You could have thyroid problems and not even know it

The thyroid is a gland located in the front of the neck just below the Adam’s apple which produces thyroid hormones. These hormones are important as they control how your body uses food for energy. They affect your metabolism rate, heart, muscles, liver … just about every body part is affected by thyroid hormones as they zip around the body through the bloodstream.

The correct working of the thyroid is a community effort. Its function is controlled by the pituitary gland which in turn is controlled by the hypothalamus gland, both located in the brain.  All three work together in a precise chemical collusion to maintain the body’s health.

Simply put, this is how it works. TRH (thyrotropin-releasing hormone) in the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary to produce and secrete TSH (thyrotropin)., which in turn causes the thyroid to produce and release T4 and T3 from the thyroid gland. The pituitary’s job is to sense whether the amount of thyroid hormone circulating around the body is insufficient, in excess or just right. If insufficient thyroid hormone is detected, the pituitary causes the thyroid to produce more; if there’s too much, the pituitary stops sending TSH.

Iodine is a necessary ingredient for the thyroid to make thyroid hormone. Most American diets contribute sufficient iodine through foods such as seafood and dairy products. Since many diets don’t include enough iodine-laden foods, it is added to table salt. (If you’ve switched to sea salt, there’s no iodine there.)

What can go wrong with the Thyroid?

Insufficient thyroid hormone creates a condition called hypothyroidism. This condition affects an estimated 5% of the population, is more common in women than men, and its incidence increases with age.

Causes of hypothyroidism:

An underactive thyroid may be due to:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Thyroid destruction from radioactive iodine or surgery
  • Pituitary or hypothalamic disorders
  • Medications
  • Severe iodine deficiency

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an inherited condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. In this condition the thyroid gland is usually enlarged (goiter) and has a decreased ability to make thyroid hormones. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system inappropriately attacks the thyroid tissue. Since this condition is believed to have a genetic basis, your propensity to it could be determined by Genetic Testing.

Signs of hypothyroidism

Symptoms of hypothyroidism appear slowly, often over many years. Because of its effect of slowing down the metabolism, feeling tired and gaining unexpected weight are often early signs. Other symptoms include:

  • Feeling cold when other people are perfectly comfortable
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain, or inability to lose weight
  • Muscle weakness, muscle and joint pain
  • Feeling tired after 8 to 10 hours of sleep or needing a daily nap
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Pale or cracking skin,  dry, thinning hair, a hoarse voice or puffy face
  • Slow heart rate; sometimes elevated levels of LDL cholesterol which raises the risk for heart disease

Hyperthyroidism

When the thyroid is overactive, hyperthyroidism results, putting the body into overdrive.  This condition is more common in women and in people over 60.

Causes of Hyperthyroidism

The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune condition called Graves’ disease. The body’s immune system creates an antibody that causes the gland to make an excessive amount of thyroide hormone. Graves’ disease is genetic and runs in families, and usually affects younger women. (Genetic testing will indicate whether you at risk.)

Other causes include:

  • Thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid bland which can cause excess thyroid hormone to leak into the bloodstream.
  •  Excess iodine
  • Tumors of the ovaries or testes
  • Benign tumors of the thyroid or pituitary gland

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

  • Feeling too warm when other people are perfectly comfortable
  • Losing weight without trying. Increased metabolism burns calories more rapidly, thus you may lose weight even when not eating more.
  • Feeling nervous and irritable; trouble concentrating
  • Having a fast heart rate or irregular pulse which could lead to severe hyperthyroidism and heart failure
  • Diarrhea since food moves more quickly through the digestive tract
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Swelling in legs
  • Loss of libido
  • Shortness of breath.

Environmental and lifestyle factors that contribute to thyroid problems

Autoimmune diseases, thyroid diseases and thyroid cancer are on the rise. Why? Experts have no definitive answers, but plenty of theories, most of which make a lot of sense given the changes that have occurred in our environments, our lifestyles and our eating habits over the past few decades. Here are some of the factors that may be contributing to the rising rate of thyroid-related problems:

Chemicals and toxins in the environment are linked to increased risk of thyroid disease. Some of the culprits include perchlorate, pesticides, phthalates like bisphenol-A (BPA), and thyroid-disrupting endocrine disruptors, also known as environmental estrogens.

Radiation is also risk factor that can trigger thyroid problems in some people. People who have had medical treatments involving radiation to the head and neck are also at increased risk of thyroid problem. Even multiple dental x-rays have been linked to an increased risk of thyroid disease.

Viruses can attack tissues and organs, and trigger autoimmune diseases and inflammatory thyroid conditions, and certain bacteria –the food borne bacteria Yesinia enterocolitica for example — are linked to thyroid risks.

Other controllable risk factors that may be responsible in part for increasing rates of thyroid disease include the following:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Gluten allergies, gluten sensitivity, celiac disease
  • Overconsumption of supplemental iodine, kelp, bladder wrack, and/or bugleweed
  • Overconsumption of soy products

How to know if you have thyroid problems

The symptoms of hypo- and hyperthyroidism are often subtle and many of the symptoms such as chronic fatigue or weight issues can be attributed to a wide range of other issues.

Because of the vagueness of the symptoms, most doctors don’t spend much time putting blame on the thyroid. Even if they do, they may only order one or two tests (TSH and T4) to screen for problems. As long as these test results fall into a “normal” range, a thyroid problem is most often dismissed.

There are a host of other factors that must be measured to obtain an accurate picture of thyroid functioning. That is the purpose of LivingYoung’s Thyroid Test which takes an in-depth look at all the factors involved such as FT3, RT3, thyroid antibodies and more.

Our Thyroid Test involves a simple blood draw that is performed in office.

Testing kits are also available from us online and include a consultation with our Hormone Specialist about your test results.