Concerned about bone health, or told you have osteoporosis? You will definitely want to read this article to discover more about your parathyroid glands.
The main function of the parathyroid glands is to make the parathyroid hormone (PTH) which regulates calcium levels in the body.
The Difference Between Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands
‘Para’ means alongside, or next to which explains the name given to the four pea-sized parathyroid glands attached to each side of the thyroid. Given the close proximity to the thyroid these glands even share the same blood supply.
Although the parathyroid and thyroid have similar sounding names, each gland has different functions. What’s more, each gland produces it’s own unique set of hormones.
Due to their close anatomical relationship problems with these glands often go hand in hand.
Strong Bones Need Well Functioning Parathyroid Glands
Calcium is a fundamental nutrient to aid bone health. So understandably, this mineral is critical to safeguarding against osteoporosis, a condition that leads to weak and fragile bones.
Did you know your bones act as a vast reservoir for calcium as this mineral is an essential building block used to maintain bone integrity?
Bone Is a Dynamic, Living Tissue
Steady, balanced bone turnover is a normal process that benefits lifelong bone health.
To help regulate levels of calcium the parathyroid glands make ‘parathyroid hormone’ which supports the normal process of bone breakdown, and bone building.
This is WHY parathyroid hormone, or PTH is termed a calcium-regulating hormone.
When blood calcium levels drop extra parathyroid hormone is released into the bloodstream. This draws calcium from the bones, and also stimulates greater uptake of calcium by the kidneys. This leads to a net increase of calcium in the blood.
When blood calcium levels get too high the parathyroid glands respond swiftly by reducing parathyroid hormone production. This keeps calcium stored in the bone, and puts a halt to bone breakdown.
Thyroid and Parathyroid Hormones
Did you know the thyroid also plays a crucial role in safeguarding your bone health?
Your thyroid produces calcitonin which is a calcium-regulating hormone. This hormone plays an important role in blocking excessive bone breakdown.
When blood calcium levels rise, the thyroid releases greater amounts of calcitonin to help bring blood calcium levels back down to normal levels.
In short, parathyroid hormone and calcitonin work in sync to closely regulate calcium concentrations.
The Vitamin D and Parathyroid Connection
The link between vitamin D and healthy bones was made many years ago when it was realized that sunlight, or taking cod liver oil boosted vitamin D which in turn helped prevent a soft bone disorder in children called ‘rickets’.
As you may know vitamin D is vital to keep your bones strong and healthy.
Calcitriol is a calcium-regulating hormone produced from vitamin D. When blood calcium levels drop, parathyroid hormone triggers the kidneys to make greater amounts of this active form of vitamin D. Calcitriol increases blood calcium levels by increasing absorption of calcium from the digestive system.
A drop in vitamin D is associated with higher production of parathyroid hormone. This has the potential to increase bone loss. Therefore, maintaining optimal vitamin D can have a protective effect to guard against excessive bone turnover.
Should You Check Parathyroid Function?
If you are concerned about your bone health or are taking a T4 thyroid medication it’s definitely a good idea to check your parathyroid hormone level. Here’s some information on getting parathyroid function checked:
- A blood test that specifically measures parathyroid hormone levels is the main way to diagnose a problem. This test is routinely referred to as the ‘PTH test’ and it’s usually done along with blood calcium levels.
- There’s a normal range for parathyroid hormone. For this reason, problems occur when the parathyroid glands are either producing too much, or too little parathyroid hormone.
- Hypoparathyroidism is characterised by low levels of parathyroid hormone. On the other hand, when the parathyroid glands are overactive these glands are producing too much parathyroid hormone.
- When parathyroid hormone levels are high the rate at which bone is lost exceeds the rate at which new bone is being formed. This leads to bones becoming weak and susceptible to fractures. This is the reason hyperparathyroidism is linked to the development of osteoporosis.
This Is What You Need To Know
Low parathyroid hormone —> reduced calcium uptake. Symptoms may include tingling in the fingers and toes, muscle aches and spasms, fatigue, dry skin and brittle nails, headaches, anxiety, and depression.
High parathyroid hormone —> calcium is dissolved from the bones which weakens the bones. This puts you at greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
Diagnosing A Parathyroid Problem
The parathyroid glands are small. In fact, they are normally around the same size as a grain of rice. This makes these glands difficult to see. It’s why your medical practitioner will request a scan of your throat area to to help form a diagnosis.
A bone density test may also be performed to assess bone health. As part of a bone health check your vitamin D should be tested. The 25-hydroxycholecalciferol, or 25OHD blood test is the most accurate way to measure active vitamin D within the body.
In summary, the 3 blood tests that help diagnose a parathyroid problem:
- Parathyroid hormone (PTH).
- Serum calcium.
- Vitamin D3 (25-hydroxycholecalciferol).