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The Small but Mighty Thyroid

Your thyroid is a small gland in the back of your neck, just below the center of your throat. This gland is small but mighty! It’s part of a network of glands within your endocrine system. This system regulates and coordinates many activities within your body to keep everything functioning correctly. Your thyroid manufactures hormones that regulate your body’s metabolism. It is also considered your metabolic center. The thyroid controls your body temperature, heart rate, and how fast calories are used from food.

Since the thyroid is small but performs an essential function, a few different problems can arise that can cause serious problems. Most of the problems with a thyroid come when the thyroid produces too much hormone, called hyperthyroidism, or not enough hormone, called hypothyroidism.

When the thyroid is either underproducing or overproducing, it can cause irritability, fatigue, unexpected weight loss, weight gain, and other effects. Four diseases are directly associated with the thyroid, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Gaves’ Disease, Goiter, and Thyroid Nodules.

When the thyroid is overactive, it’s called hyperthyroidism and produces too much thyroid hormone. This can cause many body functions to speed up. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, affecting about 70% of people with an overactive thyroid.

The opposite of hyperthyroidism is hypothyroidism, when the gland is underactive and can’t produce enough thyroid hormone. This causes some of the body’s functions to slow down.

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism cannot be prevented in most cases. Though people may not be able to take preventative measures to decrease their risk of thyroid issues, complications can be lowered by getting diagnosed right away and following a treatment plan established by a family medicine provider.

Outside of following your provider’s recommendations, there are a few steps you can take to introduce thyroid-friendly steps that can help keep a thyroid working as it needs to help keep a body functioning as it should.

  • Limit Ultra-Processed Food. Eating a diet that includes ultra-processed foods that contain increased sugar, salt, or fat. Decreasing these foods may help reduce your risk of complications. Research has found a link between processed foods and increased hyperthyroidism risk.

 

  • Get Enough Iron. Everyone’s body requires iron to make the thyroid hormone. People who are iron-deficient could be at a greater risk for hypothyroidism. Getting enough iron is an important factor, both for your thyroid and other body functions. Iron can be found in poultry, red meat, seafood, and iron-fortified foods like cereal and specific grains.

If anyone is concerned that they may have a thyroid that isn’t functioning properly, it may be time to talk to your family medicine provider. It can be hard to tell if you have a thyroid problem unless you’re paying attention to your body. If you experience unexpected changes in weight, personality, emotions, and skin, consider reaching out to your family medicine provider. Being diagnosed by your provider can be a simple process, usually through a physical exam, imaging, or bloodwork.