”I am Your Body”

THYROID

    
I AM THAT PINKISH, butterfly-shaped gland that straddles your windpipe just below your Adam's apple. I tip the scales at about two thirds of an ounce. My daily hormone production is less than 1/0OO,O00 ounce. My modest size and productivity would suggest that I am not very important. Actually, I am a powerhouse. I am your thyroid.

Had my hormones been absent at the time of your birth, you would have grown into a thick-lipped, flat-nosed dwarf - an imbecile or moron. My principal job for you today, however, is to determine the rate at which you live - whether, metabolically speaking, you creep like a snail or race like a hare.

You could, I suppose, compare me to a blacksmith's bellows. I fan the fires of life, governing the rate at which your billions of cells burn food into energy. I can either bank the fires or fan them into raging flames. If I were to produce a microscopic pinch too little of my hormones, you would probably become puffy-faced, obese, sluggish, dull-witted and, in an extreme case, even a semi-vegetable. On the other hand, if I were over productive, you would develop a wolfish appetite but become rail-thin as you burned up your food at a rapid rate. Your eyes would pop, maybe so far that the lids couldn't close over them. You would feel jittery, nervous - perhaps a candidate for the psychiatric ward. Your heart would race, possibly to a point of exhaustion and death.

Like your other endocrine glands, I am a tiny chemical plant, plucking material from your bloodstream and fitting them together to make complex hormones. My two main hormones are approximately two-thirds iodine. My daily requirements for iodine are roughly only 1/ 5OOO gram - and there are 28 grams in an ounce. Yet this microscopic amount spells the difference between idiocy and healthy development in infancy, the difference between vigor and sickly lassitude in adulthood.

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