Why It’s Important to Maintain a Good Working Thyroid

Registered Dietician

| 3 min read

couple on bench
Consider the humble thyroid, a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in front of the windpipe and below the voice box in your neck. It is estimated that at least 40 million Americans may be suffering from undiagnosed or misdiagnosed thyroid conditions, and when left untreated, thyroid problems can cause a variety of debilitating symptoms. I have a thyroid condition and thought it would be great to share what the thyroid does for your body.

What Does the Thyroid Do?

The thyroid produces a couple of hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism, which essentially influences every organ and system of the body. Problems such as an overactive or underactive thyroid can severely affect how the body operates. Thyroid hormones regulate how the body breaks down food and either uses that energy immediately or stores it for the future. That said, there are several different thyroid conditions that may occur:
  • Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid. This usually effects women between the ages of 20 and 40 but can also occur in men. Graves’ disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism. The symptoms include:
    • Fatigue
    • Weight loss
    • Rapid heart beat
    • Muscle weakness
    • Trembling hands
    • Diarrhea or bowel issues
    • Anxiety or irritability
    • Heat intolerance or excessive sweating
    • Menstural irregularities
    • Infertility
These symptoms can be frightening, so it is important to listen to your body and get an annual physical. There is medication that can help treat hyperthyroidism.
  • Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid does not produce enough hormones and has to be treated or else it can be dangerous. I actually suffer from this condition and I take medication daily for it. Hashimoto’s disease is the most common form of hypothyroidism in the U.S. It occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, creating chronic inflammation that damages the gland and interferes with its ability to make enough thyroid hormone. It occurs more often in women than men and tends to genetic. The symptoms for hypothyroidism include:
    • Fatigure
    • Sluggishness
    • Weight gain
    • Feeling cold
    • Menstrual irregularities
    • Dry skin and hair
    • Constipation
    • Mental depression
I only suffered from the first five of these symptoms listed. I was really busy at that time of my diagnosis and fatigue and sluggishness seemed normal for me. I was always super-duper thin until I hit about 26 years old. My doctor believes that I may have had hyperthyroidism to some degree before my thyroid got tired and hypothyroidism kicked in. We have no real proof of this, but again, I can’t stress enough the importance of being in tune with your body and seeing your doctor regularly.
  • Thyroid nodules grow on the thyroid. It is usually not noticeable until they start to grow. Nodules should be checked by a doctor, since tests can usually tell whether a nodule is harmless or harmful and which treatment would be best. It can be cancerous in some cases; thyroid cancer is found in about 8 percent of men and 4 percent of women. There is a variety of tests your physician can perform to check this and determine how to treat it appropriately.
Since the thyroid is a hormone regulator that effects metabolism, it becomes even more important to live a healthy lifestyle with a well-balanced, portion-controlled, nutrient-dense meal plan and with regular exercise.
Trust me, I know. Sometimes, I want to use my thyroid condition as a crutch to justify any weight gain or lack of weight loss. Don’t do that. In reality, if you exercise and build lean muscle mass, stay focused on portion control and healthy food options, keep in touch with your physician and make sure you are medicated appropriately, you can accomplish all your healthy lifestyle goals.
Do any of you have a thyroid condition too? What do you do to keep yourself feeling “normal?”
Photo Credit: skinnynecklover

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