The WHY of the THYroid

By Riva Preil

Happy Thyroid Awareness Month!  The thyroid gland is an important component of the endocrine system which is located in the front of the neck.  The thyroid gland itself is regulated by the hypothalamus, which releases thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH).  TRH acts on the anterior pituitary gland and causes it to release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).  TSH in turn controls the release of two important hormones from the thyroid, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).  Iodine and tyrosine are required for T3 and T4 production.  These hormones are responsible for metabolism, protein synthesis, and the body’s sensitivity to other various hormones.  They are also crucial for brain development in the growing fetus.

Too much of anything is never good, including thyroid hormones.  Grave’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder, can result in hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and an overproduction of T3 and T4.  The symptoms of hyperthyroidism include an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), exophthalmos (protruding eyes), heart palpitations, increased sweating, involuntary weight loss, diarrhea, increased appetite, and muscle weakness.  Beta blocker medications are often prescribed to help treat the symptoms, and others may decide to undergo radioactive iodine-131 to treat the overactive thyroid.  On the flip side, decreased thyroid activity, also known as hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Disease, is also detrimental to one’s health.  Iodine deficiency is also linked with hypothyroidism, and it is therefore recommended to use iodized salt in one’s diet.  The symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, decreased heart rate, and poor tolerance to cold temperatures.  Hormone replacement therapy with levothyroxine often corrects for this disease.

It is interesting to note that hypothyroidism is associated with sexual dysfunction (refer to abstract from The Journal of Sexual Medicine: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20412428).  Therefore, it is important for health care providers to address any and all issues that an individual with hypothyroidism may be experiencing, including pelvic floor muscle dysfunction.

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