Increasingly common — yet often overlooked — thyroid disease affects millions and can affect multiple systems in your body. Here’s what you need to know about your thyroid now, as reported by Jill Grunewald in “Repair Your Thyroid” (November 2012).
1. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that controls metabolism and energy, and is hailed as the “master gland” of our complex, interdependent endocrine system. It’s the spoon that stirs our hormonal soup, producing several hormones that transport energy into every cell in the body vital for feeling happy, warm, and lithe. The gland acts as boss of our metabolism.
2. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain and fatigue — as well as constipation, depression, low body temperature, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, edema (fluid retention), hair loss, infertility, joint aches and light sensitivity.
3. It’s estimated that hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, affects more than 30 million women and 15 million men. (Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, is much less common.)
4. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack its own thyroid tissue. Autoimmune disease accounts for 90 percent of Americans with hypothyroidism. The other 10 percent are afflicted with non-autoimmune hypothyroidism.
5. Hashimoto’s is one of the most common autoimmune diseases in the United States. When a person has Hashimoto’s, antibodies specifically attack and damage his or her thyroid tissue.
6. Patients with hypothyroidism suffer from symptoms that are rarely traced to a sluggish thyroid. If you’re feeling blue or unmotivated, you may be prescribed an antidepressant. If you’re constipated, you’re told to take a laxative. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, you’re given a sleeping aid. The list goes on.
7. Thyroid experts often advise to cut gluten from the diet and eat foods with thyroid-friendly vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, iron, selenium, and zinc. Other foods that inhibit thyroid health: raw cruciferous vegetables, soy, sugar and caffeine.
8. Some people need thyroid drugs to treat Hashimoto’s. In some cases, medication is required indefinitely, especially when Hashimoto’s has gone undiagnosed and the thyroid is no longer producing hormones. It’s important to work with a qualified doctor to find what type of medication and dosage works well for you.
9. The specific hormones the thyroid produces that are most critical to our health are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), both of which regulate metabolism. The most popular thyroid drug, Levothyroxine (commonly known as Synthroid), is a synthetic T4-only drug.
10. T4 is a mostly inactive hormone and is the forerunner to T3, which is the predominant and active hormone and which has the greatest affect on our health and well-being. The body is designed to convert T4 to T3, but many people have trouble with this conversion, mostly due to stress, hormonal and gut imbalances, and nutritional deficiencies.
11. T4 drugs like Synthroid or levothyroxine are often prescribed, but many still complain of symptoms even when lab results come back normal. What often works is a combination T4-T3 medication. Biodentical T4-T3, known most commonly as Armour Thyroid, for example, comes from dried porcine thyroid. These natural hormones have been successfully used since the late 1800s and, after decades of the prevalence of T4-only prescriptions, are gaining use again.