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Your new best friend - the thyroid gland!

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I hear it all the time "...I cannot lose weight no matter what I do!" Most times, it is exaggerated, as I watch the same people that complain, snack on chocolate cake and samosas, or spend their nights and weekends watching films on their couch! Sometimes it makes me laugh. Sometimes it disturbs me.

I say it 'disturbs me' because not being able to lose weight is a very real biological problem for a very small percentage of the population, especially women. Sometimes it is these poor souls who actually have done all they can do and give up and succumb to the life of a couch potato out of sheer frustration, of which the source is an underactive thyroid gland.

The endocrine system is basically a system of glands that secrete chemicals called hormones into the bloodstream and the thyroid gland is a part of this. Hormones' main job is to relay messages to organs and stimulate them to perform different functions. All hormones are concerned with metabolism, but each hormone targets specific groups of cells. Additionally, almost all hormones work together at one point and effect each other, which can affect the fundamental homeostasis of the body. They thyroid's main job is to maintain metabolism and if it is underactive, the body is sluggish to burn energy and regenerate.

Hormones can act slowly or quickly; be responsible for enormous growth and change and often govern our emotions. Hormones are not just responsible for our reproduction and are found all over the body including the brain, adrenal glands (on top of the kidneys) and pancreas. Puberty and reproduction are strongly associated with the word 'hormones', since hormones are responsible for puberty and all the ups and downs that accompany it.

In terms of weight loss or indeed, weight gain, the spotlight is turned on a different part of the endocrine system and a different type of hormone, of which the thryroid gland is the star.

The thyroid gland resides in the front of the neck just below the larynx. It consists of two lobes which make the structure look a bit like a butterfly and in an adult, weighs a measly 20 grammes. Its power is not to be underestimated. This gland can make you either love your mirror or make you want to hide under your quilt in your baggy tracksuit pants since it's main job is to make thyroxin. Simply put, if you do not have an adequate amount of thyroxine in your blood stream to stimulate your metabolism, it will be very difficult for you to lose weight.

However, thyroxin is more complicated than this and performs other activities all around the body and also has huge impact on energy levels and protein synthesis. The parathyroid gland, which is smaller and sits behind the thyroid, plays a major role in maintaining calcium levels for healthy teeth, bones and muscle contraction. Both the thyroid gland and parathyroid gland communicate with the pituitary gland to monitor growth, weight, energy utilisation and levels of thyroxin in the blood.

To be the proud owner of a healthy thyroid gland, and have a more efficient metabolism, you will also need to consume adequate amounts of the mineral, iodine.

Iodine can be found mainly in sea foods. For people who have less-than-healthy thyroid glands, they need to take thyroxin in tablet form, along with iodine to support effective functioning. This is NOT to say, however, that if you want to lose weight, you simply ask around for some thyroxin and iodine pills!

If you think you genuinely have a thyroid problem, you need to be tested by a medical practitioner via regular blood tests, and an appropriate prescription will be given to you. This prescription, besides thyroxin, should include some regular intense exercise. Your sleep patterns and diet will also be monitored. There is no getting out of doing some sort of physical activity. Remember too, that the desired end of all hormones depends on all of them doing their job TOGETHER, and exercise has a positive effect on all body systems including the endocrine systems and hormone production and distribution.

I know some of you right now are wondering if there is such a thing as an overactive thyroid. Well, yes, there is, and no, it is not a ticket to slim heaven!

This complicated pre-disposed medical condition is caused by the parathyroid gland secreting too many of it's own special hormones into the bloodstream. People with overactive thyroid glands - called hyperthyroidism - often suffer from nervousness, fatigue, sensitivity to heat, bulging eyes and goitre. If untreated, it can lead to liver and heart damage or even death.

The endocrine system is working hard, right now, to keep you healthy and active, just like all the other systems in the body, and doesn't require much upkeep! Stay generally healthy and get some regular exercise and expect your general metabolism to slow down a little as you age. If you still think there might be a problem, see a doctor and ask for a blood test.

Good luck everyone! Now, I'm off to eat a big seafood dinner after some intense gym sessions because I have this great little black dress I need to squeeze into next weekend...

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Nov 2, 2008
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