Hypothyroidism is More Common Than You Think
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck. It is responsible for producing thyroid hormones, which play a vital role in regulating metabolism and heart rate. A healthy thyroid gland is necessary for normal functioning of the body. The thyroid also helps control other important processes, including heart rate, muscle strength and brain function. A malfunctioning thyroid can affect many different aspects of health.
Thyroid problems are particularly common in women. Up to 10% of women will develop a problem with their thyroid at some point in their lives. Some symptoms of a dysfunctional thyroid are the same in men and women, such as feeling cold, fatigue, weight gain, muscle aches and weakness, dry skin, hair loss and constipation. Other issues are specific to women, for example, problems with ovulation or infertility can be caused by an overactive or underactive thyroid. Pregnant women who have a problem with their thyroid are at risk for miscarriage or premature birth.
What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive and does not produce enough thyroid hormones, resulting in a slowdown of many bodily functions. Left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to heart disease, obesity, infertility and miscarriages. Conventional treatment usually involves taking synthetic or naturally-derived thyroid hormone medication to restore normal levels of thyroid hormone.
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
One common type of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the thyroid gland. However, hypothyroidism can also be caused by a number of factors, such as lifestyle or nutrient deficiencies, medical interventions that include radiation therapy to the head or neck, surgical removal of the thyroid gland, and genetic disorders such as Down syndrome.
How is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?
Hypothryoid is often diagnosed by testing TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone, or thyrotropin), a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that stimulates the production of thyroid hormone. If levels are high, this indicates that the thyroid gland is not producing enough hormone.
However, more thorough blood testing can provide greater insight into how the thyroid is functioning. This includes checking levels of TSH, as well as free T4 (active thyroxine), free T3, (active triiodothyronine), reverse T3, TPO (thyroid peroxidase antibody), and TgAb (thyroglobulin antibody). These biomarkers are helpful in identifying subclinical, overt hypothyroidism, as well as if there is an autoimmune component. This information can help create a plan to best address and balance thyroid health.
How is Hypothyroidism Treated?
There are a variety of different supplements and medications that can help to improve thyroid function. Some people may need to take medication to replace the hormones that their thyroid is not producing properly. Others may benefit from taking supplements that contain nutrients such as iodine, zinc or selenium, which are essential for proper thyroid function. Taking a comprehensive supplement formula can be helpful.
Conventional treatment for hypothyroidism typically involves taking synthetic thyroid hormones such as levothyroxine to replace the missing hormones. Treatment for Hashimoto's disease may also include medications to suppress the immune system or surgery to remove the thyroid gland. With treatment, most people with hypothyroidism can live healthy lives with few limitations.
Addressing other aspects of one’s health, including GI health, dietary and lifestyle habits, stress levels, toxin load, and more, can be very beneficial to supporting thyroid health too. Working with a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner can be very helpful in creating a personalized plan.
It is important to speak with a doctor before starting any new supplements or medications. This is especially true if you are taking other medications or have any health conditions.
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