If you were recently diagnosed with any form of thyroid disease, it is likely that you’re aware of the thyroid gland in your body. In this article, we will discuss in detail about the thyroid gland, thyroid hormones and how it affects your metabolism.
What are thyroid hormones and why is it important to monitor their levels?
Thyroid hormones are produced by the thyroid gland and they are mainly responsible for regulating your metabolic rate.
The two main thyroid hormones in your body are: Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4).
It is very important to monitor the levels of thyroid hormones because abnormal levels of these hormones will lead to one of two common medical conditions: either hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid and low levels of thyroid hormones, leading to low metabolic rate) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid and high levels of thyroid hormones, leading to high metabolic rate).
How do you test for thyroid hormone levels?
A thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test is performed to see if you are likely to be suffering from hyper- or hypothyroidism. It is often the first line of screening, as it is fast and relatively low cost to measure and highly sensitive (even before the onset of symptoms, any minor changes in hormonal imbalance the TSH will be affected). If the result is borderline, abnormal, or deviated from your usual readings, then T4 and T3 can be measured.
There are more specific tests to know if you have hypo- or hyperthyroidism called free T4 and free T3. These are unbound and active forms of the T4 and T3 respectively. When you are already under treatment for known hyper- or hypothyroidism, these tests are also necessary on a regular basis (depending on your symptoms) to help monitor and adjust if necessary the dosage of medication.
Once it is shown that your thyroid hormone levels are abnormal, you need to see your doctor and have a comprehensive thyroid function workup performed. This includes confirming any signs of the disease or the underlying condition causing this disease, and performing tests to seek out what is causing your abnormal thyroid hormone levels, and any health consequences as a result of the abnormal thyroid hormone
What is the thyroid gland what are the most common diseases affecting our thyroid glands?
The thyroid, or the thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located at the front of your neck, just below the Adam’s apple.
The most common conditions that result from abnormal thyroid gland function are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Diseases that affect the thyroid gland are commonly Hashimoto’s disease, Grave’s disease, Goiter, Thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid gland cannot make enough thyroid hormone.
An autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s disease is mainly responsible for hypothyroidism. It is a condition where the immune system produces antibodies that kill thyroid cells and prevent them from manufacturing the thyroid hormone.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid gland becomes overactive and produces too much thyroid hormone. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is the autoimmune disease known as Graves’ disease.
Signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism
Symptoms of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) may include:
- Anxiety, nervousness and irritability
- Mood swings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Muscle weakness
- Sensitivity to heat
- Frequent urination
- Persistent thirst
- Loss of interest in sex
These symptoms may be followed by physical signs such as:
- An enlarged thyroid gland causing neck swelling
- Fast heart beat
- Warm skin
- Loose nails
- Red palms
- Patchy hair
- Weight loss
Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism
The symptoms of hypothyroidism may vary, depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency.
Symptoms may include:
- Feeling tired all the time
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle stiffness, aches and tenderness
- Joints are painful, stiff and swelled
- Irregular or heavier than normal menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
- Puffy face
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- High levels of cholesterol
When to see your doctor?
You should see your doctor if you have any of the above-mentioned symptoms and signs persist. In particular watch for:
- Memory problems, difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue, weakness
- Unable to tolerate cold
- Dry skin, yellow skin, brittle nails
- Irregular menstruation
Treatments available for hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
Radioactive iodine. Taken orally, your thyroid gland absorbs the radioactive iodine. It causes the gland to shrink and symptoms to go away, usually within 3 to 6 months.
Anti-thyroid medications. These medications slowly decrease symptoms of hyperthyroidism by stopping your thyroid gland from making too much hormones. These include propylthiouracil and methimazole (Tapazole).
Beta blockers. These high blood pressure drugs won’t reduce your thyroid levels, but they can lower a rapid heart rate and help stop palpitations.
Surgery (thyroidectomy). You may choose this option if you’re pregnant or cannot tolerate anti-thyroid drugs.
Treatment through diet
A good strategy is to eat a low-fat diet with a good balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, lean protein (fish, poultry, and lean meat).
Avoid these foods:
Iodine, Fiber, Soy, Cruciferous vegetables, gluten, alcohol, Iron and Calcium.
Standard treatment for hypothyroidism involves taking synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine (Levothroid, Synthroid, others) daily. This medicine is taken through mouth, and it restores proper hormone levels, reversing the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Your doctor will also address the underlying disorder so that once alleviated your thyroid gland returns to normal function and you do not need to resort to daily tablets.
Treatment through diet
Diet for treating hypothyroidism include:
- Coconut oil
- Wild-caught fish (Atlantic Mackerel, Pacific sardines, Alaskan Salmon)
- Seaweed (Kombu, wakame, nori, kelp)
- Probiotic-Rich Foods (Kefir organic goat’s milk yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, natto, sauerkraut and other fermented veggies.
- High-fiber foods
- Bone broth
- Sprouted seeds (Chia, Flex seeds, hemp)
- Lots of fruits and vegetables
Other natural remedies
- Ashwagandha (500 milligrams daily)
- Selenium (200 micrograms daily)
- L-tyrosine (500 milligrams twice daily)
- Vitamin B-Complex (one B-complex capsule daily)
- Fish oil (1,000 milligrams daily)
- Probiotic Supplement (50 billion CFU per serving)
If you’re interested in learning more about thyroid hormones and how they affect your body, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!
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