Have you unexplainably gained or lost weight? Do you feel like you run cold or hot? Are you irritable, depressed, tired, or run down, or do you struggle with a foggy brain? Are you the not-so-proud owner of an irregular or painful menstrual cycle?
You could have a thyroid problem.
The thyroid gland produces the thyroid hormones, T3 and T4. Crucial for driving basal metabolic rate, they determine how hard your cells work. Too little and everything slows down; too much and everything becomes, in a sense, hyperactive. Both extremes are unhealthy.
Thyroid problems are common in our modern age…
Hypothyroidism — a sluggish thyroid — affects an estimated 5% of Americans. There is also a condition called “subclinical hypothyroidism,” where a blood test shows an abnormality but significant symptoms may not be noticeable. The subclinical form impacts 7.5–8.5% of women and 4.4% of men. And, yes, it can morph into full-blown hypothyroidism and does worsen with age.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own thyroid tissue. The destruction leads to hypothyroidism because this organ becomes unable to produce adequate thyroid hormone. The most common cause of hypothyroidism in the developed world, Hashimoto’s disease is also the most common autoimmune disease. Women are more at risk by a great margin; the female-to-male ratio is at least 10:1.
Hyperthyroidism — an overactive thyroid — is less common. It strikes around 1% of people. This condition occurs when the thyroid gland produces and releases an excess of thyroid hormone.
What symptoms could be a red flag — a warning sign — that you may have one of these conditions?
There are a long list of symptoms that occur in each condition. Some can be rather generic, occurring in other conditions too. Many are more indicative when they happen in a cluster, like a bunch of fingers pointing at a problem. Let’s take a look…
As the thyroid slows down the only thing that speeds up is the aging process. That’s tough!
Signs and symptoms can include:
— Chronic constipation
— Cold intolerance (days by the beach when others don a singlet and you’re in a jumper)
— Depression, irritability
— Dry skin and hair
— Fluid retention
— Foggy brain, memory and concentration troubles
— Hair loss (from the scalp and the outside two-thirds of the eyebrows)
— High “bad” cholesterol levels
— Menstrual irregularities and infertility
— Muscle weakness, pain, and cramping
— Puffiness around the eyes or a swelling over the thyroid (at the base of the neck)
— Unexplained weight gain
Because Hashimoto’s disease (usually) causes a hypothyroid state, the symptoms are the same as for hypothyroidism. Occasionally, early on in its development, too much thyroid hormone is pumped into the blood, leading to symptoms suggestive of an overactive thyroid. Saying that, it's important to note that Hashimoto’s disease is a different beast to non-autoimmune thyroid problems. It is, at its core, an auto-immune condition.
Whereas hypothyroidism is akin to the body running on tortoise-time, hyperthyroidism mimics the hare; everything speeds up.
Thyroid hormones work by stoking the furnace; they increase basal metabolic rate. In short, they push the cells to work harder. But picking up the pace requires extra energy and comes at a cost. This creates symptoms like:
— Heat intolerance (days by the beach where you secretly want to bath naked)
— Increased appetite and thirst
— Menstrual disturbances
— Poor sleep
— Protrusion of the eyes
— Rapid heartbeat
— Shortness of breath
— Weight loss
Getting a thyroid diagnosis
If you have a number of symptoms or feel that something's not quite right, it’s best to take action. Discuss your concerns with a qualified health professional. Tests are available to determine if you have a thyroid problem, or not.
Promoting healthy thyroid function
Your thyroid gland is key to a well, vital life. Whether you have a diagnosis or not, there are steps you can take to promote healthy thyroid function. Here are our top 3…
1) Learn to manage your stress
Psychological stress and cortisol — a stress hormone — are intimately linked. As cortisol rises so, too, does TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). Including apparently healthy young people, and those with subclinical hypothyroidism.
Meditation, regular exercise, long soaks in warm baths, Chamomile tea, slow deep breathing, and sufficient sleep help to soothe the soul.
Tip: If you struggle to sleep, ThermoSleep will help you slumber better than ever. As Leah K. said, “Amazing! Really does help you sleep through the night! And I notice a difference when I don’t use it! Forever a part of my nighttime routine now!”
2) Consume a balanced food plan
Your diet matters more than for the size of your waistline. Nutrients enable your thyroid gland to function.
The right amount of iodine is key; not too little, not too much.
An insufficient selenium intake has, as an article published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society said, “been associated with a number of adverse thyroid conditions, including hypothyroidism, subclinical hypothyroidism, [and an] enlarged thyroid.”
Iron is needed to produce thyroid hormones.
Iodine-rich foods include: Cheese, cod, milk, seaweed, shrimp, tuna, yogurt
Selenium-rich foods include: Brazil nuts, hard boiled eggs, halibut, lentil, sardines, tuna
Iron-rich foods include: Beef, eggs, fish, lamb, offal, pork, poultry, veal
3) Regular exercise
Regular exercise is important for health, thyroid health included. However, exercise raises cortisol so it’s best to opt for medium — not intense — approaches.
A study published in the journal, Archives of endocrinology and metabolism, investigated the effect of a 16-week exercise program consisting of one hour of aerobic exercise, three times a week. The participants were women with subclinical hypothyroidism. They experienced “Improved functional capacity, general health, emotional aspects, mental and physical components of [quality of life].”
This may indicate improved thyroid function and certainly provides important benefits for those with a sluggish thyroid.
The thyroid takeaway
Thyroid conditions are common and significantly reduce quality of life. The signs and symptoms can be plain difficult to deal with. But, there are science-backed approaches that help improve thyroid function, prevent disease, and improve quality of life should a diagnosis strike.
Stress management, a healthy food plan, sensible supplementation, and regular low-to-medium intensity exercise should form part of your thyroid-health tool box.