What affects 30 million Americans, is misdiagnosed as depression or menopause, and is 7 times more likely to affect women? Thyroid disease. Some experts estimate that as many as 59 million Americans have thyroid problems. The majority of these thyroid sufferers remain undiagnosed and untreated, in part because they and their doctors are unaware of the many different risk factors, signs and symptoms of a thyroid condition – this is why January is Thyroid Awareness Month.
The nation’s leading thyroid patient advocates have joined forces to create a new campaign, called “I Am the Face of Thyroid Disease.” The campaign features video messages and photos from thyroid patients, practitioners and other members of the global thyroid community.
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. Amazingly, it weighs less than an ounce and the hormones it produces drives the metabolism of each of the billions of cells in our body – an enormous job for your health! If there is too little thyroid hormone produced (hypothyroidism), the metabolism of the body is sluggish. If there is too much thyroid hormone produced (hyperthyroidism), the metabolism of the body is overactive. How does it work?
Your thyroid produces two main hormones, thyroxine (T-4) and triiodothyronine (T-3), that control how quickly your body burns calories and uses energy, help control your body temperature, influence your heart rate and help regulate the production of protein. (Your thyroid also produces calcitonin, a hormone that helps regulate the amount of calcium in your blood.) The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland – areas at the base of the brain and acts like a thermostat – tell the thyroid gland to turn on and off. The hypothalamus signals your pituitary gland to make a hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH then goes to the thyroid gland and stimulates the thyroid gland to release T-4 to the cells of the body where it becomes T-3 and increases metabolism. If you don’t have enough T-4 and T-3 in your blood, your TSH will rise; if you have too much, your TSH level will fall. When the “thermostat” system is functioning well, it is easy to maintain a healthy weight and have enough energy to have a productive day. We know thermostats malfunction…
When the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone, the body’s metabolism is greatly accelerated. All the body’s processes speed up and are overactive. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can begin mildly with anxiety, distracted attention, nervousness, irritability, a constant feeling of being hot, and difficulty sleeping. Gradually, you can begin to become fatigued, experience a rapid or irregular heartbeat, shaking, intolerance of heat, increased perspiration, changes in sex drive, weight loss, brittle hair, frequent bowel movements, goiter, and in women, light menstrual periods, and, sometimes, the tissue and muscles behind the eyes swells, making them bulge. The skin near the ankles may also develop a thick red rash. Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by lumps and tumors on the thyroid. Infection and inflammation of the thyroid can cause temporary hyperthyroidism, as can some prescription drugs. Grave’s Disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism and occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to enlarge and overproduce thyroid hormone. The exact cause of this abnormal immune response is not understood.
An underactive thyroid is more common (13 million people) that hyperthyroidism and causes a general slowing down of the whole body. You may feel weak and tired all the time. You may gain weight (because your body isn’t burning calories at its normal rate). Other symptoms may be loss of appetite, inability to tolerate cold, low body temperature, elevated cholesterol, painful premenstrual periods, abnormal menstrual cycles with heavy flow, a milky discharge from the breasts, fertility problems, muscle or joint aches, muscle cramps, dry and rough skin, a yellow orange coloration in the skin (particularly on the palms of the hand), yellow bumps on the eyelids, hair loss (including the eyebrows), recurrent infections, migraines, hoarseness, constipation, depression, irritability, difficulty concentrating, slow speech, memory loss, droopy swollen eyes, and decreased sex drive. Low thyroid function is very common, particularly in women (90%), and becomes more common with advancing age. Women between the ages of 30-50 seem to be most prone to this condition. It’s estimated 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid condition at some point in her lifetime.
If the thyroid gland grows grossly larger than normal the patient has a condition known as goiter. Goiters are generally painless; however, if the gland gets very large the patient may have problems swallowing properly, and may also develop a cough.
Could you have thyroid problems? A good evaluation from your practitioner is essential, but to start take the quiz provided by the Thyroid Awareness Month website to evaluate how strongly your risks and symptoms may point to a thyroid condition.
