It would be hard to exaggerate the significance of the role played by the diminutive, unassuming little gland at the base of your neck called the thyroid. The thyroid gland produces two hormones that will eventually impact every cell in your body, and almost every major process that occurs within your body. From this, it’s easy to see how your overall health could be influenced a great deal by this one gland. In Oxford and elsewhere around the U.S., January has been designated as Thyroid Disease Awareness Month, which means that people across the country will be conducting activities and events that raise awareness about thyroid disease and its symptoms. Senior home care professionals, as well as family caregivers, must all be vigilant in observing elderly loved ones to identify these symptoms when they occur, so appropriate steps can be taken to restore and maintain good health. Below, we’ll discuss the role that the thyroid gland has in your general health, so you’ll understand why such care must be taken to keep it functioning at a high level.
The thyroid gland produces two main hormones used by the body, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These two hormones then go on to help regulate all the following processes within the body:
- bone loss
- control and strength of muscles
- body weight
- expenditure of energy
- menstrual cycles
- body temperature
- heart rate
There are even more processes the thyroid has a hand in, but you get the picture – it literally has a hand in every bodily function that goes on inside your system. In order to make the hormones needed by the body, your thyroid gland must absorb a sufficient quantity of iodine, and the thyroid is equipped with the only cells in your body capable of this kind of absorption. As part of your body’s endocrine system, the thyroid also affects energy levels, growth processes, reproduction, mood, and your response to injury.
However, it doesn’t do all this by itself. The thyroid gland works closely with the pituitary gland, which is housed in a chamber situated at the base of your brain. The pituitary gland is no bigger than a pea – but it carries out a monumental task by monitoring the amount of hormones present at various body locations, and stimulating the thyroid to produce more hormones when they’re needed.
When the thyroid malfunctions
When something goes wrong with the thyroid, all kinds of negative things can happen around your body. For instance, you could have an overactive or underactive thyroid, in which case either too much or too little hormone production occurs, and body parts will suffer as a consequence of having an excess or deficiency of needed hormones. Your thyroid can become enlarged, in which case it will generally not function as it should, and that could have far-reaching issues.
It is possible for growths or other nodules to form on the thyroid, and these can inhibit the production of hormones, or they could interfere with the signaling that goes on with the rest of the body. Lastly, the thyroid can become infected with cancer, and in this case, it would have to be completely removed. With the body’s hormone production center out of commission, you can imagine the kind of problems this would cause for a cancer patient. For certain, it will necessitate some artificial replacement for the missing hormones, and this will have to be done on a regular basis, probably in the form of medication.
To keep your thyroid healthy
As you can see, it’s very important to maintain a healthy thyroid gland and to have the correct level of hormones produced in the body, so as to avoid issues. One of the best things you can do to keep a healthy thyroid is to ensure that you have a balanced diet, rich in minerals like iodine and selenium. These minerals ensure that the thyroid is able to continue its hormone production and that the pituitary gland regulates the appropriate quantities of these hormones.
It’s also very helpful if you get a good night’s sleep in the evening and avoid stress as much as possible. Regular exercise can do wonders to regulate stress and anxiety, and it even releases some additional hormones called endorphins into the bloodstream to make you feel good about yourself. If you begin to detect symptoms that could be attributable to hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, it’s essential that you contact your doctor immediately and have it checked out.
If anything is happening to affect the hormone levels being produced, it’s possible that medication can correct the situation and get you back on track. The thing that makes symptom detection tricky is that in almost every case, the symptoms could be attributable to some other bodily malfunction, so you might overlook the thyroid as the culprit. This is why it’s necessary to consult with your doctor if you suspect any issues are occurring with your thyroid gland.