The thyroid gland plays a major role in keeping your entire body functioning smoothly. Here are five key facts about your thyroid and how to keep it healthy.

Your thyroid controls your body’s metabolism.

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located toward the front of your neck. “When the thyroid is functioning well, it releases the right amount of hormones to promote healthy body growth, development and organ function. In other words, the thyroid determines how well your metabolism functions,” says Mary Allison Mitchell, DO, a family medicine physician with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group. “If your thyroid function is abnormal, you may be diagnosed with a thyroid condition that will need to be managed with either medication or other therapies. Some conditions can be mild and last throughout your life while others can be more serious.

Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid condition.

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid is unable to produce enough hormones to meet your body’s needs. This condition slows your body’s metabolism down, making you feel sluggish, cold and weak. While hypothyroidism is not curable, Dr. Mitchell says the condition can be successfully managed with thyroid hormone pills. The biggest risk factor for hypothyroidism is having a family history of the condition.

Women are more likely to have a thyroid condition.

One in eight women will experience thyroid abnormalities during her lifetime. Since most people with thyroid conditions develop it later in life, many women mistake its symptoms for menopause. “Thyroid conditions can make your periods irregular, harder for you to get pregnant or cause health problems to you or a baby during pregnancy. Over time, thyroid conditions can make your weight fluctuate, affect your mood and change your heart rate,” says Dr. Mitchell. “Your primary care doctor can help detect and diagnose whether a thyroid condition is responsible for your symptoms.”

Blood tests can help your doctor detect and diagnose thyroid conditions.

Your doctor can test for thyroid conditions by detecting the levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) or thyroxine (free T4) in your blood. The TSH test is usually the first test healthy adults take to assess their thyroid function. “The lab tests used to evaluate thyroid disorders are complicated and must be considered in addition to other risk factors. As a general guideline, TSH levels are inversely related to thyroid function. For example, a patient with an underactive thyroid will likely have a higher TSH.”

Keep your thyroid healthy by improving your metabolism.

While you cannot control the nonpreventable risk factors for thyroid disease, a healthy lifestyle may lower your risk, help you feel better if you have thyroid abnormalities and improve your metabolism. Eating fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains improves your digestive and heart function, which is good for your metabolism. Paying attention to your hunger cues so can help you manage your portions better during mealtime. Also, make cardio and strength training exercises a regular part of your everyday routine.

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Office on Women’s Health, Mayo Clinic, American Thyroid Association, Harvard Health Publishing, U.S Department of Health and Human Services

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