How much do we really know about the thyroid? I imagine that most of people might not even be aware that they have one. A majority of people may know it is often linked to problems with weight control, while others may even be able to locate it at the front of the neck. But the fact is, for most of us, until something goes awry, we pay very little attention to this highly important gland and its function within our bodies.
Perhaps, then, we should start by looking at what exactly the thyroid does and why it is so vital to almost all aspects of our health and well-being.
The thyroid gland sits low on the front of your neck and is made up of two lobes which lie on either side of the windpipe. The brain produces thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which signals the thyroid gland to produce and secrete two of the major thyroid hormones into the bloodstream, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
These hormones regulate the speed at which our cells work. If too much of the thyroid hormones are secreted, then they will work faster; if too little are secreted, then they will perform much slower.
Imbalances of this nature – known as hyperthyroidism when overactive and hypothyroidism when underactive – are increasingly common, and now thought to affect around 1 in 20 people worldwide, most of whom are likely unaware that they have the condition. Many in the medical profession are of the belief the figure is considerably higher, with upwards of 40% of people over 50 having low thyroid hormone.
That last statistic is particularly worrying when you consider that a thyroid imbalance can lead to a whole host of medical complaints, from issues with temperature regulation and weight control, to brittle hair and nails, dry skin, fatigue, insomnia, depression, low libido, anxiety, high cholesterol, neurological conditions, and heart disease.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what exactly a healthy thyroid reading should be and what we can do if we suspect ours is out of range.