Thyroid diseases can creep up on you after age 40.
As we age we realize how much we took our healthy youth for granted. No longer can we stay up all night and work all day. Making it through the late night news is an achievement – but once we are in bed sleep eludes us. Sinful indulgences (once enjoyed without gaining a pound) can be found in change room mirrors and all of our clothes seem to be shrinking. With age comes wisdom so now we take better care of ourselves, but one important organ we rarely think of plays a huge part in our day to day health – our thyroid.
This little butterfly shaped gland is located in the front of your neck. Part of your endocrine system, your thyroid continuously interacts with other glands and is controlled by the pituitary gland, which in turn is overseen by the hypothalamus (a part of your brain). Together they ensure the proper release of thyroid hormone is in the bloodstream to keep your metabolism on an even keel.
Thyroid problems are more common in women and can occur at any age, but often occur after the age of 40. Some of the more common hormonal disorders are associated with the thyroid. It is estimated that more than 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid dysfunction and 60 percent of them are completely unaware of it!
The only cells in the body which can absorb iodine, the main function of your thyroid is to take iodine from your diet (150 µg/day) (seaweed, seafood, iodized salt, baked potato with peel, milk, etc.) and convert it (with the help of the amino acid tyrosine) into two thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These thyroid hormones act throughout the body. Not only do they help keep your brain, heart, muscles, and other organs in prime condition, but they also increase your metabolic rate (how fast cells in your body use the energy stored within them) which in turn affects your body temperature, as well as fat and glucose storage. In addition, your thyroid makes another hormone, calcitonin, which helps control the levels of calcium and phosphorus in your blood, to keep your bones strong and healthy.
There are many types of thyroid disease. Here is a discussion of some.
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid):
This happens when your thyroid gland is unable to make enough thyroid hormones (T3 and T4), which causes many of the body's functions to slow down. Often this condition is caused by an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's disease in which white blood cells and antibodies attack the thyroid gland.
– Increased sensitivity to cold
– Unexplained weight gain
– Irregular periods
– Muscle weakness
– Puffy face
– Impaired memory
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid):
This is a condition in which your thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4, releasing them into the bloodstream and causing the metabolism to speed up too much. Hyperthyroidism can significantly accelerate your body's metabolism. Often this condition is caused by an autoimmune condition called Graves' disease in which antibodies behave like TSH and stimulate the thyroid uncontrollably. If not treated, your metabolism will continue to speed up and can ultimately lead to liver damage, heart failure, or death.
Some of the symptoms include:
– Rapid pulse
– Weight loss (despite an increased appetite)
– Tremor (shaking) of the hands
– Sweating and sensitivity to heat
– Nervousness, agitation, and anxiety
– Bulging eyes
Goiter is a condition when your thyroid gland swells, causing a lump to form in the throat. A common cause is a lack of iodine in your diet which means your thyroid cannot make any hormones and it gets larger and larger. This condition can also happen if your have an underlying problem with your thyroid.
Thyroid dysfunction can be serious if you ignore it, so if you have any symptoms make an appointment with your doctor. A simple blood test can diagnose a problem and most people respond well to treatment.