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The Thyroid Gland

The thyroid lies under the larynx and synthesizes two hormones, thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine. This gland takes up iodine from the blood and has the highest iodine level in the body. The iodine is incorporated into the thyroid hormones. Thyroxine has four iodine atoms and is called T4. Tri-iodothyronine has three iodine atoms and is called T3. Both T3 and T4 function to increase the metabolic rate of several cells and tissues. The brain, testes, lungs, and spleen are not affected by thyroid hormones, however. T3 and T4 indirectly increase blood glucose levels as well as the insulin-promoted uptake of glucose by fat cells. Their release is modulated by TSH-RH from the hypothalamus. TSH secretion increases in cold infants. When temperature drops, a metabolic increase is triggered by TSH. Chronic stress seems to reduce TSH secretion which, in turn, decreases T3 and T4 output.

Depressed T3 and T4 production is the trademark of hypothyroidism. If it occurs in young children, then this decreased activity can cause physical and mental retardation. In adults, it creates sluggishness—mentally and physically—and is characterized further by weight gain, poor hair growth, and a swollen neck. Excessive T3 and T4 cause sweating, nervousness, weight loss, and fatigue. The thyroid also secretes calcitonin which serves to reduce blood calcium levels. Calcitonin's role is particularly significant in children whose bones are still forming.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Heterodyne to Hydrazoic acidHormones - Mechanisms Of Action, The Hypothalamus, The Pituitary Gland, The Thyroid Gland, The Parathyroid Glands - Major hormones