The thyroid, also known as your master gland of energy and metabolism, is a small
gland shaped like a butterfly, located in the lower part of your neck. The function of a
gland is to secrete hormones. It produces the master metabolism hormones that control
every function in your body. Thyroid hormones interact with all your other hormones
including insulin, cortisol, and sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and
testosterone. The fact that these hormones are all tied together and in constant
communication explains why an unhappy thyroid is associated with so many
widespread symptoms and diseases.
The thyroid gland produces two major thyroid hormones: T4 and T3. About 90 percent
of the hormone produced by the gland is in the form of T4, the inactive form. Your liver
converts this T4 into T3, the active form, with the help of an enzyme.
Those two hormones, T3 and T4, are what control the metabolism of every cell in your
body. However, their delicate balance can be disrupted by nutritional imbalances,
toxins, allergens, infections, and stress.
If your T3 is inadequate, either by insufficient production or not converting properly
from T4, your whole system suffers.
T3 is critically important because it sends messages to your cells to speed up your
metabolism by burning fat. That is why T3 lowers cholesterol levels, regrows hair, and
helps keep you lean.
Thyroid problems have unfortunately become quite common. Lifestyle factors such as
sugar, processed foods, stress, environmental toxins, and lack of exercise wreak havoc
on the thyroid gland. Many people suffer from symptoms that are directly related to
suboptimal thyroid function. If you go to your doctor with a thyroid-related issue, the
conventional approach is to do a lab test called TSH. If your TSH is in what’s considered
in the “normal” range, your doctor will likely say you’re fine — even if you’re not
feeling well. In an effort to improve diagnosis of thyroid disease, in 2003 the American
Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) revised the "normal" TSH range as 0.3
to 3.04. The previous range was defined as 0.5 and 5.0. However most standard labs
continue to use the 0.5 to 5.0 reference range thus leaving a large population of people
with hypothyroidism untreated.
Hypothyroidism simply means you have a sluggish or underactive thyroid, which is
producing less than adequate amounts of thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism is the
most common thyroid disease people suffer from. The treatment is to give thyroid
replacement medication such as synthroid, however many people still suffer from many
hypothyroidism symptoms even though they are taking medication.
The most common symptoms of low thyroid function are:
1. Severe fatigue/loss of energy: If you suffer from a thyroid issue, you may feel highly
fatigued and sleep more than average, but even after the extra sleep you don’t feel
rested or have any energy.
2. Weight gain/difficulty losing weight: When your thyroid slows down so does your
metabolism. That’s why unusual and unexplained weight gain can be the first
noticeable symptom.
3. Dry skin, brittle nails: New wrinkles, dry or cracked patches, and itchy rashes are
signs of imbalance in your thyroid hormones.
4. Brittle hair, itchy scalp, hair loss: Your thyroid plays a role in your hair’s growing
and resting cycle. Without proper thyroid functioning, your hair follicles stay in the
“resting” phase rather than growing actively. In addition to brittle hair or hair loss,
thyroid issues can also cause premature graying of the hair.
5. More sensitivity to cold and lower body temperature. Always feeling cold is a
telltale sign of a problem with your thyroid, which greatly influence body temperature.
6. Diminished sex drive: Imbalances in your thyroid can affect your reproductive
hormones, and lead to lower levels of desire.
7. Puffiness in face and extremities: Puffiness in the face, most often around the eyes,
is a common thyroid symptom.
8. Infertility or frequent miscarriages: Many women don't realize that good thyroid
function is necessary for fertility, the ability to conceive and to maintain a pregnancy
Other common hypothyroid symptoms include: joint and muscle pain, depression,
hoarseness or feeling of lump in throat, elevated cholesterol, memory loss, fuzzy
thinking, or “brain fog”.
As one of the centers of your endocrine system, your thyroid influences how your other
hormones are used. That’s why an under-active thyroid can influence so many functions
in your body and lead to such a wide range of symptoms.
Although millions of women are suffering from under-active thyroid, most don’t realize
that the real causes of their thyroid problems also involve other hormone-producing
glands. It’s no coincidence that low thyroid problems most often appear in women at
menopause or with adrenal fatigue or other endocrine issues such as PMS and Fibroids.
Low thyroid is also associated with diabetes, autoimmune disorders and low vitamin D
levels. This is because your thyroid is at the center of your endocrine system, intimately
connected to all your other hormonal centers.
Just as the thyroid influences all of the above systems, it is also affected by hormonal
changes in the body. For example, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can inhibit
both TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and the thyroid hormone T3. This means that
women who’ve been dealing with long-term stress are especially susceptible to
hypothyroidism.
Estrogen is a hormone that enhances thyroid function. If estrogen levels are low, thyroid
releasing hormone (the hormone that stimulates TSH) also goes down. This is one big
reason so many women in menopause and peri-menopause end up with thyroid
problems.
The holistic approach to correcting low thyroid function is to provide support for the
entire endocrine system right away and let your body correct itself. You can do this by
changing your eating habits, taking a high-quality multivitamin, and by using herbal
supplements.
Dr. Pamela Langenderfer is a Naturopathic Physician and Licensed Acupuncturist. She is
the co owner of Lakeside Holistic Health, PLLC with locations in Liberty Lake,
Washington and Coeur d Alene, Idaho. For more information please visit our website
www.lakesideholistic.com or contact her at (208)758-0568.