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This little gland in your neck should not be taken for granted

This little gland in your neck should not be taken for granted
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For such a small organ, the thyroid – that butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck above your collarbone – wields a lot of power. It directly or indirectly controls virtually every function in the body. Here’s what you need to know.

What your thyroid does

What your thyroid does
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The thyroid makes the hormones known as T4 and T3, which are used by all the cells of the body. “These hormones are essential for life,” says Dr Terry Davis. “When there is too much of them or too little then things can go seriously wrong.” Too much thyroid hormone, for example, can aggravate the heart, causing palpitations and anxiety. Too little can cause weight gain; and “because the brain is very thyroid dependent,” says Dr Davies, too little thyroid hormone can also cause depression.

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Thyroid issues can affect your overall health

Thyroid issues can affect your overall health
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With great power comes great responsibility, and the thyroid is no exception. Unfortunately, there are many ways in which this gland can be thrown off, and there are a number of conditions that fall under the category of thyroid disease. The big ones are hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland), hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), Hashimoto’s (an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid, causing hypothyroidism), and Graves’ disease (an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism). “In addition, the thyroid may form growths or even thyroid cancer,” says Dr Davies.

Getting your thyroid checked is easy to do

Getting your thyroid checked is easy to do
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Whether as part of your annual physical or something you schedule because you’re concerned that something is off, bloodwork can reveal troubles with your thyroid. Initially, “an excellent and sensitive blood test called TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) can diagnose abnormal thyroid function very easily,” says Dr Davies. “TSH is the messenger hormone from the brain to the thyroid gland telling it to work harder. When the thyroid fails, the message gets louder so TSH is increased. When the thyroid is overworking the brain does not need to send messages so TSH is low.” If your TSH test results are not normal, you will need at least one other blood test – T4, T3, or thyroid antibody tests – to help find the cause of the problem.

 

Thyroid conditions can arise at any age

Thyroid conditions can arise at any age
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A study published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research found that there are a number of myths about thyroid disease. For instance: almost 40 per cent of study participants thought obese people are more likely to get hypothyroidism; about 27 per cent believed elderly people are more affected, and around 13 per cent believed women get more affected with hypothyroidism. Only nine per cent were aware that hypothyroidism can affect all age groups.

Hyperthyroidism symptoms are varied

Hyperthyroidism symptoms are varied
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When your thyroid is producing too much thyroid hormone, it can result in hyperthyroidism. Dr Christian Nasr, describes this as feeling like you’re going 100 kilometres per hour all the time. Hyperthyroid symptoms include anxiety, nervousness, irritability, increased sweating, difficulty sleeping, thinning of your skin, fine brittle hair and muscle weakness.

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Hypothyroidism affects energy levels and more

Hypothyroidism affects energy levels and more
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On the opposite end of the spectrum, hypothyroidism is when your thyroid is underactive. “Imagine moving slowly all the time,” says Dr Nasr. Other symptoms include “feeling tired and sleepy, bloated and constipated, cold all the time, and experiencing hair and nail changes, mental slowness and a slow heart rate.”

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Your quality of life can suffer

Your quality of life can suffer
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Without proper treatment, the most severe forms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be life-threatening, says Dr Nasr. But even milder issues can interfere with your daily life. “People who have an underactive thyroid that is left untreated may lack energy and mental alertness,” he says, noting that this can be particularly problematic at work. “Women with either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism can experience infertility.”

Finding balance is key

Finding balance is key
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If you’re diagnosed with hypothyroidism, your doctor will likely prescribe medicine to promote hormonal balance. “There is no other treatment needed for a low thyroid,” says Dr Davies, adding that “no dietary changes make a difference. Some people do just fine with levothyroxine (T4), while a small number of people seem to do better with a mixture of T4 and T3.”

You are what you eat

You are what you eat
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Despite all the hype, there is limited science to back up a so-called ‘thyroid diet’, says Dr Davies. One study published in the Journal of Medical Nutrition and Nutraceuticals, suggests that micronutrients such as iodine, selenium and zinc play an important role in thyroid health. But the researchers conclude that the best advice for patients is to consume a healthy balanced diet, and meet the daily iodine requirement.

Read on to find out how to make vitamins and minerals work better for you.

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Please be advised that due to the current lockdown in the Philippines, we hope to have the April print issue available by the middle of July, and the May, June and July issues available by the end of July, but this is dependent on when local lockdown restrictions are lifted. We sincerely apologise for this inconvenience. Thank you and stay safe!
– The Reader’s Digest team