Almost twenty years ago, the American College of Physicians, a pretty conservative organization, stunned the medical community by issuing a guideline that women over 50 should have their thyroid tested at least once every five years. At that time, most physicians thought that they could diagnose thyroid problems themselves and that testing guidelines were unnecessary.
At our clinic, however, we weren’t stunned: we were excited! We knew first-hand how challenging it can be to identify and treat thyroid concerns without testing. It felt like the beginning of a new understanding among conventional medical practitioners. But the reality is that even all these years later, and with testing guidelines in place, many practitioners still fail to diagnose thyroid concerns. That’s because over or under active thyroid problems can be hard to pin down; the symptoms may also resemble those of many other conditions, including aging.
In fact, a couple of years ago, Time Magazine reported that hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, is one of the top 15 leading conditions doctors most often get wrong.
At our clinic, we have helped thousands of women to restore healthy thyroid function and we know how an under or overactive thyroid can wreak havoc on your life, your weight, your health, and your mood. It’s not just a part of getting older and you don’t have to live with it!
For the longest time, no one seemed to pay the thyroid much attention. Some of my patients would come to the clinic thinking that their symptoms were menopausal, some felt it was just a part of getting older, and others simply blamed they way they were feeling on stress. But now, with all the media exposure, more and more women come to see me wondering if they should have their thyroid checked. Let’s talk what you should watch for if you are wondering about your thyroid health.
What Is Your Thyroid?
Your thyroid looks like a mini bow tie and it wraps around your windpipe at the base of your throat. Its primary function is to regulate your body temperature: it’s your own internal thermostat. The thyroid takes orders primarily from the pituitary gland (via the hormone TSH) to produce thyroid hormones T3 (triiodthyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). These thyroid hormones also regulate our metabolism, impact our bowel function and affect our energy levels and mood.
The most common thyroid concern is hypothyroidism, which occurs when you fail to produce enough thyroid hormones. This will make your metabolism slow down and leave you feeling sluggish and lacking energy.
The opposite concern can occur when the thyroid works too hard, resulting in hyperthyroidism. In this case you will feel like you’re all revved up: your hands may tremble, your heart race, and you cannot fall asleep.
If either of those sounds like you, you should definitely consult with your practitioner about getting your thyroid tested. However, symptoms of thyroid dysfunction are easy to miss; it is estimated that as many as 1 in 5 people may have sub-optimal thyroid function and do not even know it. So what should you look for? Here are some of the common thyroid symptoms I see in my patients.
Common Thyroid Symptoms
Feeling Tired, Sluggish or Low Energy
We all go through times of stress or busy periods that can disrupt our sleep or leave us feeling burned out, but if you find yourself hooked on caffeine to get through the day, constantly dragging, or in need of a lot of sleep (more than 9 hours on a daily basis), you may have an underactive thyroid.
You might be wondering what your thyroid has to do with your stomach, but your thyroid actually plays a role in healthy bowel function. If you feel bloated, constipated or have that heavy feeling in your stomach, your thyroid may not be functioning optimally and hypothyroidism should be ruled out. Conversely, if you experience excessive diarrhea, your thyroid may be overactive and hyperthyroidism should be considered.
Hair and Skin Changes
While we all lose hair on a daily basis, if your hair loss becomes more frequent or heavy, or if hair becomes dry or brittle and breaks off easily, your thyroid may be impaired. In addition, hypothyroidism can make your skin become dry and scaly. Often there is also an unusual loss of hair in the outer edge of the eyebrow that can occur when your thyroid is underperforming. When your thyroid is overactive, your skin may become thin and very fragile and your hair loss even more severe.
Because the thyroid also regulates your mood, mood changes – especially if they come on suddenly or severely – may be a sign of thyroid dysfunction. Depression, anxiety, and even sudden panic attacks, especially if they do not respond to traditional pharmaceutical or natural antidepressant treatments, are common symptoms of thyroid impairment. Generally, depression is associated with hypothyroidism while panic attacks may be a sign of hyperthyroidism.