If a thyroid condition is suspected, blood tests are usually performed to measure levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T-4). An iodine absorption test may also be done to see how well the gland is producing. This test involves ingesting a small amount of radioactive iodine. An x-ray shows how much of the iodine was absorbed by the thyroid. High iodine uptake indicates that the thyroid is making too much hormone (hyperthyroidism). A low uptake indicated too little hormone (hypothyroidism). The only effective way to treat hypothyroidism is to replace the deficient hormones. The drug most often prescribed for this purpose is Synthroid, a synthetic form of T4. Problems in other areas of the endocrine system, like the pituitary or the adrenal glands can also be behind a poorly functioning thyroid. It is important to have their functioning levels assessed too.
There are many things that can stress the thyroid. Poor diet. Excessive consumption of unsaturated fats. Food additives (especially nitrites) are often toxic to the thyroid. Endocrine disruptors such as toxic halogens (like chlorine and fluoride in the water supply and bromine in the food) can interfere with the thyroid’s utilization of iodine. Smoking, exposure to mercury (i.e. leaching from silver fillings, etc.) or other heavy metals, exposure to chemical toxins (parabens, etc.) from body care and home cleaning products, pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables, and radiation treatment to the head, neck or chest can all impact the thyroid. Chronic stress just by nature of how it impacts the entire endocrine system affects thyroid function. So, how do you keep your thyroid healthy?
Iodine is essential for a healthy, properly functioning thyroid and preventing an underactive thyroid and goiter. As we grow older, our thyroid starts slowing down. It just can’t metabolize the iodine it needs as efficiently, and that means the thyroid hormone production goes down as well. Keep in mind that iodine is also fairly easily displaced from your body by exposure to toxins that are mentioned above. The body does not make iodine, so you have to get from your diet. Iodine is a mineral but, unfortunately, one that is not abundant in the food we eat. Primarily found in very small quantities in seawater, soils are naturally deficient in iodine, especially the further away you get from the ocean. In many areas of the country it is difficult to get adequate iodine in the diet. The World Health Organization also concurs, estimating that 72% of the world’s population is being affected by iodine deficiency. Iodoral is a high potency iodine/potassium iodide supplement and is a highly demanded by our Natural Healthy Concepts customers.
Dietary and lifestyle considerations offer some benefit for improving thyroid function:
• Exercise improves thyroid function and increases your metabolism.
• Eat when you are hungry and make sure that you get enough protein: One of the reasons that dieting doesn’t work is that during a diet the body slows down its metabolism (i.e. thyroid function) to conserve calories and protect itself from starvation. Not eating inhibits thyroid function. Protein is necessary to get adequate tyrosine (an amino acid that is necessary to produce thyroid hormone).
• Avoid food additives and hydrogenated oils.
• Eat foods that are high in carnitine (paprika, meats): Carnitine increases metabolism.
• Drink pure water (avoid water with chlorine or fluoride): Chlorine and fluoride compete with iodine.
• Avoid refined carbohydrates: Sugar and refined carbohydrates stress the endocrine system.
• Try to minimize exposure to chemicals/toxins.
• Avoid fatty foods such as cheese and fatty meat whenever possible.
• For those taking Synthroid or other thyroid replacement medications, excess consumption of soy can affect thyroid function.You should also know that if you eat soy foods at the same time that you take thyroid hormone, they may interfere with its absorption. Moderate soy consumption should not be a problem – that means one serving a day of whole soy products, such as one cup of soy milk or one half cup of tofu, soy protein (tempeh), or crispy soy nuts. Tell your doctor how much soy you consume so your thyroid replacement medication dosage can be adjusted, if necessary.
• Eat therapeutic foods for thyroid function include: oats, kelp, seaweed, artichokes, onions, garlic, dulse, egg yolks, wheat germ, lecithin, and sesame seed butter. There may be others but seaweed especially will supply significant iodine.
• Get the best possible nutrition for which natural supplementation may keep your thyroid healthy.
Stand up for Thyroid Awareness and take care of the tiny gland that has an enormous impact on your health.
- Is Your Thyroid Overactive? (everydayhealth.com)
- Screening for Thyroid Disease When You Have Risk Factors (everydayhealth.com)