Thyroid-101

Why your thyroid might be the reason for your unexplained health issues

Problems with the thyroid can lead to symptoms ranging from weight gain to depression to hair loss – not things that any women wants to experience. Conditions of the thyroid are much more common in women. In fact, women are up to 8 times more likely to be affected by these problems than men! Unfortunately, up to 60% of those with a thyroid problem aren’t aware that their symptoms are due thyroid dysfunction.

Some people have an overactive thyroid (called hyperthyroidism) which is when the thyroid gland makes too many hormones. Others are affected by an underactive thyroid (called hypothyroidism) where the gland doesn’t make enough hormones, which is more common. Both of these conditions can lead to a number of symptoms which we will get into shortly.

SO, WHAT IS THE THYROID?

The thyroid gland is a very important little organ. You can find it located in the throat, sitting just under the voice box. It is the largest endocrine organ, meaning it secretes hormones and plays a huge role in hormonal balance. It is responsible for metabolism, or how effectively you can burn calories, energy production, weight management, and basically plays a role in almost all functions of the body.   

THYROID HORMONES

The thyroid gland produces and secretes 2 hormones – Triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The pituitary gland in the brain communicates with the thyroid to tell it when to make more or less hormone, and it does this through secreting another hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). When the thyroid is working optimally, there is tight control over how much hormone is released.

When T3 and T4 are secreted, there is an increase in the basal metabolic rate, meaning all the cells in the body work harder, thus requiring more energy.

When thyroid hormones are released this is what we see:

  • Increased body temperature
  • Faster pulse and stronger heartbeat
  • Calories are burned quicker to provide energy for the cells
  • Activation of the nervous system leads to improved concentration and faster reflexes

THYROID AND WOMEN

As stated above, women are more likely than men to have a thyroid condition. The presentations can look a bit different too, since it plays a large role in the reproductive system and menstrual cycle. In women, thyroid diseases can cause:

  • Problems with your periods. The thyroid hormones help regulate the menstrual cycle. Too much or too little of this hormone can cause your periods to become irregular, very light, or much heavier than your norm. Thyroid conditions can also lead to amenorrhea, or the loss of your period altogether.
  • Difficulty conceiving. When thyroid conditions affect the menstrual cycle, it also affects ovulation and can make it challenging to become pregnant.
  • Issues during pregnancy. There can be negative health outcomes for both mom and baby if thyroid conditions are present throughout pregnancy.

OTHER SYMPTOMS OF THYROID CONDITIONS:

Many symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are common symptoms that people may experience on a regular basis. This is why many go undiagnosed. If you have a number of these symptoms, I strongly encourage you to see your health care provider to get some blood testing done.

            Hypothyroidism: High TSH, Low T3 and T4
    • Feeling colder than others
    • Constipation
    • Muscle weakness
    • Weight gain, even though you are not eating more food
    • Joint or muscle pain
    • Feeling sad or depressed
    • Feeling very sluggish and tired
    • Pale, dry skin
    • Dry, thinning hair
    • Slow heart rate
    • Less sweating than usual
    • A puffy face
    • A hoarse voice
    • More than usual menstrual bleeding
    • High Cholesterol
            Hyperthyroidism: Low TSH, High T3 and T4
    • Weight loss, even if you eat the same or more food
    • Eating more than usual
    • Rapid or irregular heart rate
    • Feeling nervous or anxious
    • Feeling irritable
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Trembling in your hands and fingers
    • Increased sweating
    • Feeling hot compared to others
    • Muscle weakness
    • Loose stool or more bowel movements than normal
    • Fewer and lighter menstrual periods than normal
    • Changes in your eyes that can include bulging of the eyes, redness, or irritation

TESTING FOR THYROID CONDITIONS

The thyroid hormones can be tested in the blood. Many practitioners will only order testing for TSH. Unfortunately, this is only part of the picture and you’ll need a more thorough investigation. You may need to see a naturopathic doctor or a functional medicine provider to get the correct testing done.

If you have symptoms, these are the test you need to have done:

  • TSH
  • Free T3
  • Free T4
  • Reverse T3
  • Thyroid autoantibodies: Anti-TPO, Anti-TG (this is because autoimmunity is a common cause of thyroid conditions)

Also ladies, since the thyroid plays a large role in the reproductive system, it is advised to have your levels checked before you become pregnant, early in the first trimester, and postpartum.

Getting a proper diagnosis is the first step in recovering from a thyroid condition, whether it is hyper- or hypothyroidism. Stay tuned for future posts on what you can do to heal and optimize your thyroid function!

To healthy thyroid glands, 

Dr. Bronwyn

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WRITTEN BY:

Dr. Bronwyn is a naturopathic doctor in Toronto, Ontario with a clinical focus in Women's Health. She works with women transitioning off the oral contraceptive pill and those with specific fertility concerns, to reach a state of hormonal balance or in preparation for a healthy pregnancy. Dr. Bronwyn is passionate about empowering women to reclaim their hormonal health, to enable a full and vibrant life.

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