Do You Have A Thyroid Problem? A Closer Look At A Small Gland With A Big Role To Play In Your Health
What Is The Thyroid?
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland situated at the base of your neck, just under the skin. Your thyroid gland secretes a metabolic hormone (often simply called thyroid hormone) that plays a significant role in a wide range of systems in your body, right down to the cellular level. Though often overlooked when diagnosing health issues, thyroid problems can be a key driver, trigger or root cause for many other states of disease and dysfunction in the body.
What The Thyroid's Role In The Body?
Despite its small size, the thyroid gland is critically important to your overall physical and emotional health and wellness. Not only does the thyroid control your body's metabolism (in partnership with cortisol) thyroid hormones influence the speed of everything metabolic in the body - including how your cells utilize energy.
Your thyroid hormone and its relationship to other hormones in the body affect your:
- Body Temperature
- GI Function
- Immune Function
- Heart Function
- Menstruation (including PMS)
- Sex Drive
- Mood, and more
From your body temperature to your cerebral function, your thyroid has a hand in virtually every system in your body. So, as you can imagine, when you have a thyroid problem you can experience any number of symptoms and conditions.
Too Much Or Too Little: Common Symptoms Of A Thyroid Problem.
A healthy thyroid gland will produce a balanced amount of thyroid hormone. Too much or too little hormone can negatively affect your overall health and create more general hormone imbalances. In either case, too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism), a variety of symptoms and conditions can manifest.
Some of the most common symptoms of a thyroid condition are as follows:
- Slowed (hypo) or high (hyper) metabolism
- Weight gain (hypo) or weight loss (hyper)
- Frequent (hypo) or scant (hyper) periods
- PCOS (hypo)
- Intolerance to cold (hypo) or heat sensitivity (hyper)
- Fatigue (hypo) or irritability/nervousness (hyper)
Hypothyroidism is a common, under-diagnosed and under-treated thyroid condition.
Unfortunately, an under-performing thyroid is all too commonly missed or ignored in traditional western medicine despite the fact that it affects many millions of people - especially women. Low thyroid function can be caused by a range of factors. These include poor diet, low iodine, and even environmental toxins.
Hypothyroidism can also be the result of an autoimmune dynamic. When this occurs it is called Hashimoto's disease or thyroiditis. In this case, the immune system itself is negatively affecting thyroid function, causing low hormone production and resulting in an ongoing imbalance in the body. Often food sensitivities, microbial imbalances in the gut, intestinal permeability and even nutrient deficiencies are at the root of this type of thyroid problem.
How Do You Know You Have A Thyroid Problem?
The short answer is thyroid problems are diagnosed by testing hormone levels. As we established above, the thyroid gland produces a hormone commonly referred to as thyroid hormones. But, let's take a closer look because, as you might have guessed, it is a little bit more complex than that.
The thyroid is responsible for using iodine and protein from our diet to create thyroid hormones (especially T4). Our tissues then convert that T4 into the powerful metabolic hormone T3. This is critical because every cell in your body relies on thyroid hormones for the regulation of its metabolism.
Often, physicians are only willing to test for TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). This is a "ballpark" approach to assessing the health of your thyroid and, in my opinion, TSH testing alone is not enough.
To get a real understanding of thyroid function at a cellular level, it's critical to measure levels of T3 thyroid hormone. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to persuade your physician to support you in ordering a complete thyroid panel that includes TSH, Free T4, Total T3, Free T3, Reverse T3, and both thyroid auto-antibodies TPO and Tg. But, pushing for this complete hormone assessment is worth it. By measuring all of these thyroid hormone components your health care provider can learn not only how much (or little) hormone is being produced, but how much is actually available for use on a cellular level.
Once testing has been done, and you know whether your symptoms are the result of a thyroid condition, you can begin to take steps to restore function and balance.
Bringing Your Thyroid Back Into Balance: Lifestyle, Nutrition and Treatment.
Whether you are working to resolve hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, making changes to your lifestyle and diet is always a good place to start.
Reducing stress as much as possible helps to keep cortisol levels in check. This is important because high levels of glucocorticoids (such as cortisol) lower the levels of TSH in the blood and can suppress the immune system which has a direct effect on thyroid function. Some simple and effective ways to help reduce your stress levels include:
- Making time for physical activity, especially time outdoors in nature
- Getting more and better sleep
- Engaging in meditation or yoga
- Practicing mindfulness techniques
A fully balanced whole foods diet is key for a healthy thyroid. Many people struggling with thyroid problems, especially those who have an autoimmune thyroid condition, see real changes to their symptoms by making dietary changes. Paying attention to foods that cause inflammation, immune hyper-reactivity or that aggravate intestinal permeability are especially helpful. For many people that means reducing or eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet.
Try to incorporate the following types of foods in your diet regularly if you can:
- Sea vegetables (edible seaweed)
- Seafood (especially anything with a pink colour)
- Nuts and seeds
- Quality sources of protein and iron in diverse forms including fish, poultry, eggs and - if you do well with them - beef and organ meats
- Unfermented soy products in moderation
- Lightly cooked cruciferous vegetables (as opposed to raw)
- Lots of water
Biological Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) is an effective treatment option for restoring balance to your hormone levels and helping improve your thyroid function. After assessing your specific hormone levels, a customized BHRT formula can be created to supplement a wide range of male and female sex hormones as well as adrenal, pituitary, and thyroid hormones. By taking a "big picture" approach and asking the questions to discover the root causes of your thyroid condition, BHRT can help you to heal.
Treating A Thyroid Problem Is Possible.
The thyroid is a small but important gland closely linked to your overall hormonal health. Its function - or disfunction - can affect you at every level. Traditional western medicine has too often overlooked the importance of thyroid health and hormones when diagnosing and treating other conditions and states of disease - especially in the case of women. Fortunately, through changes to your lifestyle and diet, significant improvement can be made to many of the symptoms caused by a thyroid problem. Likewise, hormone treatments like BHRT offer another avenue of healing for the thyroid.
If you would like to delve deeper into your symptoms and discover if they are connected to a thyroid condition, contact us today. Together we can bring you back into balance and set you on the path to optimal health and wellness.