what to do and how to work!
The hormones that the thyroid gland excretes are called T4, T3, T2, T1 and calcitonin. The thyroid gland manufactures approximately 80% T4, 20% T3 (the quantities and function of T1 and T2 are largely unknown). T3 is five to seven times stronger than T4.
How does the thyroid function?
The thyroid is stimulated by a hormonal messenger from the brain called Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) to secrete thyroid hormone T4. When the thyroid is functioning properly it produces thyroid hormones T3 (Tri-iodothyronine), and T4 (Tetra-iodothyronine) from tyrosine (a protein) and iodine. The hormone calcitonin is also produced by the thyroid and is involved in the regulation of calcium in the body and therefore neurotransmitter, muscle and bone health.
The Thyroid hormones act like chemical messengers and deliver instructions to various tissues and organs (target organs) via the bloodstream. The cells within the target organs then use the thyroid hormones and respond by speeding up or slowing down their activities. These responsive cells are situated in all parts of the body.
The 3 key facts
1. If your thyroid gland produces too much hormone (T3 or T4) you will develop hyperthyroidism, which speeds up the rate in which you burn calories.
2. If your thyroid gland is under producing it’s called hypothyroidism. You can be born with this or it can develop later in life. Of course this slows the rate in which your body burns fuel to maintain healthy organ function.
3. It is important to note that in older people hypothyroidism is also mixed up with the natural signs of ageing.
The thyroid gland and its functions can be likened to driving in a car in the wrong gear. If you’re in first gear and driving at 50kms an hour, you’re revving too high or overworking, this can be likened to Hyperthyroidism. However, driving in fourth gear at 15kms an hour, causes you to slow down, and eventually stall the car, this can be likened to Hypothyroidism.
Neither is ideal so you need it to be balanced and functioning properly!