Your thyroid gland lies just under your Adam’s apple in your neck. The gland consists of two lobes that lie just in front and at either side of the windpipe. Your thyroid is part of your body’s endocrine system. The endocrine system consists of various glands that secrete hormones into your bloodstream. In particular, the thyroid gland secretes thyroid hormones. These hormones control the speed at which your body’s chemical functions happen — in other words, your metabolism. The thyroid gland needs iodine to produce thyroid hormones. Your thyroid also produces a hormone called “calcitonin,” which is involved in the metabolism of your bones.
Hormones are chemical messengers released into the bloodstream by endocrine glands. As a hormone circulates through your body via the bloodstream, it delivers a message to other parts of your body. Almost every cell in your body, from those in your brain to those in your feet, responds to the thyroid hormone. Your cells respond to thyroid hormone with an increase in metabolic activity.
Basically, the message the thyroid hormone gives to your cells is to “go.” Your heart rate increases, your breathing rate increases, and the use of proteins, fats and carbohydrates increases. Skeletal muscles work more efficiently, muscle tone in your digestive system increases, and mental alertness and thinking skills are sharpened.
Normally, your thyroid keeps everything running at a steady rate. This is what doctors mean when they use the word “homeostasis.”
Just last month, a research team based in the Netherlands has found out something interesting about the thyroid gland and its ability to control the processes of the body. According to results from a clinical trial, a less active thyroid may mean more years added to your life.
Does this mean that decreased thyroid function is the way to stay youthful no matter what your age? It is difficult to answer that question with any certainty. However, when the researchers studied 859 siblings from 421 long-lived families, they found that the longevity of the parents and the thyroid hormones in the siblings’ blood were strongly linked.
The researchers explain the link this way: the lower activity of thyroid hormones could shift the body’s energy expenditure away from growth and proliferation in favor of protective maintenance. And that concentration on protective maintenance means the body is kept healthier for longer.
The results from this study will no doubt cause some controversy. Low thyroid function is commonly regarded as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and the recommendation is usually to treat elderly with low thyroid function with hormone supplementation.
The researchers say that there needs to be further clinical trials to explore the link between the thyroid, longevity and disease.