The thyroid is a large, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck, just below the layers of skin and muscle. Its function is to produce thyroid hormone, which increases cellular activity in nearly all tissues of the body. Essentially, the function of the thyroid is to regulate the body's metabolism.
You could think of the thyroid gland as a kind of generator producing massive amounts of electricity from the water flowing through a dam. (In this analogy, the adrenal glands are the switches that allow electricity to leave the dam and travel down wires where it will be used by neighboring homes.)
Thyroid hormones supply energy to the body, allowing it to burn fuel and do work. When this energy is lacking, you feel tired. You also might feel less mentally sharp, and/or depressed or run down.
Because you're not able to burn the fuel you feed your body, that fuel gets stored as fat. This creates the double whammy of gaining weight and being tired at the same time.
You would think that storing energy would make you feel more energized, but the opposite is true. It is a physical sign that your body is not properly burning energy and is storing too much of it.
This energy is also needed for repair of your tissues, like your skin, hair, and nails.
Because these thyroid hormones are so powerful, your body has many ways to regulate them. The main way is by adjusting how much hormone comes out of your thyroid gland and goes into your circulation. This is called the central control of thyroid hormones.
The other way these hormones are regulated is called peripheral control, and it includes all the things that happen in your body after the hormones have already been released. Of all of the peripheral control steps, none is more powerful than the adrenal hormones, especially cortisol.
Every single part of your body is made up of individual cells, including your hair, brain, skin, bones, muscles, nerves, organs, and nails. All of these cells need just the right amount of thyroid hormone to work properly.
These cells are all surrounded by cell membranes, which are kind of like the walls and doors in your house. Just like a door, these membranes control what is allowed to enter the cell and what is kept out.
In order for the doors to open and let thyroid hormones inside, cortisol has to hit the doorbell on a regular basis — but not too much.
In states of optimal health, cortisol is made in higher amounts in the morning, which allows your body to be alert and active when your cells are absorbing all the thyroid hormones. Later in the day, this process reverses and cortisol shuts down.
This shutdown of cortisol lets you get deep refreshing sleep, repair all of your aches and pains, and you get your body ready for another busy productive day.
When these two glands are working together well, your body will produce abundant energy all throughout the day. You will also be able to effortlessly maintain a healthy, lean body weight without having to micromanage every morsel of food you consume.
Next week, I will tell you what you can do to maintain the right balance of thyroid and adrenal hormones, producing great energy and great metabolism.
Posts by Alan Christianson, NMD
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