According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 4.6% of the population, or 5 out of 100 individuals, is affected by hypothyroidism, or a low-functioning thyroid gland. More common in women than men, the disease can cause a wide range of ailments and symptoms, many of which can be subtle and cause the disease to go unnoticed for years. Understanding how the thyroid affects the body and the tell-tale symptoms of malfunction can help you and your physician determine a proper course of treatment.
What does the thyroid gland do?
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland which is located in the lower front of the neck. This gland creates hormones T4 and T3, which is carried by the blood to every tissue in the body. This thyroid hormone helps control metabolism, regulate body temperature and keep organs like the brain, heart, muscles, and digestive system functioning properly. To see how what body systems the Thyroid Gland affects, read this page here.
The thyroid affects virtually every organ in your body and can be linked to changes in weight, energy levels, temperature sensation, and even mental health.
So, what is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is diagnosed when the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone. There are several factors which can cause hypothyroidism.
· Auto-Immune Disorders – when the body’s immune system attacks its own organs. Hashimoto’s Disease, for example, causes the immune system to directly attack the thyroid gland causing inflammation and malfunction and may eventually cause the organ to stop working entirely.
· Nutrient Deficiencies – poor iodine intake can directly affect the gland, while other nutrient deficiencies or dietary issues may be affecting the immune system and causing unnecessary inflammation.
· Pharmaceuticals – certain medications can prevent the gland from producing the hormone naturally and may even trigger the disease in those with a genetic predisposition.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Now that we know what the thyroid gland does and what hypothyroidism is, how do we know how it is affecting us? Hypothyroidism in adults results in a decreased metabolic rate which can result in a whole host of symptoms.
Metabolic Symptoms – fatigue, weight gain, slowed heart rate, an increased sensitivity to cold, heavy or irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, and even elevated cholesterol can point to hypothyroidism.
Physical Symptoms – hoarseness (from an inflamed thyroid), dry skin, puffy face, and or thinning hair may also be signs of hypothyroidism.
Mental Symptoms – untreated hypothyroidism can even have an effect on a patient’s mental health and may lead to depression and memory impairment, as well.
Other medical conditions – often, hypothyroidism can go undetected as the symptoms can resemble those of other medical conditions like constipation and digestive issues, muscle weakness, aches, tenderness and stiffness, as well as, pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints.
If you feel you may have an underactive thyroid gland, talk with your functional medicine practitioner about performing necessary lab tests to determine the actual hormone levels in your body and determining what may be causing the disease. Then, together with your functional medicine practitioner, you can come up with a plan of action to get your thyroid operating at peak performance!