Your thyroid – a small gland that sits at the front of your neck – keeps your metabolism running smoothly. Because your thyroid controls so much of your metabolism, it must function properly for you to remain healthy and feeling good. The thyroid gland regulates metabolism by releasing hormones into the bloodstream, so by measuring how much of these hormones you have (do this at home with EverlyWell’s Thyroid Test), you can discover if there’s something wrong with your metabolism.
The thyroid gland is quite a unique body part. For example, thyroid cells are the only cells in your body that can take up iodine – a rare element – in large amounts and build hormones with that iodine. These hormones are then released into the bloodstream.
More specifically, the thyroid gland produces two hormones. These hormones are known as T3 and T4. Although the thyroid gland makes more T4, the T3 hormone is more potent. Most thyroid hormones bind to other molecules in your blood – and are thus inactive – but some of these hormones jostle about freely in your blood, and can thus get work done by themselves.
If the thyroid gland regulates your metabolism, then what is it that controls the thyroid gland itself? The answer to that is the pituitary gland. When the pituitary gland “senses” that your body’s thyroid hormone levels need to be adjusted, it sends a hormonal signal to the thyroid gland in the form of thyroid-stimulating hormone (known as “TSH”). More TSH in your blood typically means that your thyroid isn’t pumping out enough thyroid hormones.
There are also some molecules that suggest your thyroid gland isn’t functioning correctly. These molecules are called “thyroid peroxidase antibodies” – or TPOab. Their presence points to the possibility of an autoimmune disorder that’s impairing your thyroid’s function.
Thyroid hormones are essential to your metabolism. In fact, many of your body’s cells have thyroid hormone receptors, which means that thyroid hormones can influence your metabolism in a host of ways.
Take fat metabolism, for example. Thyroid hormones help your body burn fat – providing you with more energy. As a result of this effect on fat metabolism, thyroid hormones bump up your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – which means you’ll be burning off fat even when you’re not physically active.
Thyroid hormones also impact carbohydrate metabolism. For instance, thyroid hormones stimulate the production of glucose (a sugar – which is produced when carbohydrates are broken down – that your body uses for energy). Your brain runs on glucose as its energy source, so if it weren’t for your thyroid hormones, your brain couldn’t function. The result would be be a bit like unplugging your computer from its power source – or taking out its battery!
What’s more, thyroid hormones also control your body’s internal temperature, protecting your organs from frosty temperature in the winter or boiling-hot conditions during the summer. In women, thyroid hormones help maintain a regular menstrual cycle – just one more example of the large number of ways thyroid hormones regulate so many aspects of your body.
In short, to feel energized and be healthy, you need thyroid hormones. But there’s a catch: you have to have the right amounts of thyroid hormones. When your body doesn’t have the right levels of thyroid hormones, your health falters.
Iodine – frequently found in seawater and seafood – is essential to human health. And if you’re not getting enough iodine in your diet, then you may be putting your health through the gauntlet of hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism refers to an underactive thyroid – your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency results in hypothyroidism, but this is not the only cause of low thyroid hormone levels. For example, autoimmune disorders – as well as exposure to radiation therapy during cancer treatment – can also lead to hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of low thyroid hormone levels range from the dramatic to the somewhat more subtle. You might gain weight rapidly, for example – or find yourself wearily running on fumes all day due to excessive fatigue. Hair loss can also result – and you may be less resistant to cold temperatures. Your skin can also have a cool and dry feel to it. In women, irregular – or even completely absent – menses is another sign of low thyroid hormone levels.
Perhaps you’ve been feeling lots of anxiety before an important job interview – and it just doesn’t seem to go away. Well, it could be more than just nerves, since high thyroid levels are known to heighten anxiety.
This is just one example of the consequences of high thyroid hormone levels. Other consequences? Swift weight loss, high blood pressure, and thinning hair – to name a few. When your thyroid hormone levels get too high, you can also experience tremors and an irregular heartbeat – and have a hard time concentrating or sleeping.
As you can see, high thyroid hormone levels can disrupt your health in many different ways – the frightening aftermath of a thyroid gland gone awry. Fortunately, medical researchers and scientists have discovered several different causes of hyperthyroidism. Autoimmune disorders – such as Graves’ disease – can prompt your thyroid to pump out too much thyroid hormones. A malfunctioning pituitary gland can likewise coax your thyroid gland into gushing out more thyroid hormones than your body needs. Dietary supplements intended for weight loss may also trigger hyperthyroidism.
Remember TSH? It’s a hormone released by the pituitary gland that stimulates the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormones. If your TSH levels are too low, then your thyroid gland is overactive – and producing too much thyroid hormones. (It could also mean that you’re taking too much thyroid hormone supplementation or medication.) And if your TSH levels are too high, then the reverse is true: your thyroid gland may not be producing enough hormones.
When TPO antibody (TPOab) levels are found in profuse amounts in your blood, it’s a red flag that your thyroid gland may be malfunctioning because of an autoimmune disorder. Not everyone with high TPOab levels have a badly-working thyroid gland, but such elevated levels are a warning sign that thyroid problems may be lurking ahead.
After all this thyroid-hormone-levels-gone-wrong talk, you’d be justified in thinking to yourself, “Okay, so how can I get healthy thyroid hormone levels?”
First, make sure you’re getting the right amount of iodine in your diet (your body can’t make iodine, so it’s got to come from the food you eat). For men and non-pregnant women, the recommended daily allowance for iodine is 150 micrograms (mcg). For pregnant women, that number rises to 220 mcg per day – and 290 mcg a day for women who are breastfeeding.
Of course, if your thyroid hormone levels aren’t within a normal range, consult your healthcare provider to learn what solution is best for you.
Your thyroid gland is a key part of your metabolic health. The hormones released by the thyroid gland regulate your body’s functioning in a stunning variety of ways. But your wellbeing slides downhill when your thyroid hormone levels are too high – or too low. So testing your thyroid hormone levels (with EverlyWell’s At Home Thyroid Test, for example) can be a quick – but effective – way to check on the status of your metabolism and health.