You may have heard a friend or family member talk about their thyroid, coupled with a statement about weight struggles. So what is the thyroid, and what does it do?
How your thyroid works
Your thyroid is a small gland that sits just below your jawline and plays a vital role in metabolism and energy, body temperature, and hormone production. Your hypothalamus and pituitary gland control the thyroid gland’s actions. Technically, the thyroid gland is a part of the endocrine (read: hormone) system, so its actions are carried out through the use of chemical messengers through our bloodstream.
The thyroid relies on dietary iodine from fish, iodized table salt, and leafy greens to produce hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). When needed, the pituitary gland makes TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone, which kicks your thyroid into gear to make T3 and T4. T4 is the key for metabolism and energy production. If you have too much T4 circulating, you have hyperthyroidism. If you have too little T4 circulating, you have hypothyroidism.
Often called overactive thyroid, hyperthyroidism can cause weight loss, rapid heartbeat, puffy eyes, and swollen thyroid glands. Grave’s disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism and can cause characteristic hollowed-looking or bulging eyes.
Treatments include anti-thyroid drugs that directly block TSH production, surgery, or radioactive iodine. While there is limited research to support specific nutrient supplementation, a diet high in protein and rich in fruits and vegetables can help you achieve a healthy weight. Some vegetables even contain compounds that may help with symptoms of hyperthyroid. Look for cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and kale for goitrogens that may help control thyroid levels.
Hypothyroidism is the exact opposite of hyperthyroidism. Weight gain or trouble losing weight, low energy and mood, constipation and low body temperature are all signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. These symptoms are less specific, so hypothyroidism can be harder to diagnose. Your doctor will look at your TSH levels and T4 levels to ultimately diagnose hypothyroidism.
Treatment includes supplementing with synthetic T3 and T4. Choose a diet high in fiber, protein, and fruits and vegetables to help control your weight, as losing weight with hypothyroidism is a challenge! Increasing your activity level, changing your diet, and working with your doctor to find the right balance of synthetic thyroid hormone will be key in managing symptoms.
Did you know?
Table salt has added iodine to protect from iodine deficiency and goiter, a condition where the thyroid gland swells as it tries to make more T3 and T4! A goiter can become the size of a grapefruit or larger!
Caroline is a Clinical Registered Dietitian for MedStar Health and Hospital Systems in Baltimore, Maryland. She completed her Masters Degree in Dietetics from San Jose State University and moved back to Charm City to be with her fiancee. When she’s not providing medical nutrition therapy to her patients, Caroline enjoys cooking, waterfront walks and crab-anything (crab pizza is the best!).