What Is Your Thyroid?
To understand your thyroid, take a look at a butterfly. Beautiful butterflies begin their lives as caterpillars. These wriggly, crawly, worm-like creatures spend most of their existence doing nothing but eating. Then one day, because of a special signal received in the caterpillar’s brain, it stops eating altogether. It finds a leaf or twig, crawls up to it, hangs itself upside down and begins to spin a silky, encompassing cocoon.
A metamorphosis begins which, over time, turns the caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. Inside that cocoon amazing processes take place which physically change the chemical and cellular makeup of what used to be a caterpillar. While you may or may not see butterflies as beautiful, there is no denying they are vastly different from their former caterpillar countenance.
What Do Butterflies Have To Do with Your Thyroid?
As it turns out, thyroids and butterflies have a lot in common. To begin with, your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that usually weighs less than an ounce. It is located in the front of your neck and is made up of two halves, which are called lobes. These lobes are connected by a very narrow band of tissue, known as the isthmus.
Using a butterfly for comparison, the isthmus would be the body of the butterfly, with the two lobes functioning as the butterfly’s wings. Your larynx, better known as the Adam’s apple, sits just above your thyroid gland. Interestingly, just as the butterfly begins life as a caterpillar, your thyroid gland develops life behind your tongue when you are growing inside your mother’s womb.
The process of moving from the back of the tongue to the front of your throat has a lot to say about what the thyroid does. Its location, integrated with your throat, allows it to control certain processes that dictate a multitude of physical, mental and even emotional behaviors.
(NOTE: It should be noted that in some cases the thyroid gland stays high in the neck or behind the tongue, rather than moving to the front of the throat. This is extremely rare, and is known as a lingual thyroid. Equally as rare is when the thyroid migrates too far, winding up in the chest.)
How Your Thyroid Works, And What It Does
Nothing your body does is isolated. Your ability to speak relies on dozens of glands and body parts, which in turn rely on hundreds of physiological processes. Those processes use trillions of cells, bacteria and other microscopic organisms and influences to operate properly. This bears mentioning, because the thyroid influences so many behaviors and physiological processes, as well as the behaviors and outcomes those processes contribute to.
Your thyroid helps control and regulate your metabolism,
your growth, body temperature and muscle strength, appetite and reproductive system. It is also highly responsible for the health of your brain, kidneys and heart. In short, this small, butterfly-shaped gland influences the most important physiological and mental processes in your body.
One of the main jobs of your thyroid gland is to pull any iodine content found in the foods and beverages you consume, and convert it into thyroid hormones.
These hormones are thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The cells in your thyroid are the only ones in your entire body which can absorb iodine. So when your thyroid is working improperly, iodine passes through this gland and into your body. This raises your iodine presence to an unhealthy level, which causes problematic health conditions.
When your thyroid is working properly, its cells in collected take the iodine it has captured and mix it with an amino acid called tyrosine. This creates the T3 and T4 hormones mentioned above. Your thyroid monitors the presence of these hormones in your body, releasing T3 and T4 into your body when needed. This passes these hormones to all parts of your body, which helps to control your metabolism.
What is Metabolism?
Your metabolism can simply be defined as “the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life.” That sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? As is the case much of the time, a simplistic answer hides incredibly detailed processes. Most people think of metabolism as how poorly or how efficiently a person’s body burns calories.
This is definitely part of the metabolic process.
However, that is not all there is to your metabolism, which can be broken down into two separate parts – catabolism and anabolism. Catabolism is defined as “the breakdown of molecules to obtain energy.” Anabolism is “the synthesis of all compounds needed by the cells.” Your metabolic process breaks down molecules contained in the foods that you eat, using that supply to create energy and to keep your body healthy on a cellular level.
Since nutrition is absolutely key to proper metabolism, and your thyroid is a principal player in your metabolic processes, eating the right foods is a simple step to keeping your thyroid happy, and your complex metabolism rewarding you with overall health and well-being.
Back To the Thyroid…
That metabolism sidetrack was important for several reasons. First, you probably understand that a poorly functioning metabolism can lead to one of the most common epidemics of the 21st century – overweight and obesity. A weak metabolism can also lead to chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety, physical weakness, memory loss, course, dry hair and rough, dry skin, hair loss and a decreased sex drive.
These symptoms occur when a condition known as hypothyroidism is present. Poor thyroid health may also create the opposite problem. This is called hyperthyroidism, which offers its own set of health problems. We will dig deeper into both of these all too common thyroid conditions shortly.
As previously mentioned, your metabolism and thyroid are fast friends.
They are comfortable bedfellows, intricately and intimately linked. This is because every single cell in your body depends upon your thyroid hormones to regulate their metabolism. When your thyroid gland is healthy and functioning properly, you enjoy an 80% to 20% T4 to T3 ratio.
That may look like a lopsided formula. However, bear in mind that the T3 hormone is roughly 4 times as “strong” or influential as the T4 hormone. This delivers an even amount of influence for both of those important thyroid hormones.
Your thyroid gland, as important as it is, does have a master. It is “run” by your pituitary gland. This is a peanut-sized gland located at the base of the brain. When your T3 and T4 hormones drop to unhealthy levels, the pituitary gland sends a messenger to your thyroid. This messenger is called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), and it does exactly what its name implies. It tells your thyroid to produce more of the T3 and T4 hormones that your body is lacking.
This relationship is best explained as viewing your pituitary gland as a thermostat which controls your thyroid gland, a furnace. Once your thyroid hormones return to healthy levels, from either over or under-production, this “heat signal” tells your pituitary gland (thermostat) that everything is okay, and TSH is no longer produced.
The result in a perfect thyroid scenario is that your metabolic process functions properly, you don’t have a problem
maintaining a healthy body weight, you enjoy natural, healthy energy reserves, you sleep like a baby and wake up refreshed, and your immune system easily repels infection, disease and illness.
Unfortunately, life is not perfect, as you well know.
There are several things that can influence what your thyroid does, how it perceives reality, and how it influences all of the aforementioned crucial processes which lead to whether you enjoy health and well-being, or poor mental, physical and emotional health. Let’s take a look at a few of those important influences.