KNOW YOUR THYROID!
What if I told you that a small 2-inch long butterfly-shaped gland in your body (more precisely in your neck) is one of the main glands responsible for your body’s entire metabolism? When we say that the thyroid is responsible for your metabolism, it means quite simply that it regulates the speed with which your body cells work. Not only that, but this little gland plays a role in brain development, heart, and digestive functions, muscle control, mood, and bone maintenance to name a few. Now, what if I told you that it is estimated that 1 in 8 women will develop thyroid imbalances during their lifetime, and many of them will go undiagnosed.
Simply put, the thyroid gland produces 2 hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) which are necessary for all the cells in our body to work “normally”.
T4 is an inactive hormone that is converted to T3, the active hormone which in turn influences the activity of all the cells and tissues of our bodies.
The two main thyroid imbalances are Hypothyroid and Hyperthyroid. Hypothyroid (underactive thyroid) is caused when the gland produces an insufficient amount of the thyroid hormone, and Hyperthyroid (overactive thyroid) is caused by an overproduction of hormone. Let us look at these briefly.
Hypothyroid (underactive thyroid) – When your body produces less thyroxin (T4), your metabolic rate slows down. Meaning, your bodily functions such as your digestion, heart rate, body temperature, and energy levels all get negatively affected. There are over 30 known symptoms for hypothyroidism.
Some of the most commonly felt and known symptoms are infertility, muscle weakness, low body temperature (you feel cold most of the time), constipation, dry skin, brain fog, fatigue, weight gain and the inability to lose weight easily, hair loss, fluid retention (puffy faces anyone?), anxiety, depression, high cholesterol levels, joint pains, and excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding.
Hyperthyroid (overactive thyroid) – When the gland produces more than the required amount of thyroxin (T4) your body needs, your metabolic rate increases. In simpler terms it makes your body work harder and faster than it needs to. Symptoms include heart palpitations, nervousness, tremors, increased appetite, weight loss, brittle hair, and nails, loose stools, reduced menstrual flow, heat intolerance, enlarged thyroid gland, etc.
If thyroid disease is suspected most doctors will run generic thyroid related blood tests to test you for either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism and treat you accordingly. For Hypothyroidism (more common), conventional medical treatment is to give patients a daily thyroid hormone pill to increase the amount of thyroid hormone in their body. For Hyperthyroidism, many doctors use thyroid reducing medications.
If there is anything I’ve learned in my years of having hypothyroidism, and from reading what hundreds of other women have shared about their journey is this – most of us do not feel better just being put on that one pill. And most of us have been and are still treated with just that one pill. One of the main reasons for this is a little detail (not that little actually) that many doctors either don’t test for or don’t discuss if tested. 90% of all thyroid cases are actually autoimmune disorders, where the body is attacking its own thyroid gland. For Hypothyroidism, the autoimmune disorder is called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and for Hyperthyroidism, it is called Graves disease. To state it in the simplest of ways, your thyroid imbalance is not caused by an issue with the gland itself (as it is with non-autoimmune thyroiditis) but due to an autoimmune factor where your body produces antibodies against itself, in this case, against your thyroid gland.
Antibodies are like your own personal army! The right antibodies are produced by you to fight any infection or disease. For example, if you have a bacterial infection, your body will produce the right antibodies to fight it. In the case of Hashimoto’s and Graves, your body produces antibodies against itself, specifically against the thyroid gland. The most logical question here would be to ask why the human body designed to function a certain way would go against itself? Someone explained this to me in a very interesting way. Autoimmune diseases are caused by a “glitch” in your immune system. Which is why the very immune system that is meant to protect you, goes against you. There is still a lot of mystery around the causes of autoimmune diseases, but some of the reasons for this “glitch” are infections, poor diet and/or a sub-optimal diet for you, exposure to chemicals, genetics, and gender. Women are more likely to develop autoimmune disorders than men (aren’t we the lucky ones!)
There are almost 80 known autoimmune disorders. But coming back to Hashimoto’s and Graves, it is ESSENTIAL that when you are tested for thyroid imbalances you also get tested to see if you have an autoimmune thyroid disorder or not. You see, if your imbalance is caused by a glitch in your immunity, it will not be sufficient to simply take a thyroxin (T4) pill (the most generic conventional hypothyroid medication) to make you better. You will need to get to the root causes of the issue and deal with the glitches in your immune system that caused your thyroid to malfunction in the first place.
My medical history regarding my thyroid disease is similar to many others. Undiagnosed for almost 10 years, and insufficiently treated for another 15 years, until I found a Functional Medicine doctor in my late 30’s who ran the required tests and treated the underlying causes of my symptoms and disease. The research around Hashimotos and Graves has grown significantly in the last 10 years. If I could offer any advice, it would be to be a “smart patient”. Talk to your doctors, question them on the medications they are giving you, insist on getting complete tests done and find a practitioner to work with to identify and treat your individual root causes. I would say like thousands of others (mainly women), I too went through a roller coaster ride trying to manage the symptoms caused by my Hashimotos. Which is why today, I am a vocal advocate for thyroid health.
A COMPLETE THYROID BLOOD TEST PANEL CONSISTS OF THE FOLLOWING:
- TSH (Thyroid Stimulation Hormone)
- Free T3 (Active hormone used by all the cells in your body)
- Free T4 (Inactive hormone that gets converted to T3)
- Thyroid Antibodies – TPO and Antithyroglobulin (which will determine if you have an autoimmune thyroid disorder or not)
- Reverse T3
IF YOU HAVE HASHIMOTO’S OR GRAVES YOU MUST ADDRESS THE FOLLOWING
- Gut health
- Test for any infections
- Test for vitamin and nutrient deficiencies
- Liver health
- Food allergies and intolerances
- Stress and sleep patterns