Doctors estimate that as many as 59 million Americans suffer from thyroid disease, a majority of whom don’t even know it and probably never will. Instead, they’ll spend a lifetime believing that fatigue, depression, mood disorders, sexual dysfunction, and obesity are just part of their “normal.” In reality, thyroid disease is a very real problem, and, left untreated, can adversely affect all areas of the body.
The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, produces two critical hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and tetraiodothyronine (T4), that regulate energy levels, heartbeat, body temperature, metabolic rate, and the growth and function of many systems in the body. The thyroid also regulates sex hormones and other hormones that trigger important bodily functions. Because the body has entrusted the thyroid with so many responsibilities, it is critical that it functions optimally. If it becomes sluggish or overactive, even by a small amount, serious health problems can develop.
Hypothyroidism (Slow) vs. Hyperthyroidism (Fast)
Hypothyroidism is the result of a “slow” or underactive thyroid that does not produce adequate amounts of thyroid hormone. A “fast” or overactive thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone, resulting in hyperthyroidism. Both conditions result in mild to severe symptoms throughout many systems of the body. Symptoms may include:
- Fatigue: Fatigue is the most common sign of thyroid disease. If you wake after 8-10 hours of sleep and still feel tired, or if you can’t get through the day without a nap, your thyroid may be underactive. If your exhaustion stems from an inability to fall asleep or frequent wakes in the night, your thyroid may be overactive.
- Muscle and joint pains, tendinitis: Many people with hypothyroidism suffer from chronic muscle and joint aches, carpal tunnel, tarsal tunnel and plantar fasciitis, all of which can be alleviated when proper thyroid function is restored.
- Weight loss or gain: Unexplained weight gain could be a sign of an underactive thyroid, while unexplained weight loss could point to an overactive thyroid.
- Hair loss and skin problems: Hair and skin are notoriously vulnerable to both overactive and underactive thyroids. With hyperthyroidism, skin can become very thin and fragile, and severe hair loss is common. With hypothyroidism, hair can become brittle and dry, while skin becomes thick, dry and scaly.
- Gastrointestinal issues: A slow thyroid often leads to severe or long-term constipation, while an overactive thyroid is associated with frequent diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Depression and anxiety: When mood disorders don’t respond to medication, it may be an indication of thyroid disease. Depression is most commonly associated with hypothyroidism, as low amounts of thyroid hormones can impact serotonin levels in the brain. Anxiety is frequently associated with hyperthyroidism, as the increased hormone production keeps the body’s systems in overdrive.
- Changes in body temperature: Because the thyroid regulates body temperature, an underactive thyroid may lead to feeling cold or having “the chills,” while an overactive thyroid may lead to feeling overly warm or extreme sweating.
- Cognitive Dysfunction: An overactive thyroid keeps you constantly wired, leading to difficulty concentrating, while a sluggish thyroid can cause brain fog and forgetfulness.
- Sexual dysfunction and infertility: Because the thyroid regulates sex hormones, hypothyroidism can lead to a low libido, and both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can lead to changes in periods, pregnancy complications and infertility.
Problems With Traditional Testing & Treatment
Many doctors choose to not treat subclinical thyroid disease, and those who do usually use means that are highly ineffective and often overlook other serious issues.
In most cases, instead of measuring T4 and T3 levels, doctors will instead only measure thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is a chemical produced by the pituitary gland. Unfortunately, this test is unreliable and can miss many cases of both overactive and underactive thyroid disease. Many doctors are also notorious for using TSH to monitor the effectiveness of a treatment instead of going to the source and directly measuring T3 and T4.
As far as treatments go, instead of prescribing the specific hormone needed, many doctors give only medications that contain T4 (the nonactive pro-hormone needed to make the active hormone T3). The hope is that the patient will convert the T4 to T3 naturally, but most people lack this ability, making the treatment useless.
To top it off, even doctors who order the correct tests and give the correct medications still overlook the chance of autoimmune thyroid disease, which is rampant, and requires special antibody testing.
Restoring Optimal Thyroid Function
We have treated many patients with thyroid disease and have seen amazing, life-changing results. We start with a comprehensive assessment of the patient’s symptoms, then order tests to determine exact levels for each thyroid hormone. From there we can accurately adjust the levels accordingly with safe, bioidentical hormones and natural therapies to get the thyroid functioning optimally once again. More information on natural bioidentical hormone therapy