Many people have questions when it comes to the purpose and function of the thyroid. This small gland can have a huge impact on your health, but what exactly does it do? How can you take care of it and ensure proper thyroid function? What’s the difference between hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism?
Fortunately, these are all questions that have concrete answers. Here’s the 411 on your thyroid.
How Your Thyroid Works
The thyroid gland secretes hormones that regulate metabolic processes in the body. These processes include energy expenditure and growth, among many others.
Common thyroid disorders such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism affect hormone production, making the thyroid gland either overactive or underactive. This can lead to many different symptoms, some of which are tricky to diagnose, but blood tests can be an effective way of determining if your thyroid is over or underactive.
Approximately 1 in 20 people experience some form of thyroid dysfunction during their lives, with women being at a higher risk than men(1).
Hypothyroidism Versus Hyperthyroidism
Although their names sound the same, these two disorders represent problems that are the polar opposite of each other. Hypothyroidism is what happens when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones to meet your body’s needs; hyperthyroidism is what happens when it produces too much.
These two disorders have very different symptoms. Hypothyroidism causes sluggisness, difficulty concentrating, coarse or thinning hair, muscle cramps, weight gain and temperature sensitivity. Hyperthyroidism causes weight loss, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, and diarrhea. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting tested for a thyroid disorder.
Causes Of Thyroid Disorders
Many thyroid disorders are caused by autoimmune diseases like Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s thryoiditis. But there are lifestyle factors that can affect your thyroid as well – especially if you already have an existing autoimmune condition. These factors include chronic stress, iodine deficiency, and heavy metal buildup in the body(2).
Looking After Your Thyroid
Maintaining a healthy thyroid means maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you have a thyroid condition, it’s not the end of the world; thyroid conditions can be managed.
Once you’ve addressed the underlying causes of your thyroid dysfunction, be they an autoimmune disease or an iodine deficiency, there are steps you can take to maintain good thyroid health.
- Getting the right nutrients. Make sure you consume foods that contain plenty of iodine, as well as zinc, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Minimize your stress levels. Mindfulness meditation can help significantly with managing stress levels, which helps to place less stress on your thyroid gland(3).
- Heat Therapy — Use saunas and heat to eliminate stored toxins, which interfere with thyroid function.
- Exercise. Despite just being part of an overall healthy lifestyle, certain exercises may stimulate the thyroid(4).