Hypothyroidism: An Introduction
February 5, 2015 | Published by Adrenal Fatigue Team
What is Hypothyroidism?
Simply put, hypothyroidism means an underactive thyroid gland. Despite its small size, everything slows down when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormone to keep the body running properly. It is estimated that 4.6% of the US population aged 12 and above has some form of hypothyroidism. Those most affected are people aged 50 or older, particularly female.
Before we go further into hypothyroidism, let’s talk about the gland itself. The thyroid is an endocrine (hormone-secreting) gland located at the front of the neck, just above the sternum. Your thyroid has some big responsibilities. In addition to controlling metabolism (the rate at which cells perform functions essential to life), the thyroid also helps keep the body warm. These important tasks are performed by releasing T4 and T3, hormones produced by the thyroid gland.
What Does Hypothyroidism Feel Like?
The thyroid plays a big part in many functions of the body, so symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary from person to person. Symptoms tend to develop over time, and can increase in severity if left untreated. Here are some of the more common symptoms of low thyroid function:
- Weight gain not explained by diet or lifestyle
- Thin and brittle hair, skin and nails
- Decreased tolerance for cold weather
- Heavy and irregular menstrual periods
If left untreated, hypothyroidism can also lead to decreased sense of taste and smell, slow or slurred speech, mental health issues and infertility.
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
One of the leading causes of lowered thyroid production is autoimmune disease. These occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks a ‘good’ part of the body, like the thyroid gland. Autoimmune thyroiditis can begin suddenly, or develop over time. Hashimoto’s disease is a common example of hypothyroidism caused by autoimmune disease.
Hypothyroidism can also be caused by surgery and/or radiation on the thyroid gland. With surgery, part of all of the thyroid gland may need to be removed due to nodules, goiters, Grave’s disease, or even cancer. When part of the gland is removed, the remaining bit may be able to produce enough hormones to keep things relatively normal. If the whole gland is removed, hypothyroidism is certain.
Some other potential causes of lowered thyroid function are congenital hypothyroidism, thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland), certain medicines, damage to the pituitary glands (which gives the thyroid instructions to produce) and irregular levels of iodine.
The Thyroid-Adrenal Connection
About 80% of those suffering from adrenal fatigue also have a number of symptoms of low thyroid. Supporting the adrenal glands can also go a long way in supporting the thyroid gland. Underperforming adrenals can tax the thyroid, and vice versa.
Because thyroid controls metabolism and how efficiently the body uses energy, it affects every other system and organ in the body. The adrenal glands impact the thyroid too. Rising levels of cortisol (a stress hormone produced by the adrenals) can decrease the production of thyroid stimulating hormone, thus decreasing thyroid hormone production. High levels of cortisol can also cause thyroid hormone to be converted to a weaker form, creating low thyroid symptoms.
Because of their relationship, both low adrenal function and low thyroid function can create fatigue, sluggishness, lowered sex drive and depression.
How Do You Know if You Have Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism shares symptoms with other conditions and diseases, so a physical exam and testing are usually required to find out for sure if you have a thyroid problem. There are different tests available to measure the presence and levels of thyroid hormone in the body, and vary by need. For example, there are different tests to determine the presence of Hashimoto’s disease.
Some types of hypothyroidism, using Hashimoto’s again as an example, require lifelong treatment. This typically involves the daily use of synthetic thyroid hormone, like Synthroid. Dietary changes are also recommended, as there are foods that can help (and foods that can inhibit) thyroid function. There are also vitamins and herbs that can help support thyroid function, such as selenium, zinc, Omega-3 fats, antioxidant vitamins (like A, C and E) and B vitamins.
Image Credits: Flickr user Mercy Health
Categorised in: General Health