Thyroid disorders seem to be on the rise in modern civilization, but why? How do we know if it’s something we deal with? Why don’t doctors seem to notice the symptoms of thyroid disorder more often? And why are so many women struggling with their symptoms without help?
So many questions. I’m trying to find all of the answers.
Because, as many of you already know, I’ve been basically feeling like crud for the last year. I’ve very much had feelings of depression and anxiety along with major fatigue and insomnia. I also think it’s probably something that’s been lingering for many, many years, yet only showed up in full force after my miscarriage.
I now am a believer that stress can cause or multiply health issues.
I’ve always dealt with many of the symptoms – they’ve never interfered with my life before. Or they came and went within weeks/months. When I switched to a whole foods diet most, if not all of them, went away.
But this last year has been a bugger of a year, as symptoms of a thyroid disorder showed up more and more. As a mom of young children, I shrugged off the fatigue. I mean, all moms are tired right? And the feelings of depression and anxiety could be related to the miscarriage and grief. Yet deep down I knew there was something else wrong.
My much awaited lab results showed me just that. And I have a feeling that many of you may also deal with thyroid issues and just don’t know it. Or maybe you’ve been tested and your doctor told you that everything was “normal”. Even when you feel that it’s not.
I’ll just discuss the very basics of thyroid function, as to cover it all, we’d need to write a book! (Aviva Romm’s book The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution, available on Amazon, is a fantastic resource!)
The thyroid is a small endocrine gland, just above the adam’s apple in the throat, consisting of two parts. To me it sort of looks like a butterfly. An ugly one. This gland takes in iodine and produces thyroid hormones. Every cell in the body depends upon thyroid hormones for regulation of their own metabolism. It detects shifts in body chemistry (chronic blood sugar imbalance, hormone imbalances, chronic inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, toxicity, liver congestion, poor digestive health, or even the use of hormones, synthetic or bio-identical) and helps the body compensate for them.
But the thyroid does not act alone. As with everything in holistic health, we must also look at how it functions along with other parts of our body. According to Datis Kharrazian in his book “Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?“:
- The hypothalamus sends thyroid releasing hormone (TRH) to the pituitary. (this is basically the thermostat regulator in the body)
- The pituitary gland releases thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to the thyroid gland, giving it the signal to produce more hormones.
- TSH stimulates thyroid peroxidase (TPO) activity to use iodine to create T4 and T3 hormones. 93% of the thyroid hormone production is T4, an inactive form which needs to be converted by different organs in the body. 7% is the usable T3. These hormones hitch a ride in the bloodstream on thyroid-binding proteins to the cells that need them and can convert the T4 to T3.
- 60% of the T4 produced by the thyroid is converted to T3 in the liver by an enzyme called tetraidothyronine 5’deiodinase. Another 20% of the T4 is converted in the digestive system via the sulfatase enzyme which is present in healthy guts.
Common Symptoms of HYPOthyroid (under active thyroid)
- Low basal body temps and/or low temperatures throughout the day
- Cold hands and feet
- Morning headaches that go away throughout the day
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Cloudy thinking
- Weight gain or inability to lose weight easily
- Sensitive to cold weather
- Digestive problems
- Poor circulation
- Slow wound healing
- Needing excessive amounts of sleep
- Gets sick often (colds or viral infections)
- Itchy and dry skin
- Dry hair that breaks often
- Losing your hair
- Thinning of the outermost part of the eyebrow
- High cholesterol
What happens in the body when you have hypothyroidism
There are actually different ways that hypothyroid happens in the body. Sometimes its because the pituitary senses the thyroid isn’t doing it’s job correctly and produces more thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). Other times the pituitary is malfunctioning and not able to produce the amount of TSH needed to signal the thyroid to produce the correct amount of hormones. Another pattern of hypothyroid is the inability of the body to convert the T4 thyroid hormone to T3 because of excess cortisol or chronic inflammation.
Some women with high levels of testosterone may also find that too much T4 is converted to T3, causing the cells of the body to become resistant to the hormone and not allowing it entry to do its work. (most often found in those with insulin resistance and PCOS- per “Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?“)
Symptoms of HYPERthyroid (overactive thyroid)
- heart palpitations
- heat intolerance
- fast heart rate
- hair loss
- muscle weakness
What happens in the body when you have hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is a medical term that basically means your thyroid is producing too many hormones so you have too many thyroid hormones for the cells. This could be due to the thyroid getting the signal to produce too much, or the inability of the cells to absorb the thyroid hormone.
The following may also indicate Hashimotos, an autoimmune thyroid disorder:
- heart palpitations
- inward trembling
- increased pulse rate, even at rest
- feelings of nervousness and emotional distress
- night sweats
- difficulty gaining or losing weight
- people with Hashimoto’s also tend to go back and forth between the symptoms of hypo and hyper thyroid.
What happens in the body when you have Hashimoto’s
This is an autoimmune disease where your immune system is actively attacking your thyroid, destroying it. It is also the most common cause of hypothyroidism, some sources stating that up to 90% of hypothyroid cases are due to Hashimoto’s. This causes the thyroid to continue to lose function, eventually not working at all. It can cause hypothyroid symptoms and then can change to hyperthyroid symptoms as a “flare-up” destroys the thyroid tissue and hormones stored in the gland flow into the bloodstream. Once these hormones get into the bloodstream, the body’s metabolism speeds up, and a person will experience the symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
The good news
You don’t have to live your life feeling like junk; depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, overweight, and infertile/living with unbalanced hormones. There is hope for fixing thyroid issues without lifelong medications, and in the following days/weeks, we’ll be talking about ways to heal the body and focus on supporting your thyroid.
Have you had your thyroid checked?
If you have, your homework for the next couple of days is to call your doctor and get your test results. I cannot stress this enough! You need to find out your numbers and have them tell you exactly what thyroid hormones were tested and what ranges they used to decide what “normal” function is. This way you can check your levels based on functional medicine standards as well as make sure your doctor got all of the right testing done (About half of the women that I talk with have doctors that didn’t!).