Is this tiny organ to blame for your big health issues?
Are you feeling tired and moody?
Is your weight-loss plan going nowhere fast — or worse, are you on a diet and gaining weight instead of losing?
Or are you nervous, edgy, and having a tough time sleeping?
Strange as it may seem, symptoms like these can have a common source—your thyroid gland. And although these difficulties may not sound serious, even seemingly minor thyroid disturbances can be life threatening.
If you or someone you know has similar symptoms, please read on. Doing so could make a tremendous difference in your health and possibly even save your life.
Get to Know Your Thyroid
The best description we’ve heard of the thyroid is “a small gland that can cause big problems.”
One of the smallest and, at the same time, one of the most powerful organs in the human body, this tiny gland nestles in the space between the Adam’s apple and the windpipe, where it oversees the body’s metabolism.
As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid’s job is to manufacture a number of metabolism-related hormones. Simple, right?
Unfortunately, for millions of Americans—most of them women—thyroid malfunctions have disastrous consequences for health and metabolism.
Among the most common thyroid-related problems are: weight management, sleep issues, mood variability, and libido disorders. Often, we blame these issues on aging, but that’s not always the case—as you are about to see.
Identifying Thyroid Trouble
Generally speaking, the most common thyroid problems are either too little or too much production of two thyroid hormones you should know: T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine).
When the thyroid gland fails to produce enough of these two hormones, the condition is known as hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. The opposite condition, involving too much hormone production, is called hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid.
There are a number of other thyroid-related conditions, including:
The causes of thyroid disorders run the gamut, everything from aging to radiation and toxins, to too little iodine in the diet. Certain medical procedures, prescription medications, and an excess of soy products can interfere with thyroid functions, too.
Even a slight difference in thyroid hormone production can seriously affect health.
For example, subclinical hyperthyroidism, a hormone disruption frequently found in older adults, has been linked to a 65 percent greater chance of dying! Even worse, this condition often occurs without symptoms.
Meanwhile, the opposite problem, subclinical hypothyroidism, can double the risk of congestive heart failure and has a many common symptoms including:
- Unexplained weight gain
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Low heart rate
- Sensitivity to cold or heat
- Dry skin
- Frequent infections
- Low libido
- Achy joints or muscles
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss
- High levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol
- Brain fog
- Elevated markers for hardening of the arteries
- Other signs of heart disease
- Weight loss
- Heart palpitations or rapid pulse
- Increased appetite
- Continually feeling too hot
- Hair loss
- Muscle cramps
- Protruding eyes
- Dry, scaly skin
- Difficulty sleeping
- Elevated blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Swelling in the neck area
Knowing Your Numbers
An under- or overactive thyroid can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. Not doing so can result in a worsening of either condition. But first, the problem has to be diagnosed, and that’s where medical experts don’t always agree.
Not all practitioners interpret test results the same way. So numbers that one physician believes are normal could be labeled problematic by another.
Thyroid testing usually begins with a blood test for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Results ranging between 0.5 and 5 mIU/L (milli-international units per liter) are often considered normal.
But the American Academy of Clinical Endocrinologists, medical experts who specialize in thyroid and related issues, consider 0.3 to 3 as a more accurate benchmark because less-serious imbalances are included in that range.
Given that difference, another way for patients who have test results in the low-normal range to get clearer results is to get additional tests. Experts suggest a free T3 and T4 or thyroid-releasing hormone (TRH) stimulation tests, as well as a thyroid ultrasound for that.
In some cases, thyroid patients can have normal thyroid tests but elevated number of thyroid antibodies—warning signs of a potential autoimmune disorder. A thyroid antibody test is a good way to double-check thyroid health and rule out undetected dangers.
If you're more hands on when it comes to your health, it’s fairly easy to self-test with a basal body thermometer (made of glass, not digital) available at most drug stores.
As soon as you awaken in the morning, place the thermometer under your arm for ten minutes, and be as still as possible. Record your temperature, repeat the process on two or three more consecutive mornings, and average the results.
If your average score is below 97.6, you may have an underactive thyroid.
Be aware that self-testing is not 100 percent accurate, so please don’t panic if your score looks as though you may have a problem. Instead, we urge you to talk with your physician about additional testing.
Treating Thyroid Trouble
Diagnosing thyroid disease is not just tricky, it’s also only part of the solution, for two reasons:
- Boosting an underactive thyroid requires an entirely different approach from slowing one that’s stuck in high gear.
- Thyroid symptoms may be linked to a larger issue, like complications in the endocrine system.
Either way, seeing a physician is essential. Thyroid treatment is not a do-it-yourself project, although you should play an active role once the diagnosis is made.
Medication, in the form of synthetic or natural hormones, is available for both under- and overactive thyroids. But treatment doesn’t end there.
Foods for Better Thyroid Health
Making dietary changes, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting the right amount of exercise, sleep, and water intake are essential for thyroid health.
That said, there is one dietary issue you should understand—goitrogenic foods.
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts are great examples of foods that are goitrogenic, meaning they may interfere with normal thyroid activity. Although not a member of this plant family, soy is also considered goitrogenic.
These normally healthy foods actually can help reduce symptoms of an overactive thyroid.
But at the same time, they may backfire for individuals with underactive thyroids because they contain substances that can dampen already sluggish thyroid activity, especially when eaten raw.
Instead, eat these foods cooked—or fermented, in the case of soy—and in moderation.
Supplements for Thyroid Support
We always recommend a quality, daily multivitamin, as well as a good multi-mineral product for overall health. In addition, individuals with under- or overactive thyroids should consider taking the following supplements:
For an Underactive Thyroid
For an Overactive Thyroid
Next Steps for Thyroid Health
If you’re concerned about the possibility of thyroid disease, please see your doctor immediately.
Natural thyroid hormone can be a safe and effective remedy, as well.
Combine proper medication with lifestyle changes that support good health overall, and you can reverse symptoms and enjoy a healthy, functioning thyroid once again.
Take good care.
Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Last Updated: October 17, 2020
Originally Published: April 13, 2012