The term “bad thyroid” refers to an underactive thyroid gland known as hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped organ in the neck that produces hormones that regulate metabolism and other critical bodily functions. When the thyroid gland is not functioning correctly, it can produce too little of these hormones, leading to a condition known as hypothyroidism.
Diagnosis of hypothyroidism is typically made through a blood test to measure levels of thyroid hormones and the pituitary hormone TSH. Treatment involves taking a daily hormone replacement pill, typically levothyroxine, which replaces the hormones not being produced by the thyroid gland. With proper treatment, most people with hypothyroidism can lead productive and healthy lives.
What is the Thyroid?
Our thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ at the base of the neck, releases hormones that help regulate our metabolism. Other vital functions the thyroid influences include the following:
- Body temperature
- Body weight
- Central and peripheral nervous systems
- Cholesterol levels
- Heart rate
- Menstrual cycles
- Muscle strength
Lying near the front of the throat and beneath the Adam’s apple, the thyroid comprises two sides called lobes. These lobes are connected by a strip of tissues called the isthmus.
The total size of this glandular powerhouse? Two inches.
How Does the Thyroid Gland Work?
Thyroid: a large ductless gland in the neck that secretes hormones regulating growth and development through the rate of metabolism. ~ Oxford English Dictionary
The thyroid is a constituent of the endocrine system – a collection of glands responsible for producing, storing, and releasing hormones into the bloodstream. The thyroid gland uses iodine from our foods to manufacture two critical hormones, ‘T3′ and ‘T4′. (‘T3’ hormone is short for the hormone Triiodothyronine; ‘T4’ for Thyroxine.)
Thyroid hormone production is regulated via a feedback loop between the thyroid gland, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland – two deeply entrenched, tiny brain areas.
The production of T3 and T4 hormones is a complex process. And as with anything complex, it’s not uncommon for thyroid problems to surface.
Seven Early Signs of Thyroid Troubles
It’s estimated that as many as 25 million Americans have a thyroid issue. Of this 25 million, roughly half (12.5 million) don’t realize it. Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, accounts for 90% of all thyroid conditions.
Here are seven of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism–if you have these ongoing symptoms, reach out to your doctor for testing and guidance:
Our body’s energy production requires a certain amount of thyroid hormones. Therefore, a significant drop off in this production leads to diminished energy levels, producing a strong sense of fatigue and weakness.
2. Weight gain
A shortage of thyroid hormones slows the body’s metabolic rate. When this happens, we don’t digest as many foods. As a result, fewer calories convert into energy. A lack of or insufficient treatment makes weight loss nearly impossible for many thyroid patients, even with proper diet and exercise.
3. Recurring sickness
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease, is the most common type of hypothyroidism. As we all know, a suppressed immune system makes it much more difficult to ward off harmful viruses and bacteria; this results in more frequent illness. Most worrisome is that Hashimoto’s causes the immune system to attack otherwise healthy organs and tissues.
4. Loss of coordination
Hypothyroidism that goes untreated can damage the peripheral nerves. These nerves relay information from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, including our arms and legs. As a result, damage to these nerves may cause numbness, pain, and tingling in the affected area(s).
5. Brain fog
Our brain houses a particular type of immune cell called microglia. 10-15% of all brain cells are microglia, stimulating the body’s immune defense within the central nervous system (CNS). Brain fog stems directly from brain inflammation, a byproduct of irritated microglia cells. So forgetfulness, an inability to concentrate, and diminished cognitive ability are all telltale signs of brain fog.
6. Anxiety or depression
The brain is susceptible to inflammation. Besides experiencing a general loss of mental acuity (“brain fog”), our neurochemicals, i.e., neurotransmitters, are thrown out of whack. As the human brain is already susceptible to anxiety thanks to the fight-or-flight response, further imbalances increase the risk of anxiety and depression.
7. Various “under the surface” symptoms
Sometimes we intuitively know when something is wrong with our bodies. Relatedly, thyroid troubles are notorious for creating a mess of subtle yet distracting symptoms.
Here’s a “short list”: mood swings, excessive sleep, muscle and joint pain (including tendonitis and carpal tunnel), cold hands and feet, brittle nails, dry skin, hair loss, constipation, and neck swelling.
Maintaining Thyroid Health
Being the intelligent people you are, you quickly grasp the importance of thyroid health. But the truth is that many people downplay the importance of a healthy thyroid gland. Some are utterly unaware of what the thyroid is and what it does.
Here’s one case in point for why thyroid health is critical:
Myxedema, an advanced form of hypothyroidism, is rare, but it can be life-threatening when it occurs. Signs and symptoms include low blood pressure, decreased breathing, decreased body temperature, unresponsiveness, and even coma. In extreme cases, myxedema can be fatal.
Final Thoughts: Ten Things You Can Do to Improve Thyroid Health
Dr. Amy Myers, a board-certified physician and a survivor of Grave’s disease, recommends the following ten things to improve thyroid health.
- Make sure you take a high-quality multivitamin with Iodine, Zinc, Selenium, Vitamin D, and B vitamins.
- Take a tyrosine supplement such as this one by Thorne Research to help with the FT4 to FT3 conversion.
- Go gluten-free! If you have Hashimoto’s, try going ultimately grain and legume free.
- Deal with your stress and support your adrenal glands. That’s because the adrenal glands and thyroid work hand and hand. So try restorative yoga and adaptogenic herbs (which) support the adrenal glands in coping with stress.
- Get eight to ten hours of sleep a night.
- Have a biological dentist safely remove any amalgam fillings you may have.
- Watch your intake of raw goitrogens. There is a bit of a debate surrounding this.
- Get fluoride, bromide, and chlorine out of your diet and environment.
- Heal your gut. A properly functioning digestive system (gut) is critical to good health.
- Find a functional medicine doctor in your area, have them run the above laboratory test. Then ask them to work with you to find the root cause of the thyroid imbalance.
Incorporating the right amount of iodine in your diet also helps! So eat iodine-rich foods, including sea vegetables, cranberries, yogurt, fish, eggs, whole-grain products, and unpasteurized dairy products.