The thyroid gland—a small, butterfly-shaped gland found at the base of the neck—is the “Clark Kent” of endocrine organs. The thyroid’s actions are extremely powerful, but most people don’t know about its secret superpowers.
An endocrine organ releases substances called hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones are carried to other areas of the body where they have certain jobs to do. The thyroid gland makes hormones that affect many body parts, including bone, muscle, fat, skin, kidneys, and the brain (just to name a few). These hormones are also important for maintaining normal growth and proper metabolism—your body’s ability to convert food into energy.
If your thyroid gland is healthy, it usually means you’re at a healthy body weight and normal body mass index and have normal cholesterol.
People who have low thyroid hormone levels are often very tired, may be overweight and tend to feel cold. Those with higher-than-normal thyroid hormones can show signs of nervousness and heat intolerance and have significant and unintended weight loss.
The nutrient iodine is necessary for the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones. This is why we have iodized salt: to provide enough iodine in our diet so that our thyroid works well.
January is Thyroid Awareness Month. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of an overactive or underactive thyroid from the American College of Endocrinology. Let’s keep our super thyroid gland super healthy!
Audrey A. Vasauskas, PhD, is an associate professor of physiology at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is a former volunteer editor for the I Spy Physiology blog.