The thyroid gland lies in the lower part of the front of the neck, below the Adam’s apple. It is a butterfly shaped structure – the gland consists of two lateral lobes connected by a small bridge of thyroid tissue, named an isthmus.
The thyroid is one of the human body’s endocrine glands, which means it produces hormones. To be precise, the thyroid makes and secretes into the blood three hormones. Two of them (triiodothyronine, often called T3, and thyroxine, called T4) help to regulate the body’s growth and metabolism. Without a well-functioning thyroid, the body would not be able to break down proteins, and it would not be able to process carbohydrates and vitamins.
The third hormone that the thyroid releases, called calcitonin, helps to control the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. Calcitonin also increases absorption of these minerals in the bones and helps to keep them strong and healthy.
Thyroid hormones also affect processes such as heart rate and body temperature.
There are a few common thyroid disorders, which are hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), Goiter (thyroid swelling), thyroid eye disease, thyroid nodules and cancer of the thyroid. Hashimoto’s Disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, and Graves’ Disease is an autoimmune disorder that is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism/overproduction of the hormone responsible for regulating metabolism. Thyroid eye disease affects some people who have an overactive thyroid due to Graves’ Disease. Goiter is a non-cancerous enlargement of the thyroid gland that is typically caused by iodine deficiency in the diet. Thyroid nodules are growths that form on or in the thyroid gland and they can be solid or fluid-filled. Most are benign, but they can also be cancerous in a small percentage of cases. Just a decade ago, thyroid cancer was considered a rare cancer, but not anymore.
Having a baby can sometimes trigger a usually temporary thyroid disorder, known as post-partum thyroiditis. Some women can suffer from a rise in thyroid hormone levels for up to four months after giving birth, with levels falling later.
In general, thyroid-related problems occur more frequently in women than in men, and the risk for both sexes’ increases with age.
Symptoms of thyroid disorders can often be confused for something else by patients and doctors and they develop slowly, so you may not notice them for years. You should see a Specialist Endocrinologist if you have symptoms including:
– A neck lump or a visible swelling at the base of your neck
– Sudden increase or decrease in weight
– Sudden intolerance to cold or heat
– Increased or irregular heartbeat
– Excessive sweating
– Bulging eyes
– Hand tremors
– For women – changes in menstruation cycle
I suggest following these three pieces of advice to enhance your thyroid function:
1. Eat more foods rich in iodine. Iodine is an essential trace mineral that is crucial for the thyroid to function properly. Products easily available to Iraqis such as low fat cheese, low fat yogurt, cow’s milk, eggs and iodinated salt are among those highly recommended.
2. If you have an enlarged thyroid (Goiter), eat less of foods called goitrogens. They block your thyroid and your medication from producing thyroid hormone properly, especially when eaten raw. Among such food products commonly part of Iraqi diets are almonds, peanuts, cabbage, cauliflower and any vegetable that falls into the broccoli family, spinach, corn, peaches and pears. Eat these foods rarely or only once every four days.
3. Exercise. For optimal thyroid function, you must exercise at least three days a week for 40 minutes per workout. It is even suggested to work out or at least walk a lot every day so your thyroid gets a daily boost to correct the condition until your thyroid is running at the optimal rate.
Dr Delman Mohammed Raoof Al-Attar, Specialist Endocrinologist and Diabetologist The Endocrine and Diabetes Clinic at Faruk Medical City.