Fertility issues, Miscarriages and Menstrual Cycle Changes
Whenever one hormone is disrupted, there is often a disruption to other hormones up or down stream. If you are still menstruating, heavy, more frequent, or more painful periods can be a sign of hypothyroidism. Shorter, lighter or more infrequent menstruation may accompany hyperthyroidism.
Because of menstrual cycle disruptions, infertility may also be a concern. If you are trying to conceive, thyroid testing may be helpful, especially if you do not have consistent menstrual cycles. In fact, some infertility specialists recommend thyroid testing to all patients. In addition, impaired thyroid function can lead to miscarriages, so if you are experiencing difficulty carrying to term, thyroid testing is suggested.
Memory and concentration can be impacted by either overactive or underactive thyroid function. In particular, hypothyroidism is commonly known to impair memory. While it may start out small in the early stages, like simply misplacing your car keys, over time memory loss, fuzzy thinking, or trouble concentrating can become more disruptive.
These are just a few of the more common symptoms; there are many more listed on our website. You’ll notice that these common thyroid symptoms also are common menopausal complaints and general aging concerns as well, which is why it can be hard to determine whether your symptoms are a result of hormonal imbalance, thyroid or adrenal concerns, or a combination without testing.
Now that you know some symptoms to watch out for, let’s look at a few other areas of concern, and what you can do to address them.
Fluoridated Water and Thyroid
If you drink a lot of water, you’ll want to know that a British study made headlines in 2015 when it reported results that hypothyroidism rates were higher in areas with higher fluoride concentrations. When the parts per million of fluoride concentration was above 0.3, hypothyroidism rates were much as 30% higher. In addition, when comparing one area of England that fluoridates to another that does not, scientists found that hypothyroidism rates were double in the fluoridated areas as compared to the non-fluoridated region.
In a healthy 154-pound adult, 3.5 mg of fluoride was found to disrupt thyroid function. If you are already iodine deficient, even small amounts of fluoride can wreak havoc: as little as 0.7 mg a day could lead to thyroid dysfunction. According to the EPA, the average American ingests 3 mg a day, but many of us consume as much as 6 mg a day or more.
If you consume a lot of fluoridated water and/or do not consume iodine-rich foods such as sea vegetables, saltwater fish and other seafood, or iodized sea salt, you should definitely think about a thyroid test. A study almost twenty years ago estimated that one in seven women is iodine deficient, though I think that number may well be much higher now given our diets today.
Thyroid cancer has doubled in incidence since the 1970’s and it is now the fastest-growing cancer among women. That said, to keep it in perspective, the incidence rates of thyroid cancer overall are still relatively small compared to many other cancers, such as breast cancer. Some scientists even question how much of the incidence rate increase is simply due to better diagnostics enabling more cancers to be detected.
Nevertheless, there does appear to be an increase in thyroid cancer rates that concerns researchers. They attribute the increase to changes in our diets, increasing exposure to chemicals such as fluoride, chloride and bromide, and higher exposure to environmental and medical radiation.
Because so many of the symptoms of an impaired thyroid can also be attributed to menopause or simply getting older and since not everyone experiences symptoms at all, testing is really the best way to know if your thyroid is functioning properly.
Many practitioners will suggest a TSH test and a T3 and T4 level test but there are several more tests that can be helpful in getting the true picture of your thyroid health. Speak with your practitioner about a full thyroid workup including all of the following tests:
- Free T3 and Free T4
- Reverse T3
- Total T3
- Micronutrient analysis (intracellular)
- Basal Body Temperature
Restoring Thyroid Health
If your thyroid is not functioning properly, it is important to provide it the nutrition and lifestyle support it requires for optimal function. A stressed, overworked, or sluggish thyroid will require additional nutritional support to repair and rebalance beyond what can typically be found in today’s food supply.
We have had great success helping to restore optimal thyroid health in our patients with our Thyroid Program. Thousands of women have experienced symptom relief and renewed thyroid health with our products and support. We can help you too.