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Thyroid: Does It Determine The Colors You See?

By HERWriter
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Thyroid Hormones related image Photo: Getty Images

Your thyroid is a gland shaped somewhat like a butterfly whose "wings" (thyroid lobes) are wrapped around the trachea in your neck.

Your thyroid gland works together with your hypothalamus (part of your brain) and your pituitary gland to affect the metabolism of organs like your heart, liver and muscles.

When your thyroid doesn't produce enough hormones, this is called hypothyroidism. When your thyroid produces too much hormones, this is hyperthyroidism.

Your eyes are very much affected by your thyroid gland, going back as far as the womb. Your thyroid is instrumental in the development of your eyes, especially in your retinas' cone visual cells.

Your retina is in the back of your eye. When images go through the lens, they are focused on the retina. Your retina turns the images into electric signals. These signals are sent to the brain by way of the optic nerve.

Cone visual cells are visual receptor cells in the retina that are sensitive to color and to bright light. They determine which color you see.

We have two spectral cone types which contain opsins (visual pigments). UV/blue opsin responds to short wave light. Green opsin responds to middle wave and long wave light.

Thyroid hormone receptors coming from the cones can reduce usage of UV/blue opsin and initiate an increase of green opsin.

It was previously believed by scientists that once your eyes had developed and your own particular opsin combination was in place, things were permanently settled. But now some scientists are questioning this theory.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt Germany and the University of Frankfurt, as well as universities in Vienna, seem to have developed a different picture.

It would appear that the amount of thyroid hormone you're producing can have an ongoing effect on your ability to see in color.

The study was performed on rats and mice, on the assumption that as mammals, the research results concerning rats would translate into something usable for humans.

The cones of mice and rats whose thyroid hormone levels were suppressed by the researchers to make them low (hypothyroid), which reduced their amounts of green opsin, increased production of UV/blue opsin.

After the hormone levels in these mice and rats were normalized, the cones went back to their old routine. One cone type made green opsin, while the other concentrated on UV/blue opsin.

The implication was that thyroid hormone may have a lifelong regulatory effect on spectral cone types and their opsins, and therefore, what colors are seen and not seen.

This research was reported in a March 29, 2011 Eurekalert! public release.


What is the Thyroid Gland?

Thyroid Hormone Controls Visual Pigment in Cones


visual cell

Reviewed July 18, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle

Visit Jody's website and blog at http://www.ncubator.ca and http://ncubator.ca/blogger

Add a Comment1 Comments

This is an interesting connection! I find that when I am stressed out, my eyesight and colors I am seeing tends to feel shifted...like some colors are much duller and everything is more of a blur. I've read that stress can have a profound impact on thyroid function: http://www.womentowomen.com/adrenalhealth/thyroid-stress-hormones.aspx and now I think I finally have an explanation for what I call "stress-induced vision changes"

October 10, 2011 - 6:20pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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