The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland located at the front potion of the neck above the windpipe (trachea) and below the voicebox (larynx). The thyroid produces the hormones T3 and T4, which tell the body's cells how much energy to use. It is responsible for regulating metabolism which influences weight and how many calories we burn, growth, heat production and oxygen consumption.
The quantity of thyroid hormones in your body are controlled by the pituitary gland, located in the center of the skull below the brain. If the pituitary gland senses that thyroid levels are too high, or too low, it adjusts it's own hormone (TSH) and sends it to the thyroid to tell it what to do.
Diagnosing Thyroid Disease:
A simple blood test is used to detect thyroid disease. Your doctor will probably check your levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which can detect a thyroid problem even before the onset of symptoms. Optimum results are TSH levels under 2.0. Many doctors feel this should be part of screening tests for those over age 35. Your levels of T3 and T4 will probably also be tested to ensure they are within "normal" range.
Hypothyroidism - Underactive Thyroid
This is the most common disease of the thyroid, affecting approximately 1-2% of the population under 50, and 2-4% of those over 70. It occurs in women eight times more often than in men. One theory is that it may be triggered by a hormone imbalance, which many women deal with at some time in their life. The underproduction of thyroid generally develops slowly over time, so the symptoms may not be noticable at first.
- Fatigue & Sleepiness
- Low Body Temperature
- Increased Sensitivity to Cold
- Slower mental function/forgetfulness
- Increase in Weight
- Cramping Pain in Muscles
- Slow Heart Rate
- Hoarse Voice
- Digestive Disturbances
- Low Sex Drive
- Frequent, heavy menstral periods
- Thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid gland lowering the amount of hormones produced.
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a painless disease of the immune system that is hereditary.
- Postpartum thyroiditis occurs in 5-9% of women after giving birth, it is usually temporary.
- Iodine deficiency is less of a problem since iodine had been added to salt since the 1950's, but because it is used by the thyroid to produce hormones, any deficiency in the body will create problems.
- Poor nutrition can create imbalances in the body, leading to problems with the thyroid.
- Stress can keep the body in hyper-alert mode causing the release of cortisol and other stress hormones - over time this can cause adrenal fatigue, and eventually affect other organs and glands in the body, including the thyroid.
Thyroid hormone replacement is the most common treatment, and synthetic T4 is taken orally 1 time per day. Synthroid, Levoxyl and Levothyroxine are commonly used brands. Doctors will monitor and make adjustments until your levels are in normal range and symtoms have been relieved. You usually will have to take this for the rest of your life.
Some people have difficulty converting synthetic T4 to T3, which is necessary for proper balance of thyroid hormones. In this case T3 (Cytomel) is sometimes added. Many doctors are reluctant to prescribe this as it can be short-acting, difficult to monitor and have side effects.
Dessicated Thyroid (Armour Thyroid) is a natural form of thyroid which comes from pigs. It was commonly used until the 1970's, when synthetic hormone was introduced. Doctors are reluctant to use it as it may require more monitoring and figuring out the right dosage for the patient can be more complicated, but it is still used by natural and alternative practitioners.
Foods to Avoid:
You may want to limit amounts of the folllowing foods as they may impede function of the thyroid.
- Brussel Sprouts
- Canola Oil
Hyperthyroidism - Overactive Thyroid
If the thyroid is overactive and producing an overabundance of hormone all cells increase the rate at which they function, and the body uses energy faster than it should. This can result in problems and symptoms that in time can have detrimental effects on the entire body, including the heart and bone health.
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Rapid heartbeat
- Sleep Problems
- Infrequent, short periods
- Muscle tremors and weakness
- Excess Energy
- Increased perspiration
- Vision Problems
Some of the causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Graves Disease is when the entire gland is overactive and is producing too much hormone.
- Thyroiditis occurs most often in women after childbirth when there is a release of hormones that were stored in the gland. This is often temporary lasting a few weeks or months.
- Excessive Iodine can occur when it is found in drugs that can cause the thyroid to over produce. These drugs include Amiodarone, Lugo's Solution (iodine) and some cough syrups.
Hyperthyroidism is more difficult to treat. Drug therapy is used to block hormone production. Radioactive iodine is used to disable the thyroid and then synthetic hormones are give to replace that which would normally be produced by the thyroid. Sometimes surgery is done to remove part or the entire gland.
Keep Your Thyroid Healthy
To prevent thyroid disease, or to support your recovery, the basic rules of good health apply:
1. Eat Well
A nutritious diet is important, good foods to eat include:
- B Vitamin foods such as whole grains, nuts and seeds
- Foods rich in iodine such as fish, seaweed, vegetables and root vegetables
- Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach
- Citrus fruits
- Bell Peppers
Iodine rich foods:
- raw asparagus
- leaf lettuce (not head)
- goat cheese
- green peppers
Foods rich in copper and iron:
- oysters and clams
- sunflower seeds
- cashews, almonds
- whole grains
- brown rice
2. Exercise Try to exercise at least 4-5 times per week for 30 minutes per day. See Exercise/QiGong for more exercise ideas.
3. Relaxation Stress is not only harmful to your thyroid, but to your overall good health. You must learn to relax and find ways to eliminate stress in your life. For great ideas see: Healthy Breathing, Meditation, Mind-Body Connection, Relaxation Techniques, or Visualization.
4. Sun Try to get 15 minutes of sun per day, Vitamin D is important to a healthy immune system and for calcium metabolism.
Remember, although thyroid disease is a life-long condition, if controlled by taking proper care of your overall health, it should not interfere with living a normal, healthy life.
For comprehensive information about the thyroid and thyroid disease visit the National Institute of Health website: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/thyroiddiseases.html