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Think it's Your Thyroid?











It makes sense that the first month of the year is Thyroid Awareness Month.  January is the time of year when post-holiday weight loss is at the top of everyone's New Year's Resolutions list...and thyroid disorders are a major reason why weight loss efforts fail.

The thyroid gland is an extremely important endocrine gland, and thyroid hormones control hundreds of critical functions in the body. Without optimal levels of thyroid hormones, cells cannot perform their functions, and other hormones cannot work properly. The result? Widespread metabolic chaos which will negatively affect literally everything.​

Thyroid disorders are very common. According to the American Thyroid Association, approximately 20 million Americans have thyroid disease, and…

...nearly 60% of people don't know they have a thyroid problem.

Women are especially at risk for developing thyroid disorders. This is partly due to the complicated interactions between estrogen, progesterone, thyroid hormones, and immune system function.

Did you know…​

  1. Women are nearly eight times more likely to have thyroid disease than men.

  2. One in every eight women will develop thyroid disease during her lifetime.

  3. Thyroid disorders are more common in menopausal women and can increase the risk of menopause related health problems (like osteoporosis and heart disease).


What causes thyroid problems?

Autoimmune disease tops the list as a cause of both hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) and hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland). Hashimoto’s disease and Grave’s disease are examples. Risk factors for developing autoimmune thyroid disease include:

  • Being postpartum

  • Viral infections

  • Genetic factors (less than 5%)

  • Unhealthy gut

  • Chronic stress

Other causes include unhealthy lifestyle (smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, drug use), prescription medications, physical trauma, neck surgery, malnutrition, nutritional deficiencies, imbalances in other hormones (especially estrogen and progesterone), heavy metal toxicity, exposure to environmental toxins, and chronic infections (such as Lyme’s Disease).

What are common symptoms of thyroid disease?

Early symptoms of thyroid disorders can be very mild and can be easily overlooked or mistaken for depression or 'stress'. Laboratory values can be ‘in the normal range’. In fact, it may take several years before the lab results become abnormal. Another major challenge is that patients with classic signs and symptoms of thyroid disease often have one or more other problems which are preventing thyroid hormones from working properly (see examples in the previous section).

There is also a significant overlap between the symptoms of hyperthyroid and hypothyroid. For example, many people assume fatigue is a symptom of hypothyroidism when, in fact, it can also be a symptom of  hyperthyroidism.

Here are some common symptoms of thyroid disorders:

  • Fatigue

  • Unexplained/unintentional weight gain

  • Difficulty losing weight

  • Hair loss

  • Mood changes (depression and anxiety)

  • Memory loss, brain fog, inability to concentrate

  • GI problems, including constipation and/or diarrhea

  • Skin changes, including dry, coarse skin and skin rashes

  • Irregular periods

  • Muscle and joint aches, pains, stiffness, and swelling

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Intolerance to heat and/or cold temperatures

One important thing to keep in mind is that many of the symptoms of thyroid disease mimick those of perimenopause and menopause, so it's important for your healthcare provider to ask the right quesionts and correctly test all hormone levels.


What tests accurately check for thyroid diseases?

Conventionally trained healthcare providers are taught to check only a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level. TSH is an indirect measurement of how thyroid hormones are affecting tissues. If thyroid hormone levels are low, TSH levels will go up (hypothyroidism). Conversely, if thyroid hormone levels are high, the TSH will go down. However, simply checking a TSH level will not provide answers to if and where a problem exists.

Other labs that should be included as part of a complete thyroid hormone panel are (1) Free T4; (2) Free T3; (3) Reverse T3; (4) Thyroid peroxidase antibodies; and (5) Anti-thyroglobulin antibodies. If Grave’s disease is suspected, thyroid stimulating antibodies should also be checked. If the levels of these labs are in the optimal range and symptoms exist, testing for secondary causes should be done (i.e. testing for heavy metals, vitamin and mineral levels, underlying infections, other hormone imbalances, etc.)

What’s the best way to treat a thyroid disorder?

It’s never enough for a healthcare provider to say, “your TSH is normal so your fine” OR “your TSH is low so let’s start you on thyroid medication”. Your symptoms will never get better that way. The key to restoring thyroid hormone balance and overall health is to look for and treat any underlying contributing factors.

For example, thyroid medications will not work properly if they are taken in the presence of other hormone imbalances (as is the case in perimenopausal and menopausal women). Also, it’s inappropriate to give a patient thyroid medication if their low thyroid symptoms are coming from a secondary problem completely unrelated to the thyroid. All that will do is temporarily ‘band-aid’ the symptoms and tell the thyroid gland to quit making thyroid hormones altogether. This is one of the reasons why some patients end up on thyroid medication forever even if they never needed it in the first place.

Since many causes of thyroid disorders are related to lifestyle and environmental causes, it makes sense to begin there.


  • Stop smoking

  • Drink alcohol in moderation

  • Maintain a healthy body weight

  • Get regular exercise

  • Eat a healthy diet and take a pharmaceutical grade multivitamin to make sure you have adequate amounts of the vitamins and minerals required for normal thyroid function.

  • Get adequate sleep

  • Reduce stress as much as possible and employ stress reduction techniques

If your symptoms persist despite your efforts, look for a knowledgeable, experienced healthcare provider who knows about all hormones and hormone imbalances. They should understand not only the complex relationships between thyroid hormones and other hormones but also how other problems unrelated to the thyroid gland can contribute to thyroid disease. Thorough testing of all secondary causes should be conducted. A multi-dimensional approach addressing all aspects of your health and body is the only way to properly treat thyroid disease and other causes of abnormal thyroid hormone function.

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