Do you have an overactive thyroid?  An under-active thyroid?

We hear a lot about thyroid problems, especially if you are someone who suffers from a chronic illness.  The thyroid gland is an essential part of the body’s overall function, so when anything goes wrong in the body, the thyroid gland is affected.  Later, I will be talking about how the thyroid gland can play a significant role in migraines, but for now I want to focus on telling you a little bit about the gland and what its overall purpose is.

Where is Your Thyroid Gland?

Your thyroid gland is located in the base of your neck.  It is attached to the lower part of your voice box and the upper portion of the windpipe.  It is a large ductless gland that secretes hormones to regulate the body’s metabolism.  Metabolism, in short, is the conversion of calories and oxygen into energy.

What Is The Function Of Your Thyroid?

The primary function of the thyroid gland is to convert iodine, which is found in many foods, into the two primary thyroid hormones, T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine).  The cells in this gland are the only ones in the body that can absorb iodine.  The thyroid cells then take tyrosine (an amino acid) and combine it with the iodine to make T3 and T4.  The gland then secretes these hormones and transports them throughout the body.  Their primary function is to control metabolism.  All cells depend on these two hormones to regulate their cellular energy, or metabolism.  A normal thyroid produces about 20% T3 and 80% T4; however, I’ll note here that T3 is about 4 times stronger than T4.

Two major glands play a role in thyroid function.  The hypothalamus, which is a small portion of the brain above the pituitary gland, secretes TRH (thyrotropin-releasing hormone).  The pituitary gland also influences the thyroid gland.  It is located at the base of the brain and secretes TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone).  Whenever T3 and T4 drop too low, the hypothalamus pumps out TRH, which then stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete TSH, which then signals the thyroid gland to release more T3 and T4.

 migraines and iodineYour Thyroid Hormones and Your Pituitary Gland

The pituitary gland acts as the thermostat, while the thyroid gland itself acts as a furnace.  T3 and T4 are like heat; when the heat reaches the thermostat, it turns off (TSH decreases), but when the body cools, it turns back on (TSH increases).  When the body cools, the thyroid gland releases more heat (T3 and T4).  The reason this is so important is that without this regulation, the body gives way to a laundry list of problems including, but not limited to, migraines, headaches, sinus infections, and even visual disturbances.  We will discuss these in further detail in other articles.

The Importance of Iodine

Essentially, iodine is the most important chemical in the body with regards to the thyroid gland because it is essential for the production of the regulating hormones, T3 and T4.  TSH signals the body to increase the uptake of iodine.  Iodine is in our water and food, so if you have low iodine in your daily diet, then you may be suffering from a deficiency and, therefore, you may be experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism.  We will look at hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency in greater detail later.

Iodine Self-Test

  1. Dip a cotton ball into USP Tincture of Iodine, which you can get at any local drug store.
  2. Rub a 2-inch circle of iodine on soft skin (your upper arm or the inner part of your thigh would work well)
  3. If the stain goes away in under an hour, then your body has soaked it all up because you have very low iodine levels. Your levels are normal if the stain stays more than four hours

 

If you are low on iodine, I would suggest you start taking in more foods that have iodine, such as seaweed, baked cod, plain yogurt, and iodized salt.  If you have diet restrictions due to a medical condition, it’s important to first speak with your physician before making any changes.