The thyroid is responsible for producing two main hormones: T3 and T4. These hormones circulate in the bloodstream and work to regulate a person’s metabolism. These hormones also maintain how the body uses carbs and fats, maintains heart rate, regulates the production of proteins and controls body temperature. The hypothalamus is a section of the brain that’s responsible for the controlled release of a number of hormones, including those produced by the thyroid. The pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain, controls the rate in which these hormones are produced.
Having an enlarged thyroid gland doesn’t mean that the thyroid isn’t working correctly. Even an enlarged thyroid gland can produce a normal amount of hormones. However, an enlarged gland can also produce too much or too little of the T3 and T4 hormones.
Common Causes of an Enlarged Thyroid Gland
There are many conditions that can cause an enlarged thyroid gland. Among the most common is an iodine deficiency, Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Thyroid cancer and pregnancy can also cause the gland to become enlarged.
Iodine is crucial for the creation of thyroid hormones. Iodine is found mainly in saltwater. People who live at high elevations or inland areas are usually iodine deficient, which can lead to the formation of a goiter. This is because the thyroid will become enlarged in an attempt to obtain more iodine. A person with an iodine deficiency can make this condition worse by consuming hormone inhibiting foods such as cauliflower, and cabbage.
Because of this, iodine was added to common table salt in the 1920s and since then, cases of iodine deficiency have dropped.
Goiters can also occur when the thyroid produces too much hormones. Grave’s disease is a condition in which antibodies produced by the immune system attack the thyroid, causing the thyroid to produce too much T4. This will cause the thyroid to become enlarged.
Hashimoto’s Disease is a similar condition, however instead of producing too much hormones, this condition will cause the thyroid to function poorly and not make enough hormones. Once the pituitary gland has sensed that more hormone production is needed it will produce a large amount of TSH to stimulate the thyroid and in turn cause the thyroid to become enlarged.