One of the largest endocrine glands, the thyroid influences almost every cell in our body. It is responsible for the regulation of our metabolism and weight by controlling the fat-burning process. Apart from this, thyroid hormones are also required for the growth and development of children and in nearly every physiological process in our body. Weighing somewhere between 20 and 60 grams, the thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland found inside your neck, right under your larynx or voice box.
The commonest cause of thyroid disease worldwide is iodine deficiency, which causes goitre and hypothyroidism in some. However, autoimmune thyroid disease is the predominant form of thyroid dysfunction in the developed world and is increasing in prevalence.
There are two kinds of thyroid conditions – hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, and they are diagnosed by testing the levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. Doctors measure hormones secreted by the thyroid itself, as well as thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), a hormone released by the pituitary gland that triggers hormone production in the thyroid.
In the case of hypothyroidism, higher quantities of TSH are circulating in your blood as your body attempts to increase the production of thyroid hormones. The reverse is true with hyperthyroidism, in which TSH levels are below normal and circulating thyroid hormone levels are high. The most common thyroid condition is hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism:
- Lethargy/Frequent tiredness
- Excessive Sleep
- Weight gain
- Rough and scaly skin
- Dry, coarse, and tangled hair
- Hair loss
- Extra sensitivity to cold
- Low basal temperature: (BBT) – body temperature at wake-up time
Any of these symptoms can be suggestive of an underactive thyroid. The more of these symptoms you have, the higher the likelihood that you have hypothyroidism. Furthermore, if you have someone in your family with any of these conditions, your risks of thyroid problems become higher.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism:
- Feeling restless, nervous, emotional, irritable, sleeping poorly, and as if you’re always on the go
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent bowel movements
- Irregular menstrual periods in women
- Weight loss (or weight gain, in rare cases)
- Rapid, forceful, or irregular heartbeat
- Lack of menstrual periods in women
- Protruding eyes or exophthalmos
If you have any of the above symptoms, visit a quality hospital for thyroid screening and then consult an endocrinologist for the correct diagnosis.
Here are some steps that can improve your thyroid health:
1. Use iodized salt in your food.
2. If you have hypothyroidism, avoid cabbage, spinach & broccoli.
3. Reduce intake of processed foods like white bread, pasta, cookies, etc.
4. Avoid alcohol & tobacco products.
5. Get more aerobic exercise.
6. Minimise your stress levels.
7. Get thyroid function tests regularly.