You’ve likely heard of the thyroid, but do you know what it is, what it does, or how it might be impacting your health? In fact, if you’re a woman you’ll want to pay careful attention to this.
It’s estimated that as many as 10% of women suffer from some sort of thyroid disorder over the course of their lives—and that could be the reason why you’re seemingly unexplainably feeling “off.”
Women are as much as 10 times more likely to have a thyroid disorder than their male counterparts, while it’s estimated that 15 million cases go undiagnosed. And if a thyroid condition is left untreated, it can cause some big problems for your overall health, because the thyroid has some major responsibilities.
The thyroid produces a hormone aptly called “thyroid hormone,” which plays a major role in regulating your body’s temperature, metabolism, and heartbeat. When too much or too little of this thyroid hormone is being produced—even marginal increases or drops—noticeable problems occur. Your muscles can shut down, you can become dizzy, and your metabolism can slow and make you more susceptible to weight gain and fatigue.
At the end of the day, when thyroid levels are out of whack due to hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid producing too much thyroid hormone) or hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid producing too little thyroid hormone), your health is in danger.
What Causes These Conditions
Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can be caused by a number of things, though some of the main culprits are genetics, autoimmune attacks, stress levels, nutritional deficiencies, and even toxins in the environment. Because the symptoms are often attributable to other conditions, it’s very difficult for people with thyroid problems to really identify that there is something wrong.
For example, it’s very easy to blame a lack of energy on not enough sleep or stress, forgetfulness on being busy, sadness or depression on a lack of sleep or too much stress; or weight gain on a poor diet or lack of exercise. No one ever really says, “Hey, I think I have a thyroid problem!”
Do You Have a Thyroid Problem?
Having a thyroid problem can be tricky to figure out, but there are a few symptoms that might indicate it’s something worth looking into. Here are some or the most common symptoms of a thyroid disorder:
1. You’re Really Tired
When you’re feeling excessively fatigued and have no energy, it could be a sign of hyperthyroidism. This is especially true if there is really no explanation for the fatigue. For example, if you’re well rested or have not been exerting yourself, but are still exhausted when you wake up and throughout the day, there could be a chance your thyroid is functioning improperly. Another sign associated with the fatigue is that there is not enough thyroid hormone and that’s keeping your muscles from really getting going.
2. You’re Unusually Depressed and Can’t Explain Why
When there is too little thyroid hormone circulating in your bloodstream, it can have an impact on serotonin levels, thus impacting your mood. It basically turns your body down—energy, tiredness—and has the same effect on your mood. So if you’re feeling down when you have no reason to be, it might be a good idea to have your doctor check out your thyroid.
3. You’ve Got the Jitters
The exact opposite can happen, too. When you’re producing too much thyroid hormone, you can get pumped up. This can result in feelings of anxiousness and the jitters. Your metabolism is also revved up, and it might be difficult to relax, concentrate, sleep, or focus on what you’re trying to do.
4. You’ve Had a Change in Appetite
Another byproduct of too much thyroid hormone is an increased appetite. Your metabolism is revved up, so it makes you hungry and you’re more likely to snack. Now, the extra calories might not matter, depending on what you’re eating. If you’re snacking on veggies and lean proteins, you shouldn’t put on any weight because your metabolism will be putting the calories to good use; but if you’re snacking on high-sugar, fatty foods, you might put on weight.
On the other hand, if there isn’t enough thyroid hormone circulating, you might notice yourself gaining weight even on a decreased appetite. Either extreme should cause notice.
What Can You Do About It?
There are some things you can do to improve your thyroid function. You can give them a try before you visit the doctor, but I wouldn’t wait too long before making an appointment; the longer you wait, the more severe a problem can become.
1. Eat food that is high in iodine
Iodine enhances thyroid function, so eating food like low-fat cheese, milk, eggs, fatty fish, and yogurt can help.
2. Eat less food that can block your thyroid
Certain foods can block your thyroid and slow its function. However, this is only true if they are eaten raw. When they are cooked, the anti-thyroid properties are inactivated. Even so, if you have thyroid problems these foods should be eaten sparingly: almonds, peanuts, pine nuts, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, pears, turnips, kale, Brussels sprouts, mustard, cabbage, peaches, spinach, and corn.
3. Get a workout in
Getting regular exercise—about 40 minutes, three times per week—can promote healthy thyroid function. If you can get in some daily exercise, that’s even better. Something as simple as a walk around the block can offer benefits.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Neck Check,” American Association of Endocrinologists web site, http://www.thyroidawareness.com/neck-check, last accessed December 11, 2014.
Norman, J., “Hypothyroidism: Too Little Thyroid Hormone,” Endocrine web site, May 27, 2014; http://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/thyroid/hypothyroidism-too-little-thyroid-hormone, last accessed December 11, 2014.
“Hyperthyroidism,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases web site, August 16, 2012; http://www.endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/Hyperthyroidism/, last accessed December 11, 2014.
Lynn, L., “3 ways to boost thyroid function,” Dr. Oz web site, October 10, 2011; http://www.doctoroz.com/blog/lisa-lynn/3-ways-boost-thyroid-function, last accessed December 11, 2014.
Krueger, A., “19 Signs Your Thyroid Isn’t Working Right,” Health.com, 2014; http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20723100,00.html?hootPostID=297340c287ae8be14951bdb2cd7cce84m, last accessed December 11, 2014.