You may have heard about the thyroid, but, do you really know what it is and what it does? Well, let me explain it in the simplest way possible. The thyroid is a large butterfly – shaped gland in the neck that secretes hormones that regulate growth and development. Your thyroid is located in your neck, just below the larynx or the voice box and right in front of the trachea or windpipe. The thyroid is interrelated to every system in your body. If you have an under-active thyroid then, you might end up suffering from hypothyroidism – a condition affecting millions of people in America and around the world – while an overactive thyroid leads to hyperthyroidism.
What does the thyroid do exactly?
The thyroid, as mentioned earlier, produces hormones that are responsible for directing some bodily actions. Now, think of the thyroid as a manager of an institution overseeing proper coordination among the various departments under him. The thyroid, in this case, ensures that all cells are operating at their optimum by checking on each of them and in so doing, increasing or reducing their rate of metabolism.
To be precise, the thyroid produces two very important hormones: Triiodothyronine and Thyroxine. These are commonly known as T3 and T4 respectively and are responsible for the regulation of conditions in all the other cells. If, for instance, a cell is lacking in oxygen, T3 will ensure that it gets it.
Thyroid function and the role of iodine
During their formation, the T3 hormone receives three atoms of iodine while the T4 gets four (Now you know where these weird names come from). Without iodine, the T3 and T4 hormones cannot be formed and, therefore, cannot be produced. If this happens, hypothyroidism sets in and you start feeling depressed, sluggish and generally fatigued. Other symptoms include: a puffy face, pale skin, swollen joints and muscles, weight gain, hoarse voice – the list is endless!
On the flip side, there’s hyperthyroidism; a condition caused by too much iodine. Suffering from this condition could lead to, among other symptoms, sudden weight loss, increased appetite, rapid heartbeat, nervousness, anxiety, irritability and lack of sleep.
The thyroid uses iodine by, first, converting it into a free elemental form called iodide which enters the thyroid through a special mechanism. The thyroid is, essentially, wholly made up of iodine and iodide, which are key to its function. In cases of hyperthyroidism, potassium iodide, which is a white iodide compound, can be used as a treatment
If the thyroid gland needs removal – yes, it can be surgically removed – potassium iodide can also used together with anti-thyroid medicines to prepare it for the operation. The potassium iodide shrinks the thyroid gland, thereby, decreasing its physical size and the amount of hormones produced.
In fact, potassium iodide can even be used to protect the thyroid in the event of radiation exposure. In this case, the potassium iodide acts as a cover for the thyroid; protecting it from absorbing harmful radioactive iodine and thus, limiting the damage and risk of thyroid cancer.