It’s no secret that an underactive thyroid and thyroid gland problems are fast becoming the leading cause of weight gain, depression and ongoing fatigue. Thousands suffer without even knowing it.
Thyroid gland problems are far reaching. The symptoms of an underactive thyroid can have a profound effect on your mood, body weight, even your feelings of wellbeing.
The severity of symptoms can range from a mild deficiency state, which is hardly detectable with standard thyroid blood tests to a severe deficiency state.
What are the common causes of an underactive thyroid gland?
Why are thyroid disorders such so common? Like many other hormone imbalances, an underactive thyroid gland is due to the impact our modern lifestyle has on our health. Here are the common factors affecting thyroid gland health:
- Nutrient deficiency (especially iodine and selenium)
- Oestrogen dominance caused by stress and pollution (excess oestrogen suppresses thyroid function)
- Hormone imbalance
- Heavy metal toxicity (especially mercury)
- Auto-immune disorders
- Long term stress
What is a thyroid gland & where is it?
The thyroid gland lies in the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. This butterfly shaped gland measures about two inches across and normally cannot be seen. It can barely be felt upon palpation. An enlarged thyroid, known as goitre, can easily be detected by your health professional upon examination.
The thyroid gland secretes hormones which control the body’s metabolic rate in two primary ways: by stimulating tissue response in the body to produce specialised proteins, and by increasing cell oxygenation. To produce these vital hormones, the thyroid needs iodine, which is ingested from food and water.
The regulation of thyroid hormone levels is controlled by several mechanisms. The hypothalamus, located in the brain just above the pituitary gland, secretes thyrotropin-releasing hormone, which triggers the pituitary to release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). When the amount of thyroid hormone in the blood reaches a certain level, the pituitary will produce less TSH; conversely, when the amount of thyroid hormone in the blood decreases to a certain level, the pituitary produces more TSH.
The major thyroid hormones
The thyroid gland secretes two major hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
The pituitary gland (located at the base of your brain) sends messages in the form of hormones to tell your thyroid what to do. The hormone messenger is called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and it regulates your two main thyroid hormones – T4 and T3.
Thyroid deficiency occurs when the thyroid gland under-produces the T4 and T3 hormones needed to regulate the body’s metabolic rate. In a healthy person, T4 converts to T3. It is T3 that is very important for weight loss. It boosts your metabolism and prevents your body storing fat. If T3 levels are low, this can lower your basal (resting) metabolic rate, which alone can lead to weight gain.
In some people, the thyroid does not properly convert T4 to T3, the metabolically active form; and instead converts into an inactive form, called reverse T3. If reverse T3 levels are elevated, your metabolism is affected, causing greater weight gain. Selenium is necessary for the conversion of T4 to T3.
In regards to testing, refer to the post ‘thyroid function test – what you need to know‘.
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland
Millions of people suffer from symptoms of thyroid problems without even knowing it. Thyroid problems are fast becoming the leading cause of weight gain, depression & ongoing fatigue. Even a slightly underactive thyroid gland will dramatically affect your health.
Hypothyroidism is a low thyroid condition that results in diminished thyroid hormone production. The symptoms of thyroid problems occur over time and are often mistaken for other health conditions.
The common symptoms associated thyroid gland problems include:
- Fluid retention
- Sensitivity to heat or cold
- Gaining excess body fat easily
- Difficulty in losing weight
- Fatigue and low energy levels
- Poor memory and concentration
- Slower heart rate
- Irregular periods
- Dry skin
- Brittle nails/nails that split easily
- Dry, coarse hair and hair loss
- Puffy face
- Thinning of the outer third of the eyebrows
- Difficulty coping with stress
- Immune system problems
- Carpel tunnel syndrome
Specific conditions related to an underactive thyroid
The following list of conditions can be related and even be caused by thyroid gland problems. If you can identify with any of these conditions listed below, ask your doctor to conduct thorough laboratory testing on your thyroid function.
- Elevated cholesterol
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Sinus bradycardia (slow pulse rate)
- Fertility problems
- Pernicious anaemia (vitamin B12 deficiency)
- Insulin dependent diabetes
- Fibromyalgia (muscle pain)
- Low basal body temperature