How much do you know about your thyroid? This small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck may not be something that you think about when you first awaken. Your thyroid is a powerful organ that plays an essential role in your body–releasing and controlling thyroid hormones that regulate your metabolism. Every cell in your body depends upon this process to properly function.
Understanding how your metabolism works and what impacts it is important. Metabolism refers to your body’s ability to break down food and turn it into the energy you need to survive. This process wouldn’t happen without the thyroid glands using iodine from food to produce and secrete two key hormones into your bloodstream: Triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The T3 and T4 thyroid hormones play vital roles in regulating your body’s weight, skin, hair, brain development, metabolic rate, internal temperature and more. The occurrence of too much or too little thyroid hormones can negatively impact your body.
When You Don’t Get Enough of Thyroid Hormones
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) occurs when your thyroid does not release enough T3 and T4 thyroid hormones into your bloodstream. This causes your metabolism levels to drop and slow too greatly. Studies show that hypothyroidism is less common among African Americans, but those who are impacted face a greater risk of death than patients of other racial and ethnic groups. You may not even realize that you have a slowed metabolism until you begin to notice these signs and symptoms:
- Dry, thinning hair
- Feeling very tired
- Unexplained weight gain
- Feeling depressed or sad
- Feeling cold
- Muscle or joint pain
- Increased menstrual bleeding
When You Get Too Much of Thyroid Hormones
Maintaining balance in your body is especially important. If your body releases more thyroid hormone than you need, you will have hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). This increased level of T3 and T4 in your body speeds up your metabolism and heart rate. Over time, you may experience these symptoms:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Eating more than normal
- Feeling anxious or nervous
- Increased sweating
- Muscle weakness
- Fewer and lighter menstrual periods
Be Aware of Thyroid Signs and Symptoms
Pay close attention to your body, and have regular conversations with your doctor to determine the root of your concerns. Your thyroid could be controlling the abnormalities you are experiencing within your bones, heart, fertility, weight, skin and brain. And be aware: You may not always have symptoms. Early detection is key for African Americans since research has shown larger thyroid-related tumors and higher complication rates compared to whites.
If your family has a history of thyroid issues, you have a higher risk of experiencing common thyroid disorders such as thyroid cancer, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s disease, goiters and thyroid nodules. Graves’ disease, in particular, is more common among black people than whites. Women are more likely than men to have a thyroid disease, but the condition can be treated. If you find out that you have a thyroid disease, talk to your doctor to determine your best next steps.