This butterfly shaped endocrine gland sits in the front of your neck and slides up and down when you swallow. The thyroid hormones it produces, regulate your metabolism, temperature, weight, energy, mood, brain function, libido, sleep, health of hair, skin, nails, among many other things.
Actually, these hormones affect all organ systems in your body – (Williams Textbook of Endocrinology). Normal thyroid function supports good cardiovascular function and disease prevention and is a direct influence on balance of sex hormones, adrenal function, glucose metabolism and other body systems.
Dysfunction of the thyroid is said to be at epidemic proportions especially among women – 38% of the population have issues, mostly with low thyroid conditions which often goes undetected for years. Why might this be? Well, this gland is very sensitive to the environment and the exposures to toxins that we encounter in modern life, as well as stress itself.
In fact, low thyroid has been shown to be caused, in some cases, by stress alone. Its function is directly related to the adrenal function in our bodies, the major gland that helps us deal effectively with stress.
Thyroid function is on a continuum that is determined by identifying lab levels. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid is low functioning and hyperthyroidism is when it is too high functioning. Other dysfunctions include Goiter, Hashimoto’s disease and Grave’s disease which are auto-immune dysfunctions.
The primary labs used to assess thyroid function are TSH, FT4, FT3, rT3, Iodine. TSH is the stimulating hormone from the brain which has been found to not be the most reliable indicator for diagnosis and treatment. Free T4 is the inactive form of thyroid hormone which needs to convert to the Free T3 form which often does not happen effectively. This is the active thyroid hormone that goes into cell receptors and does all the life essential work of the thyroid. Reverse T3 (rT3) is a blocking hormone to T3 which prevents T3 from functioning if rT3 levels get too high.
Causes of dysfunction of the thyroid include stress, inflammation, diet – gluten, high soy and brassica intake (only a risk with excessive, raw amounts), low caloric eating, nutritional deficiencies of minerals and various vitamins including iodine.
In fact, too much or too little Iodine can have a negative impact on your thyroid function. Vegans and vegetarians need especially to check Iodine levels to ensure adequacy. Also, excessive Iodine creates auto-immune thyroiditis. Like everything in the body, balance is the key.
Symptoms of dysfunction can be variable based on the individual person. The old symptoms of low thyroid being overweight and fatigued are not always the case. Depression, memory loss, fatigue especially on waking, feeling cold, muscle aches and pains, constipation, hair loss, low libido, headaches are all common signs and symptoms of dysfunctional thyroid levels. Some patients have none of these symptoms but still have low thyroid hormone levels on testing. Both need to be combined in making the diagnosis.
Treatment is focused on the lab values seen and if other body systems are functioning well or not. In the early stages of slight thyroid dysfunction, exercise helps (up to a point), adrenal support if indicated, elimination diets, detoxing, Iodine if testing indicates, and specific vitamins and herbs all can have a positive impact.
When the lab values are more severely depleted there needs to be replacement of appropriate thyroid hormones. We often use T4 or T3 as bio-identical medication which can be a pharmaceutical made in the lab or come from an animal source, if there are no other risk factors for that type of thyroid medication. Which hormone is needed and the dose given must be regulated based on lab results done periodically.
What has been found over the past decade is that most people need T3 supplementation rather than T4. Integrative Medicine thyroid protocols for the last 8 years, have been based upon current state-of-the-art research studies which are now being used by prominent medical centers in this country to successfully treat patients with low thyroid.
In keeping your thyroid levels optimal, thyroid hormones can be a major contributor to the prevention of cardiovascular disease. A recent study looking at older women diagnosed with low thyroid levels showed they had higher levels of LDL, twice the risk for heart attacks and were 70% more likely to have a hardened aorta. (www.verywellhealth.com/low-thyroid-increases-heart-risk.)
Besides decreasing disease risks, optimal thyroid hormones can improve quality of life dramatically for many patients. If you have further questions, I am always glad to discuss them at your next visit.
Here’s to good thyroid health!