Fact-Checked By : Dr. Tara Scott, OB-GYN
If you’re not sure what a thyroid is, you’re certainly not alone. Although significant in function, it’s not necessarily a part of the body that gets a lot of “airtime.” To catch you up to speed, here’s a little background on your thyroid.
Your thyroid is a small gland that has a big job. As part of the endocrine system, this gland releases hormones into your bloodstream, which helps your body with many different, vital functions. Its most important jobs are aiding in metabolism as well as helping your body grow and develop throughout the years.
An Everyday Example
If you walk out into the cold and need more energy to keep you warm, your thyroid will release hormones to make that process happen. These hormones support your metabolism to help you regulate your body temperature to keep you comfortable and healthy.
At the risk of sounding too much like Bill Nye the Science Guy, “your thyroid is cool!”
Where Is Your Thyroid Located?
You can actually feel your thyroid easily because it’s located on the front of your neck. It wraps around your trachea, or voice box, in a butterfly shape.
When you go in for your annual checkup, you might remember that your doctor palpates this area for any abnormalities that could signal that something is wrong.
What Kinds Of Problems Can You Have With Your Thyroid?
If your thyroid made too many or too few hormones, you’d be diagnosed with thyroid disease. There are many different types of thyroid diseases that can be broken down into hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones. This can be caused by an iodine deficiency, thyroiditis, or a few other conditions.
On the other hand, hyperthyroidism is when your body produces too many hormones. In this case, you could be diagnosed with Graves’ disease, a different form of thyroiditis, or you may have an excess of iodine.
If you believe you may have an issue with your thyroid, it’s best not to try to self-diagnose, and instead, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Signs Of An Unhealthy Thyroid
There are a few indications that something may be wrong with your thyroid. You should schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience:
- Unexpected weight loss
- Unexpected weight gain
- An inflamed thyroid
- An abnormal change in mood—anxiousness or irritability Fatigue
- Irregular periods
- Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
Taking Care Of Your Thyroid
Although you don’t have complete control over your thyroid’s function, there are a few ways to support your thyroid health. Here’s what you can do.
Pay Attention To What You’re Eating
Depending on whether your thyroid is underactive or overactive will determine what kind of foods you should introduce more into your diet. For hypothyroidism, consider eating more:
- Gluten-free grains and seeds
Try to avoid highly processed foods, as a general rule, but especially if you have hypothyroidism. Millet should be avoided entirely, while soy-based foods should be consumed in moderation, as well as fruits.
For hyperthyroidism, you’ll probably be directed by your doctor to eat a low iodine diet. To keep yourself healthy, eat:
- Bok Choy
- Egg whites
- Unsalted nuts
- Homemade bread without salt
If you’re interested in taking supplements to support your thyroid health, make sure you consult your doctor first, especially before adding an iodine or selenium supplement into your diet.
Who Is At Risk?
People with Type 2 Diabetes are at a higher risk of having thyroid issues in the future, so by reducing your Type 2 Diabetes risk factors, you can also reduce your chances of thyroid complications.
Exercise, watch what you eat, drink water, and get rest. It sounds straightforward, but it really can help.
Keeping On Top Of Your Thyroid Health
The best answer to this question is to go to your annual checkup with your general practitioner. No one blames you if going to your annual checkup isn’t your favorite pastime, but it’s a vital part of not only your thyroid health but your overall health.
Your doctor may order blood labs to ensure that your thyroid is releasing the correct amount of hormones, and will be able to feel for any abnormalities that might indicate thyroid cancer. The best way to address any health issue is to catch it early.
No one is really certain what causes thyroid issues, but now that you know some of the symptoms to look out for, you can be more in tune with your thyroid health. If any symptoms arise, don’t put off talking to your doctor. Schedule an appointment and discuss your concerns.