Understanding the Thyroid Gland: Definitions, Disorders, & Support

Understanding the Thyroid Gland: Definitions, Disorders & Support

Thyroid health is critical for total body health, yet thyroid conditions remain common, affecting as many as 1 in 10 men and 1 in 5 women. In this article, I’ll give a broad overview of the thyroid’s role in the body and what can go wrong. I’ll focus on thyroid nutrients and how everyday food supports thyroid function.

Keep reading to get your burning questions answered, including: 

  • What is the thyroid?
  • What is the function of the thyroid gland?
  • What’s the best diet for a healthy thyroid?

Let’s jump in!

What is the Thyroid Gland?

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland at the front of the throat. It’s part of the endocrine system and produces thyroid hormones.

What is the Function of the Thyroid Gland? 

The brain sends thyroid-stimulating hormone through the blood, which tells the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormone. It mainly produces T4 (thyroxine), which becomes activated to T3 (triiodothyronine). All cells in the body have receptors for T3. When T3 binds to cells, it affects cellular metabolism.

Regulates Vital Bodily Functions 

Thyroid hormone affects all body functions, including:


Thyroid hormones set the metabolic rate within cells. More T3 means a higher metabolic rate. The metabolic rate has to do with more than body weight; it affects the rate at which cells can perform daily tasks. 


Thyroid hormone plays a role in breathing and other automatic functions of the body. Because of where the thyroid gland is located, thyroid enlargement can also affect pulmonary function. 


When thyroid hormones are low, it may cause slower digestion or constipation. Conversely, thyroid hormones that are too high may cause faster and incomplete digestion.

Body Temperature 

Thyroid hormones regulate body temperature. One symptom of low thyroid hormone is cold body temperature, especially the hands and feet.

Brain Development

Thyroid hormone balance is critical during pregnancy and supports healthy brain development and cognition. 

Mental Activity

Brain fog and poor concentration may be symptoms of a thyroid disorder because thyroid hormones are crucial for metabolism in the brain.

Skin and Bones

All body systems are influenced by thyroid hormone, and the skin and bones are no exception! 

Common Thyroid Conditions

Let’s look at some thyroid disorders and what can go wrong with thyroid hormone function.


Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid hormone production, is the most common thyroid condition. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is autoimmunity, called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. With hypothyroidism, all body functions slow down. It may cause weight gain, constipation, dry skin, cold hands, brain fog, and more. 


Hyperthyroidism refers to overactive thyroid hormone production. Symptoms may include a racing heart, weight loss, increased hunger, and insomnia.


Goiter refers to an enlarged thyroid gland. The most common cause of goiter is iodine deficiency since thyroid hormone production requires iodine. 

Thyroid Nodules

Thyroid nodules are small bumps that develop in the thyroid gland. The nodules can be solid or fluid-filled and are usually benign.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is rarer than the other conditions mentioned here, and the good news is that thyroid tumors are often treatable. 

How to Support the Thyroid Gland 

One of my favorite thyroid support strategies is increasing thyroid healthy foods in the diet.

If you have a thyroid condition, work with your doctor for guidance, as you may need other treatments such as thyroid support supplements, lifestyle changes, and medication in addition to nutrition strategies.

Thyroid Nutrients

Several critical nutrients for thyroid health are in delicious, whole foods like nuts, seeds, and Scott’s Protein Balls!


Selenium is required for thyroid hormone activation. Brazil nuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, brown rice, legumes, and oats are good sources. More on the health benefits of nuts and seeds here.


Iodine is required for a healthy thyroid and is found in iodized salt, seaweed, and seafood. If you have a thyroid condition, be careful, more iodine is not always better. 


Zinc is involved in thyroid hormone synthesis and supports immune health. Good sources of zinc include meat, shellfish, legumes, peanuts, cashews, hemp seeds, and other seeds.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids 

Omega 3 fatty acids support thyroid health by reducing inflammation. Good sources of omega 3s include fish, seafood, and seeds, including chia, flax, and hemp.


Iron is another mineral essential for thyroid health. Iron deficiency may exacerbate thyroid dysfunction. Plant sources of iron include leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds. 

Scott’s Protein Balls are one of our favorite superfoods for thyroid health. They contain mineral- and omega-3-rich ingredients, including peanuts, oats, flax seeds, pea protein, brown rice protein, cashews, chia seeds, and more, and are a great way to support thyroid function with healthy snacking. 

  • Lori Levine is an eternal optimist and after undergoing breast cancer treatment, she learned she had to upgrade her snacks to upgrade her health. She and her husband Scott became accidental entrepreneurs after he lovingly created quality protein balls made from tasty, easily recognizable ingredients that are as convenient as they are healthy and delicious! Even better? 1% of all sales are donated to Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) to help support breast cancer research. #betheend.