Thyroid dysfunctions

Thyroid problems, especially hypothyroidism, are common problems worldwide. Many people are undiagnosed or are not receiving the right medical treatment. However, with the right knowledge and understanding, thyroid issues can both be prevented and treated effectively.

When the thyroid gland fails, it either becomes overactive leading to hyperthyroidism or underactive leading to hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is the most common adverse effect and can occur at any age. It can be congenital, and there although it is observed in both genders, it is more common in women in their 40s and during or after menopause.

What is the thyroid and what does it do?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck, just below the larynx. It is responsible for the production of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which regulate how the body extracts energy from food.

Thyroid hormone production is overseen by the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that also controls blood pressure, body temperature, metabolism, and sleep. The hypothalamus is constantly receiving information about the levels of thyroid hormones in the blood and depending on that information it regulates the production of T3 and T4 by a hormone called thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland produces in turn, a hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which triggers the thyroid to increase or decrease production of T4. T4 is a pre-hormone that is converted to T3 in the liver. The thyroid also produces a small amount of T3 for itself.

Signs of Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)

  • Tired, but difficulties to unwind
  • Restlessness and nervousness
  • Sweating, even in cold temperatures
  • Palpitation
  • Tremors
  • Underweight
  • Hypertension
  • Eye sensitivity to light and wind

Signs of Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling cold
  • Memory problems
  • Constipation
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Reduced metabolism
  • Hair loss
  • Dry hair and brittle nails
  • Muscle cramps
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Overweight
  • Depression and sucisidal thoughts

Risk factors

There are various reasons why the thyroid gland fails, including genetic, dietary, lifestyle, and environmental risk factors.

  • Women have 6-8 times higher risk than men
  • Being 50 years old or more increases risk in both genders
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Having a family member diagnosed with thyroid disease or other autoimmune disease
  • Pregnancy increases slightly the risk
  • Too much or too little iodine intake increases risk of hyper- or hypo-thyroidism respectively
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Stress
  • Lack of essential minerals such as selenium and zinc
  • Exposure to chemical toxins such as polybroninated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and bisphenol A (BPA)

Support your thyroid

To avoid or reduce thyroid problems, you can support your body in many ways. Proper diet, minerals, vitamins, and exercise are very important to help your body create favourable conditions to support the thyroid. Selenium, zinc, and copper are essential minerals for the conversion of pre-hormone T4 into the active hormone T3 in the liver. Many of these minerals can be found in a variety of foods, therefore, only take supplements if you have a confirmed iodine deficiency.

In addition, the B vitamins complex can enhance the cellular response to T3 in the liver. It is therefore very important to keep your liver as healthy as possible to facilitate the conversion of the T-hormone.

Another important factor is stress. The enzymes required for enabling T4 to be converted to T3 are inhibited by high amounts of cortisol (the stress hormone), which is secreted from the adrenal glands for a longer period. Medication of the thyroid gland may help, but often can be ineffective. Try to reduce negative stress on daily basis by physical exercise, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, socializing, sleep, and many more ways in order to maintain a healthy stress balance.
Toxins represent another considerable risk factor for thyroid dysfunction.  Reduce your exposure to toxins by reducing the use of personal care products that contain these toxins like shower cream, shampoo, body lotion and make up. Choose pure, organic foods and cut back on fast food. Many people with thyroid problems are feeling much better when cutting gluten, sugar and milk proteins from their diet. These are inflammation-inducing and exacerbating the condition in autoimmune diseases.

In case you experience any of these symptoms, please consult with your primary doctor as soon as possible. It is also very helpful to keep a notebook of all your observations and how your body reacts to any changes or medications on a daily basis. This will help you and your doctor decide on which medication is best.

Credit: Pia Andrea is a freelance journalist who has moved from Sweden to beautiful Cyprus. Pia’s passion lies in how we can live our best life ever and she writes about physical and mental health and personal development. In addition to being a journalist, Pia worked for Sweden’s biggest wholesaler where her mission was to promote consumption of organic and fair trade foods.

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