Occasionally feeling sad or depressed or having an irregular period isn't necessarily cause for concern. But experiencing any of these things regularly may indicate that you have something more serious happening. The truth is that it could be related to a lot of things, but your thyroid is the most likely culprit, especially if you are woman. Women are up to eight times as likely to have a thyroid condition than men. Dr. Izabella Wentz speculates that female hormones are likely to play a role in this because pregnancy, puberty, and perimenopause are the times when a thyroid disease diagnosis are most likely for a woman.
What is the thyroid?
Your thyroid gland is responsible for regulating your energy, metabolism, and plays a role in our moods, sleep, and our digestion. It is located at the front of your neck about halfway between the underside of your chin and the notch between your collarbones.
Your thyroid gland works by taking iodine and turning into the hormone T4, which is an inactive form of thyroid hormone, and then converting it into the activated hormone T3, which is often called the "master hormone" because it is responsible for so many things in your body.
what can go wrong with the thyroid?
Thyroid problems come in several different categories:
- Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid is under-functioning causing low energy and a decrease in metabolism
- Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid is over-functioning and metabolism is running too fast.
- Autoimmune thyroid problems can also cause the thyroid to be under or overactive (Hashimoto's and Graves disease)
Hypothyroidism is the most common form and the most commonly diagnosed thyroid condition. Hashimoto's makes up almost 90% of all hypothyroidism cases in the United States. And of the estimated 25 million Americans with thyroid disease, estimates suggest that up to 50% of them are undiagnosed.
10 Things you need to know about your thyroid
1. You need the right amount of thyroid hormone.
When you don't have enough thyroid hormone you will probably feel fatigued, have dry skin, brain fog, be constipated, have a difficult time concentrating, have mood issues, experience hair loss, joint pain, and muscle aches. If you have an overactive thyroid (and too much thyroid hormone), you will experience symptoms that are the opposite. You might have anxiety, a fast or pounding heartbeat, trouble sleeping, always feel hungry, have diarrhea, and experience weight loss.
2. Hypothyroid can cause high cholesterol.
Hypothyroidism can cause elevated cholesterol because thyroid hormone plays a role in the production, absorption, and metabolism of lipids (fat). When thyroid hormones are too low, the number of LDL receptors on the cells in the liver decrease so there is more LDL in your blood. This causes less LDL to be cleared from your body by your liver. Thyroid hormones also have an effect on the the absorption of cholesterol in your intestines, so when thyroid hormone is low, there is a decreased rate of cholesterol absorption through the intestines.
So, before you start medication for high cholesterol consider having your thyroid labs checked. This is where working with someone who will look for the root cause of your symptoms rather than covering them up with medication can be helpful.
3. Inability to lose weight might be caused by an underactive thyroid.
If you have difficulty losing weight or have been slowly gaining weight, it might be time to have your thyroid checked. Obviously, there are other factors that could be contributing to your weight loss resistance (such as other hormone imbalances), but hypothyroidism is a likely culprit.
4. Women are more likely than men to have a thyroid condition.
As I already state, women are up to eight times more likely to have a thyroid condition than men (some estimates are as low as four times as likely and some are as high as ten times more likely). Postpartum is an especially high-risk time for women to develop a thyroid condition diagnosed. If you feel unusually sad or blue in the year after the birth of a baby, or at any other time (especially when other symptoms are present), you should definitely talk with your doctor about having a thyroid panel done. Just because you have had it tested previously does not mean that you are still fine, especially if new symptoms arise or at a time when your hormones may have shifted such as during the postpartum period.
5. Thyroid conditions are underdiagnosed.
As many as 10% of women in the US might have a thyroid problem, but most of these women are undiagnosed because of the way most doctors test for the presence of a thyroid condition. This often turns into doctors and other healthcare professionals allowing women to think that the symptoms are made up or all in their head because their lab tests "are normal." In some cases this can even lead to unnecessary antidepressant prescriptions, when the issue truly lies in the thyroid.
The following labs are what I check in any of my patients who I suspect have a thyroid problem (or who come to me and tell me that they think they have a thyroid problem):
- Free T4
- Free T3
- Reverse T3
- Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb)
- Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb)
6. Thyroid problems might be causing your fertility problems or miscarriages.
Thyroid function plays a role in your menstrual cycle and is important in maintaining the balance of other hormones. Proper thyroid function is also critical in pregnancy. A developing fetus relies completely on its mother's thyroid hormones until about 20 weeks. A normally functioning thyroid gland can rise to this challenge, but in cases where it was already underperforming prior to a pregnancy, it may not be able to keep up during pregnancy which results in a severe case of hypothyroidism for the mother and potentially a miscarriage. Have your complete thyroid labs checked prior to getting pregnant.
7. Optimal thyroid levels are critical for the development of a baby's brain.
Because a developing fetus relies on its mother's thyroid hormones completely until about 20 weeks gestation, many pregnant women who are being treated for hypothyroidism need to have their medication increased during the first trimester. If you are on medication for your thyroid, make sure to talk to the provider who is caring for you during your pregnancy about this. Your labs should be checked every four weeks until you are in your second trimester.
8. Eating gluten-containing foods can cause Hashimoto's.
Gluten-containing foods (wheat, barley, and rye) and some foods that are cross-reactive with gluten (such as chocolate) might be the cause of your autoimmune thyroid condition. If you have been diagnosed with Hashimoto's, I would recommend at least a 30 day trial elimination of gluten to see if your symptoms improve. I have even had patients who were able to stop their medication once they stopped eating gluten (do not try to stop your medication without the help of a medical professional).
9. Your thyroid needs vitamins and minerals to function properly.
Iodine, selenium, and zinc are the three essential nutrients needed by the thyroid to function optimally. You can get all of these by eating a balanced diet and they are all better utilized by your body when you get them from real food sources than when you supplement. Sea vegetables contain plenty of iodine, 1-2 Brazil nuts daily will give you the proper amount of selenium needed, and you can get your zinc from beef, oysters, dark meat chicken, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and cashews.
10. Environmental exposures can compete with the iodine your thyroid needs to function properly.
Fluoride, bromide, and chloride exposure make it difficult for your thyroid to get enough iodine, even if you consume enough. These chemicals actually compete with iodine in your body making it hard for your thyroid to get enough. Exposure to these chemicals come from fluoridated water, toothpaste, and other environmental sources. If you are having a difficult time managing your thyroid condition, you might consider looking where you may be exposed to chemicals that can harm your thyroid.
If you want to better understand how your thyroid hormones as well as other hormones in your body can affect your energy levels, check out my ebook, The 30 Day Energy Reset.
While it may seem like managing a thyroid condition is an uphill battle, it can be done! It just takes a little bit of patience, some detective work, and a few targeted lifestyle changes. I have helped hundreds of women get to the bottom of the symptoms that they were starting to believe were all in their head and feel better with healthy thyroid function. If you would like to talk about how I can help you fix your thyroid, schedule your discovery call now! If you see a conventional medical practitioner, you may need to advocate for yourself in order to get the tests you really need to diagnose your thyroid condition.
A functional medicine, integrative medicine, or naturopathic practitioner will almost always be willing to test the whole range of thyroid labs for you. It is also important not to get unnecessarily treated if you don't actually have a thyroid problem (which happens in some cases when medications are prescribed without lab testing first).
For some people, it is possible to restore and recover thyroid function with natural methods - stress reduction, diet, and supplements. However for many, medications are needed. Regardless of which category you fall into, it's first necessary to identify whether you have a thyroid problem so you can get the help and guidance you need to feel amazing again.