By Rebeka Srbu, D.O., Family Medicine with Obstetrics
The thyroid is one of those things that we generally ignore until it acts up. It’s a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck that releases thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones contribute to the metabolism, growth/development of the body, and control the functions of the heart, muscles, and digestion, as well as brain development and bones.
Iodine is Key
If you buy Himalayan pink salt, read the label carefully. Some types of salt do not contain iodine, which is needed by your thyroid to function properly. That’s why most types of table salt are iodized. The thyroid gland relies on the iodine in foods and turns it into thyroid hormones that it releases into the bloodstream.
Too little iodine can cause a low functioning thyroid—hypothyroidism. Lacking iodine, the thyroid enlarges to a goiter as it tries to satisfy your body’s need for thyroid hormones. A large goiter leads to problems swallowing and breathing.
Sufficient levels of iodine are critical when women are pregnant or nursing. Insufficient iodine can cause serious problems with the pregnancy, even miscarriage or stillbirth, or abnormalities in the baby. Prescription pregnancy vitamins contain the needed levels of iodine to keep the mother healthy and the baby developing properly.
An overactive thyroid leads to hyperthyroidism—too much thyroid hormone production. One result of an overactive thyroid is Graves’ disease, which often runs in families and occurs when antibodies in the blood make the thyroid grow and produce too much thyroid hormone. Another cause of hyperthyroidism is when lumps or nodules in the thyroid grow and create a greater output of thyroid hormones in the blood.
With hyperthyroidism, all bodily functions speed up. Symptoms include anxiety, increased sweating, racing heart and hand tremors, thinning of the skin, disturbed sleep patterns, muscle weakness, and more. Initial bursts of energy due to increased metabolism will lead to exhaustion as the body wears down.
Sources of Dietary Iodine
Sufficient levels of iodine to maintain a healthy thyroid are found in many common foods. Iodine is easily consumed in cheese, soy or cow’s milk, eggs, frozen yogurt and ice cream, saltwater fish, shellfish, soy sauce, yogurt, as well as iodized table salt and multivitamins that contain iodine.
Talk to your family medicine physician about any concerns you may have. A urine test measures the amounts of iodine in the body and a physical exam will reveal signs of healthy or unhealthy thyroid activity.