It is estimated that 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease and up to nearly 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are completely unaware of their condition.
With these alarming rates of thyroid disorders, it’s clear that millions of people are being mismanaged in their thyroid care every year. And if you are one of them, you may never feel good again with your current treatment plan.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly shaped gland that is located low on the front neck. The thyroid has many functions, but primarily it secretes hormones that are responsible for metabolism, body temperature, cholesterol levels, breathing and heart rate to name a few. Two of the most common thyroid disorders are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroid is the term used to describe an underactive thyroid, meaning it does not properly generate hormones (primarily T3 and T4) or release thyroid hormones into the body. It is estimated that about 4.6 percent of the United States population ages 12 and older struggle with hypothyroidism.
A few common symptoms of hypothyroid include:
- Weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight
- Coarse, dry hair
- Dry, rough pale skin
- Hair loss
- Cold intolerance (you can’t tolerate cold temperatures like those around you)
- Muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches
- Memory loss
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Decreased libido
In contrast to hypothyroid, hyperthyroid is the term used to describe an overactive thyroid, meaning you are producing too many thyroid hormones. Approximately 1.2 percent of people in the United States have hyperthyroidism and women are 2 to 10 times more likely to experience hyperthyroid than men.
A few common symptoms of hyperthyroid are:
- Fatigue or muscle weakness
- Hand tremors
- Mood swings
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Rapid heartbeat
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
- Skin dryness
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
- Increased frequency of bowel movements
- Light periods or skipping periods.
There are a number of causes of hyperthyroid, one being an autoimmune condition called Graves’ disease, where the body produces an antibody that causes the thyroid gland to produce an excess amount of thyroid hormone. It can also be caused by a goiter or lumps/nodules in the gland that can cause an overproduction of hormones. Inflammation of the thyroid gland, or thyroiditis, which is a result of a dysfunction of the immune system, can also cause hyperthyroidism. Lastly, diet can cause an imbalance in the thyroid, primarily due to an overconsumption of iodine in the form of foods or supplements or medications containing iodine.
Stress and Your Thyroid Health
A large factor relating to the health of the thyroid is stress. Stress undoubtedly affects all areas of the body by increasing inflammation causing various health issues. When we are stressed, the adrenals (tiny almond-shaped glands that sit on top of our kidney) release a hormone called adrenaline to help the body react to stress.
Your adrenals also work with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in a series of relationships known as the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal axis or more commonly referred to as the HPA axis. The HPA axis is responsible for your body’s temperature, digestion, immune system, mood, energy, and stress response.
Because the thyroid and the HPA axis are so heavily related, periods of chronic adrenal stress decreases the HPA axis function and in turn, negatively impacts the thyroid.
Common Flaws in Thyroid Testing
It is very common with thyroid issues that most people often times remain misdiagnosed and mistreated due to lack of information. For instance, many doctors fail to test for Hashimoto’s when nearly 90 percent of low thyroid involves an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s. Is it because it is an expensive test? When we run the antibodies it is $14. So everyone that has any thyroid symptoms or a family history of thyroid problems should have their AB’s tested. When testing for Hashimoto’s, it is important to look at TPO and TGB levels. If they are elevated, it means the body is attacking its own thyroid gland, or also referred to as an autoimmune attack.
Another common flaw in thyroid testing is only reading the TSH number. TSH stands for thyroid stimulating hormone which is produced by the pituitary gland. The assumption is that if TSH levels are in their normal range then the thyroid is fine but this is far from the truth. The pituitary gland sends messages to the adrenals and while the TSH levels might be normal, the pituitary may be off because of the HPA axis relationship.
Blood sugar levels are another concern with thyroid issues that many healthcare practitioners fail to recognize. When the blood sugar spikes or drops too low, it stimulates an inflammatory response to attack more thyroid tissues. For instance, if you went too long without eating and your levels dropped significantly or conversely if you ate too much sugar or carbohydrates and your blood sugar spiked, the autoimmunity is triggered to attack itself.
Many of you got the word from your doctor when they ran your blood test, that you had low thyroid. That was the starting point of major mistakes being made to treat your thyroid. I’m going to give you the exact list of what was done wrong, and what can be done now to overcome these imbalances.
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