Your thyroid is the most important gland in your body (learn more by reading my blog article, “Thyroid: Your Body’s Super Gland“), so when it’s not functioning properly, it can cause some pretty big health headaches. According to the American Thyroid Association, about 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, yet up to 60 percent are unaware they even have it.
Although a blood test can help your physician diagnosis thyroid dysfunction, laboratories only give an expected or estimated range, not what a normal level should be.
So it’s important that he also take into account your health history, your symptoms and your physical exam in addition to your lab results for an accurate diagnosis.
Types of thyroid dysfunction
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) are two conditions that can occur when your thyroid isn’t functioning properly.
Since your thyroid affects all of the cells in your body, these two types can cause several different symptoms. Some of these symptoms are not only vague, but they can occur with both conditions, so it can be challenging initially make a diagnosis.
Hypothyroidism is a condition that makes your body run slow. And the slower it operates, the more symptoms you’re likely to have. The most common include:
- Hair loss and dry skin
- Blood pressure problems
- Trouble with concentration (brain fog)
- Muscle weakness
- Weight gain
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Poor memory
- Elevated cholesterol
- Menstrual irregularities
- Heart Palpitations
Hyperthyroidism is a condition that speeds up your body at record speed. Common symptoms include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle weakness
- Menstrual irregularities
Yet hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are just the two major conditions that can occur. Within them, there are subtle nuances that can happen when the brain=thyroid=cell loop doesn’t work the way it should. Here are three:
- Poor production or stimulation: If you have an underactive thyroid, you don’t make enough T3 or T4 either because your brain didn’t send a strong signal to your thyroid or your thyroid didn’t make enough T3 and T4. So the cell realizes it doesn’t have enough, signals to the brain that it needs more, and the brain then increases the TSH.
- Poor conversion: The brain’s stimulation might be sufficient and the thyroid might make the right ratio of T4 to T3, but if T4 doesn’t get converted to T3, it doesn’t get into the cell. The cell then tells the brain and the brain increases TSH.
- Cellular resistance: The brain is stimulated, the thyroid produces the right ratio of T3 and T4 and the conversion is fine too. Yet when T3 gets to the thyroid receptor, it doesn’t work the way it should. So T3 doesn’t make its’ way into the cell, the cell communicates with the brain and the brain responds once again by increasing TSH.
Causes of thyroid dysfunction
Since the thyroid gland is such a vital part of all of your body’s functions, it’s not only strong, but fairly sensitive too.
Here are some things that can cause thyroid dysfunction:
- Nutrient deficiencies: If you’re not eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole foods, you might be missing key vitamins and minerals, which could throw your thyroid out of whack. Certain nutrients are required for the conversion to take place, so when a person is deficient in nutrients like selenium, B12, folate, zinc, chromium and iodine the process cannot move forward.
- Medication: Beta blockers (look for medications that end in –olol,) birth control pills and estrogen replacement therapy can affect your thyroid.
- Soy: Tofu, tempeh, and soymilk are okay to include in your diet, but if you’re eating soy at every meal, it could be overload.
- Low Carb Diets: Low carb diets have again gained popularity, but some people affected by hypothyroidism find that their conversion to T3 is decreased by a deficiency in carbohydrates in their diet.
- Environmental toxins: Things like alcohol, fluoride, lead, mercury, pesticides and radiation can all affect your thyroid. Eliminating them is impossible, so do your best to cut down.
- Lifestyle: When other hormones in your body are out of balance, it can affect your thyroid hormone as well. These include:
- Insulin: If you have prediabetes, diabetes or metabolic syndrome, your insulin levels can also affect your thyroid.
- Estrogen: If you’re overweight or obese, your body can produce estrogen and increase inflammation, both of which can affect your thyroid.
- Cortisol: Chronic stress, anxiety and worry can release cortisol—not a good thing for thyroid function.