What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce or release enough hormone. Because of this lack of hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), the entire body will experience noticeable, often uncomfortable symptoms that can be extremely frustrating to live with.
I’d like to share my story with you.
During my senior year of high school (clear back in 2006), I was injured while playing in a basketball tournament and was sent to the Emergency Room via ambulance. Completely by chance, it was discovered at the very bottom of my neck and head X-ray that I had a small mass attached to one side of my thyroid gland. In the months after my Emergency Room visit, it was decided that I would undergo a thyroid lobectomy to have the affected side of my thyroid removed (1) along with the mass that, fortunately, was biopsied and determined to be non cancerous. Looking back on my junior high and high school years, I can now say with certainty that many of the strange symptoms I lived with (sweating profusely, difficulty falling asleep, etc.) was actually Hyperthyroidism. However, in the years following my surgery my body switched from having Hyperthyroidism (too much hormone) to Hypothyroidism (not enough hormone).
While Hypothyroidism is only fairly common (affecting roughly 5% of our population), it is always important to seek proper treatment. When hypothyroidism isn’t treated properly (or at all) the symptoms can become more severe and could even lead to what is called Myxedema Coma. This extreme manifestation of severe hypothyroidism causes decreased mental status, hypothermia, and other symptoms related to the slowing of function in multiple organs. (2) (3) For the point of this post, however, I’ll be mainly sticking to information concerning hypothyroidism before it reaches this point.
According to the American Thyroid Association, as much as 12% of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. Because twelve percent may not sound like an astounding statistic to you, let me put it in other terms. It is actually estimated that 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, with women being 5 to 8 times more likely to have thyroid disease over men. (4) Wow! These are some crazy statistics and ones that hit home for me. Obviously, our nation struggles with this issue so what could be causing it?
6 Causes of Hypothyroidism
#1 Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. This disease, also known as chronic autoimmune thyroiditis or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, is where the body’s immune system begins to attack the thyroid gland. This happens because the immune system does not think the cells of the thyroid are a part of the body so it therefore tries to remove them. This autoimmune process causes inflammation in the thyroid, which hinders it from being able to produce hormones – and this is what leads to hypothyroidism! (5) In response, the pituitary gland sends out more TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) in an attempt to get the thyroid up and running again. This cycle is what causes the gland to grow and eventually goiter. While this is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, it’s certainly not the only one.
#2 Pituitary Gland Disfunction
As mentioned above, the pituitary gland plays a big role in the rhythm of thyroid health. If for some reason there is some sort of dysfunction with the pituitary gland itself, whether congenital or acquired, it may cause hypothyroidism. (6)
#3 Neglected (Bad) Diet
Iodine and selenium are crucial minerals for proper thyroid function so when a diet is low in nutrition the risk of thyroid disorders is much higher. It is essential to routinely consume nutrient-dense foods for an endless variety of reasons but particularly for those seeking optimal thyroid health. You don’t even need to purchase hard to find foods to achieve this! Simple foods such as Brazil nuts, spinach and eggs can provide selenium and foods such as seaweed and cod are high in iodine. While diet alone cannot cure a diagnosed case of hypothyroidism, it certainly plays a major role in managing undesired symptoms as well as setting your body up for success. If you’re already prone to autoimmune issues, having a poor diet can be a trigger for thyroid disorders.
#4 Inactivity (Lack of Exercise)
I’m sure you’ve already heard that being active is important when it comes to maintaining your health but how can lack of exercise have an impact on a thyroid? It’s not so much how it directly impacts it as to how exercising improves your over all health. When a fitness regime is in place, sleep will be deeper, stress becomes easier to manage and your body will naturally be able to maintain a better weight. All of these combined drastically reduce the risk of developing hypothyroidism and can even help manage an existing condition. I’ve listed inactivity as a possible cause for hypothyroidism because it’s so much easier for disease to set in when you’re not properly caring for your body.
#5 Gut Inflammation
I’m sure this is something you’ve at least heard of before. It’s popularly termed Leaky Gut. What a name, right? Leaky Gut is caused by poor diet choices, chronic stress, toxic overload and bacterial imbalance. (7) But how does all of that affect the thyroid? Essentially, the tiny openings (Tight Junctions) in the lining of your intestines will leak toxins (xenobiotics) into the body and wreak autoimmune havoc instead of only allowing vital nutrients into the bloodstream. This is why it’s very important to pay attention to your specific food sensitivities and allergies. Consuming foods that your body doesn’t tolerate will inflame the gut and eventually interfere with proper hormone production as well as cause many other negative autoimmune responses. It all comes down to taking care of your health through proper food and exercise! Paleo is a fantastic way of eating to support optimal thyroid health as well as the Auto Immune Protocol (AIP) diet, however that one is considerably more strict (although it is very beneficial to discovering specific trigger foods).
Prolonged adrenal stress raises cortisol and adrenaline levels which has a profound affect on thyroid health, due to worsening inflammation in the body, as well as the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal). (8) While I won’t go into great detail about this axis right now, essentially, stress not only affects your thyroid but also your entire hypothalmic, adrenal and pituitary function. Having all of those in sync is key to maintaining balanced thyroid function.
There are a small handful of other causes such as genetics, pregnancy and medication but I’ll touch on those in a future post. Right now I’d like to move into the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Note that there is a wide range of symptoms that may not even be on this list! However, this is a good place to start. To officially determine if you have hyperthyroidism or even hypothyroidism, simply have your physician do a blood draw to determine your triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4) and TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) levels. This is an easy blood draw to get done and you do not need to see an endocrinologist for it. However, depending you the results, your doctor may refer you to one if needed.
20 Signs of an Underactive Thyroid
(Syptoms of Hypothyroidism)
- Goiter Growth
- Sensitivity to Cold
- Muscle Aches
- Stiff Joints
- Hair Loss
- Rough, Dry Skin
- Irregular Menstrual Cycles
- Difficulty Breathing
- Brittle Nails
- Weight Gain
- Low Labido
- Slow Heart Rate
- Brain Fog
If you’re experiencing quite a few of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away to discuss the possibility of have a Hypothyroidism diagnosis. Already been diagnosed? Let me know if you’ve experienced other symptoms that are not on the list by commenting below! ♥
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