One of my patients came to me feeling tired, run down, confused and out of focus. When I suggested it could be related to his thyroid, he was shocked. That’s because most people don’t think a small gland like the thyroid could have such a huge affect on your overall health. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Hypothyroidism has been labeled the “unsuspected illness” and is one of the most under diagnosed conditions in the United States.
The thyroid is one of the endocrine glands located in your neck, just above your collarbone that produces hormones to help set your metabolism. In other words it controls how your body gets nutrients from the foods you eat. It has a big job to keep your weight stabilized and your energy level at an even keel. Millions of people live with thyroid disease without realizing they have a problem.
Some people experience chronic fatigue, others find that they don’t have the same mental clarity they once had. Other symptoms are dramatic changes in weight, sleep disturbances, even depression. You can see why it is difficult to determine the cause when the physical signs are so easily confused with a number of other illnesses.
As a result people continue to live with thyroid disease for years without getting proper treatment. What makes matters worse is the fact that since thyroid conditions are mistaken for other diseases they are often treated incorrectly. So the patient continues to suffer with thyroid problems with no relief.
If some of these symptoms sound familiar you may want to learn more about the functioning of this small but powerful gland.
Too Much or Not Enough
Too much – hyperthyroidism
The thyroid gland uses iodine and the amino acid tyrosine to make hormones that help to regulate your metabolism. When your thyroid becomes overexcited it produces too much of the hormone and kicks your metabolism into overdrive. This is called hyperthyroidism. When this happens you tend to lose weight, have trouble sleeping, and feel irritable. It might also affect your heart as well by producing a faster or irregular beat. You may even find your body temperature higher than normal.
The cause of hyperthyroidism may be a result of inflammation which resolves itself once the thyroid heals. Or some chronic diseases such as Graves’ may cause hyperthyroidism which can be treated with anti-thyroid drugs to bring thyroid hormones back into balance.
Not enough – hypothyroidism
When the thyroid becomes exhausted and doesn’t produce enough hormones to do the job your body slows down. This is called hypothyroidism. The result is weight gain, weakness, trouble with focusing and fatigue. The cause of hypothyroidism is considered to be due to an autoimmune disorder. It is unknown as to why the immune system goes astray but in this situation it attacks the thyroid gland and disrupts its function.
Unfortunately, there is no way to restore thyroid function once it is lost. But you can manage the disease by taking prescription medication or natural supplements. This process takes some trial and error to get you feeling back to normal. Too much hormone replacement can mimic hyperthyroidism. Too little won’t correct your symptoms.
There are both natural and synthetic versions of prescription thyroid hormones. Work with your doctor to find which medication works best for you.
Your Temperature Can Be A Clue to Thyroid Disease
If you suspect that you have thyroid disease your first step is to track your temperature. You can do this by keeping a thermometer by your bed. Place the thermometer bulb in your armpit as directed. (Make sure there is no clothing between your skin and the thermometer). Wait ten minutes if you are using a mercury thermometer. For a digital thermometer, wait until it beeps.
Record the temperature in a notebook. Do this every day for three weeks. After three weeks, calculate your average waking temperature. If your average waking temperature falls below the normal range of 97.8 to 98.2, tell your doctor. You could have a low thyroid or hypothyroidism. If it falls above, it could be a case of hyperthyroidism.
Determining your average daily temperature is only a clue to detecting thyroid disease. The next step is to consult a health care practitioner to check your TSH level and the amount of thyroid hormone in your blood. There are two basic blood tests that are usually given first. If your doctor suspects you have a thyroid condition more specialized testing may be needed.
Foods and Supplements Aid Thyroid Conditions
Once you have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, it is important to get the proper nutrition for your problem. For hyperthyroidism foods that depress thyroid activity are recommended. These include broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach, turnips, soy, beans, and mustard greens. The same foods should be avoided for hypothyroidism.
For both types of thyroid conditions keep the following in mind:
• Avoid refined foods, sugar, dairy products, wheat, caffeine, alcohol
• Add 1,000 – 1,500 mg of flaxseed oil (an essential fatty anti-inflammatory) three times per day
• Add calcium and magnesium to aid the metabolic process to function properly. Consult your doctor for the appropriate amount of each.
If you think you have a thyroid condition, see your doctor. Don’t be one of the many people who live with the “unsuspected illness.” With the right diagnosis and treatment you will be feeling better in no time.