Most of us have heard about our thyroid gland in some capacity. Thyroid conversations tend to take place when conversations ensue as to why we can’t kick those extra few pounds, to those discussing why our internal thermostat seems all over the place. Indeed, our thyroid gland is involved with these processes, but do you know what else your thyroid does? In fact, the thyroid is one of the most essential glands to regulate overall healthy, AND it is one of the most easily damaged by toxins, nutrient deficiencies, and stress. If you are living and breathing on this planet, these factors affect us every day!
Quick thyroid 101
This butterfly shaped gland is found in our neck behind the thyroid cartilage, commonly known as our ‘Adam’s apple’. The thyroid takes orders primarily from the pituitary gland (via the hormone TSH) to produce thyroid hormones T3 (triiodthyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). It is T4 that is found in the highest quantity (80-90%), and acts as the primary thyroid hormone having a profound impact on our metabolism. However, merely measuring just these hormones will only provide PART of the answer…
Many people have low thyroid function experiencing many other symptoms, and some without experiencing any at all. All current research points the finger at untreated thyroid conditions increasing our risk for many chronic health concerns if left untreated. It is now estimated that 1 in 5 people have a sub-optimal thyroid that has not been detected. But how do we know if our thyroid needs a tune up? When doing a thorough workup on thyroid function, there are 5 critical tests to have run:
• Free T3 and Free T4
• Micronutrient analysis (intracellular)
• Basal Body Temperature
These are ALL necessary to gain a complete understanding of your true thyroid function. Sadly, the average person only ends up having 1 or 2 of these tests run in their annual physical with their GP. These are all important to help identify any ‘glitches’ in thyroid function. Getting a thorough workup is always the very base of understanding how you can help support and heal. If your doctor won’t run these, consider finding one who will.
I see a lot of patients with thyroid conditions in my practice, and many of which have not been diagnosed previously. Blood testing aside for a moment, there are many clues your thyroid gland may not be functioning at an optimal level.
Energy issues can be caused by literally hundreds of reasons, however if you notice that you are constantly dragging and can’t fathom getting through the day without your Java – this might be a sign of an underactive thyroid. In addition, we all know that person who loves to sleep in whenever they get an opportunity. While sleeping in isn’t always ‘bad’, if you are someone who constantly needs to sleep 9+ hours before you feel normal, this might be a clue of an underlying thyroid imbalance and worth investigating further.
2. Digestion problems
Constipated? Bloated? Feeling ‘heavy’ in the stomach? Your thyroid gland controls your bowel function. If this sounds like you it is possible you have a hypo-functioning (sluggish) thyroid. On the flip side, if persistent diarrhea is more your thing – have your doctor run the tests above to rule out hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).
3. Skin/hair problems
With hypothyroidism, hair frequently becomes brittle, coarse and dry, while breaking off and falling out easily (it is normal to lose up to 100 hairs per day). Skin can become coarse, thick, dry, and scaly. In hypothyroidism, there is often an unusual loss of hair in the outer edge of the eyebrow. With hyperthyroidism, severe hair loss can also occur, and skin can become fragile and thin. Any changes in any of the above warrants a thorough workup.
Depression or anxiety – including sudden onset of panic disorder – can be symptoms of thyroid disease. While there can many other factors involved, thyroid should be one of the first areas of assessment when treating anxiety or depression. Hypothyroidism is most typically associated with depression, while hyperthyroidism is more commonly associated with anxiety or panic attacks. Depression that does not respond to traditional anti-depressant treatment (natural or pharmaceutical) may also be a sign of an underlying thyroid disorder.
5. Menstrual irregularities and fertility issues
Our hormones are intricately connected. Whenever one specific hormone(s) is found to be imbalanced, it is quite frequently the case that another is askew upon a thorough investigation. In general terms, heavier, more frequent and more painful periods are frequently associated with hypothyroidism, while shorter, lighter or infrequent menstruation can be associated with hyperthyroidism. Infertility can also be associated with undiagnosed thyroid conditions.