Thyroid health is an integral part of your body’s functioning. Get to know this essential organ and how to best care for it so it can keep caring for you.
The thyroid is a gland that sits at the base of the neck, just under your larynx (voice box) and plays a crucial role in the body’s endocrine system, which regulates hormones. The thyroid gland is about two inches wide with a shape often compared to that of a butterfly. When your doctor feels around your neck during a routine physical, it’s actually your thyroid that’s being checked.
Although the thyroid gland often receives less attention than the heart and the brain, it is actually one of the most essential organs. Tending to your thyroid health leads to benefits for your whole body and mind.
What Does Your Thyroid Do?
The thyroid creates hormones based on input from the pituitary gland, a small bean-shaped gland located in your brain. The hormones created by your thyroid regulates body temperature, manages cholesterol levels, and helps control menstrual cycles. One of the thyroid’s most significant contributions to your body involves its role in regulating your metabolism, or how the body converts the food and drink you consume into energy, making it partially responsible for the following processes:
- Weight management
- Heart rate
- Energy levels
- Breathing depth
- Sleep quality
Caring for your thyroid should be just as much of a priority as caring for your other major organs. Fortunately, many of the strategies involved with keeping your heart, brain, and other essentials healthy also work for your thyroid.
How to Keep Your Thyroid Healthy
Keeping your thyroid in proper working order doesn’t require any exotic or insurmountable actions. In fact, pretty much every habit we’re about to share also yields positive benefits for other essential parts of your body as well.
Make the following practices part of your day-to-day routine in order to give your thyroid health a valuable boost:
- Eat healthy: Avoiding sugars and processed foods whenever possible benefits every part of the body, not just the thyroid. Diets emphasizing lean meats and fish (or equivalent proteins for vegetarians and vegans), low- and no-fat dairy, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables in appropriate portions yield the most ideal results.
- Eat sufficient iodine, vitamin D, and selenium: These nutrients are especially valuable for thyroid health in particular. Iodine can be found mostly in meats, shellfish, and fish, as well as sea vegetables like seaweed. For vitamin D, try adding salmon, cod, tuna, egg yolks, and mushrooms to your meals. Good sources of selenium include organ meats, Brazil nuts, and seafood. If you are deficient in any of these nutrients or your diet does not allow for these foods, talk to your doctor about next steps.
- Exercise regularly: As with proper nutrition, aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day for two to three days a week improves overall health and wellness—not just your thyroid. Since the thyroid controls and regulates metabolism, exercise specifically helps it by making its job converting food and drink into energy run smoother and more efficiently.
- Avoid hormone-disrupting chemicals: It’s impossible to entirely avoid hormone-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates, bisphenol-A, and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). They’re found in day-to-day products like waterproof clothing, plastics, cookware (especially nonstick), carpets, and leather. Whenever you are able, however, try to select items that advertise themselves as free of these chemicals. They can disrupt hormonal balances in humans and may even exacerbate thyroid disease.
- Manage your stress: Stress directly leads to hormonal imbalances, as it causes the thyroid to secrete too much cortisol, which can in turn increase the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. Elevated cortisol levels can also disrupt the body’s general functioning by placing it in a heightened state of alert, diverting resources from non-essential processes to essentials only. In other words, the body acts like it’s in danger even if it isn’t, which can lead to difficulties with sleep, weight management, mental health, and more.
- Get regular check-ups: Thyroid testing is standard in a routine check up, involving both blood tests as well as a touch exam. Committing to annual physicals can help reveal any potential thyroid issues that may arise so you can be placed on a treatment plan as soon as possible.
Parents who incorporate these healthy habits into their daily routine also mirror good discipline for their children. Thyroid health is crucial for all ages.
Spotting Thyroid Disease in Children
Thyroid diseases are the most frequently-diagnosed endocrine system issues found in kids. If your family has a history of thyroid problems, then your children have a higher risk of experiencing thyroid-related conditions. Kids without a family history can still experience thyroid issues, however.
The following are some common thyroid diseases found in children:
- Hyperthyroidism: Characterized by an overactive thyroid, usually associated with Grave’s disease.
- Hypothyroidism: Characterized by an underactive thyroid, usually associated with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
- Goiter: Characterized by an enlarged thyroid.
- Thyroid cancer: Characterized by the presence and growth of cancer cells in the thyroid.
- Thyroiditis: Characterized by the immune system mistaking the thyroid as an intruder and attempting to “cure” it.
- Thyroid nodules: Characterized by noncancerous lumps on the thyroid.
Thyroid function tests are routine in annual pediatric exams just as they are with adults. But if your children start displaying the symptoms of possible thyroid problems, it’s best to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can. Early detection helps increase the chance of recovery or effective long-term management, particularly when it comes to diseases like thyroid cancer.
Symptoms of thyroid disease in children include the following:
- Abnormally fast weight gain or loss, particularly if the appetite appears normal
- Abnormal sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty sleeping
- Bulging eyes
- Muscle soreness
- Abnormally increased or decreased energy levels
- Swelling in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing and/or breathing
- Throat pain
- Heavy or abnormally long periods
- Dry skin
- Sensitivity to cold
Many of these symptoms overlap with other conditions, so it’s important to consult with your child’s doctor to either rule out thyroid disease or detect something different that needs addressing. Parents may also want to heavily consider encouraging their kids to adopt the good habits that lead to overall improved thyroid functioning and their general health alike.
Find Emergency Care in Baytown
Patients ER’s team is here to provide emergency medical services to Baytown families. For non-emergency inquiries, we can be contacted at 281-576-0555 or online. For emergencies, please dial 911 or visit us at 10133 Interstate 10 East, Baytown, TX 77521.