An Overview of the Thyroid

The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland with two lobes around the front of your windpipe. The two lobes are joined together by tissues called the isthmus. The thyroid gland is one of the glands belonging to the endocrine system which produces and separates various hormones throughout the body.

If you place your fingers on both sides of the front of your neck, you will be able to feel your thyroid gland sliding across your fingers. This releases the thyroid hormone, which has two major responsibilities; the first is to control metabolism and the rate that the body’s chemistry is working. The second is to control the body’s growth level. This is especially important during childhood.

There are two main hormones; triiodothyronine (T3), making 20% of the thyroid’s production, and thyroxine (T4), which makes up the remaining 80%. Even though there are smaller quantities of T1 and T2 being produced around that time, there isn’t enough to ascertain what role they play in the hormone production process, if any.

T4 is considered to be a pro-hormone because of its mostly inactive status, only becoming active when it is converted to T3, which is the driving force in regulating the body’s metabolism.

In some cases, if the thyroid gland is producing an insufficient amount of thyroid hormones, there are medications that can provide synthetic hormones such as Cytomel. You can read more about Cytomel Tabs (Liothyronine or T3) in the UK here.

Because the tissues are unable to make use of T4, it is converted into T3 by an enzyme called 5′-deiodinase, a conversion that takes place in the body’s cells and tissues. If you have any pre-existing liver conditions, this will hinder the conversion from T4 to T3, causing major problems for the thyroid.

In order to produce thyroid hormone, your body needs the chemical element iodine. This can be found in the following foods:

  • Cereals
  • Cow’s milk
  • Fish
  • Grains
  • Shellfish
  • Vegetables (bear in mind the level of iodine in them will vary depending on the soil in which they were grown)

Your body also needs different amino acids, a primary source of protein. The biggest amino acid you will need is tyrosine. You can find it in the following foods:

  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Bananas
  • Cheese (particularly cottage cheese)
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Lima beans
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soy
  • Turkey
  • Yogurt

An important part of the thyroid hormone life cycle is the conversion of T4 to T3. To aid this process, you need selenium. Without it, the process will falter. The ideal foods containing selenium are:

  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Nuts

Major Conditions: 

Hyperthyroidism – The thyroid over exceeds the level of thyroid hormone it should be producing, causing the metabolism to run too fast, resulting in an overactive thyroid.

Hypothyroidism – Hypothyroidism has the opposite effect of hyperthyroidism, in that it produces less thyroid hormones, bringing your body’s metabolism levels down, leading to side effects such as fatigue, weight gain and itchy skin.

Hopefully, you will come away having a good idea of what the thyroid gland is, how it operates and what you need to keep it going.