Thyroid hormones affect every cell in your body. They control not only your physical health but also your mood and mental wellbeing. Approximately 1 in 8 women will be affected by a thyroid condition at some point in their lives. The risk for women is about 10 times higher than for men. Developing thyroid disorder is more common in women between age 20 and 30 and during menopause.
If you feel fatigue, anxious, gaining weight and can’t sleep well with no particular reason – check your thyroid! Thyroid is a small gland but with powerful impact on the quality of your whole life. Here is a brief summary how thyroid affects your wellbeing why it’s so often misdiagnosed and what’s is the one big mistake in thyroid treatment?
How thyroid affects different aspects of your health?
One of the main jobs of thyroid hormones is to regulate your energy metabolism. The very basic function is to break down the food and turn it into energy. If you produce enough energy you can keep all your organs and body function up and running. What happens if your thyroid become sluggish? Everything else become sluggish too and it can affect your:
- cardiovascular health
- muscles strength and bones
Digestion, nutrient deficencies and SIBO
With sluggish thyroid, your pancreas may not produce enough digestive enzymes, your stomach acid can decrease and your digestion can slow down as well. Slow digestion can lead to poor nutrient absorption and malnutrition. Not sure if you have know that but one of the biggest contributors to developing chronic diseases are nutritnet deficencies! Additionally, slow digestion can cause the food to stay in your stomach for longer than it should. If the food stays to long, it will ferment in your gut usually causing bloating and other digestive symptoms. Undigested food staying too long in your gut can disturb your gut microbiome as well.
There is strong link between underactive thyroid and SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth) which means that basically you have too much of gut bacteria in the wrong place and this is because of poor gut motility. Your gut bacteria should be in your large intestine, not in the small intestine. SIBO usually gives symptoms like feeling of fullness after eating, bloating, loss of appetite or diarrhea.
Fatigue and low energy
Your body needs thyroid hormones and vitamin B12 to make energy. A decrease in thyroid hormone production (underactive thyroid) will lead to lower energy levels in general, causing you to feel weak and tired, including difficulties in waking up in the morning. Additionally, vitamin B12 absorption may be compromised in people with underactive thyroid and Hashimoto’s. Vitamin B12 is only well absorbed with presence of intrinsic factor which is dependent on stomach ph and as I just mentioned stomach acid tends to be low when the thyroid hormones are low.
Depression and anxiety
Thyroid hormones are pivotal to the creation and regulation of neurotransmitters like serotonin. Low serotonin levels are linked to depression, anxiety, and mood. When your thyroid is not functioning properly, these neurotransmitters become erratic. Also, with sluggish thyroid, your body stops being efficient at synthesising and breaking down your neurotransmitters leading to imbalances. In a review published in June 2018, JAMA Psychiatry found people with hypothyroidism are more than twice as likely as people without the condition to develop anxiety disorders and that 29.8 percent of all anxiety disorders are associated with autoimmune thyroid disease.
Hormonal balance, weight gain and fertility
Maybe it’s not that obvious but thyroid is also linked to your other hormones. You need adequate amounts of thyroid hormone for your ovaries to make progesterone. Moreover, thyroid hormones stimulate progesterone release from human luteal cells. As you probably know, progesterone is known as the ‘fertility‘ hormone that is required to conceive and maintain pregnancy but there is more to that!
Progesterone can affect your mood and sleep as well. Progesteron has calming effect and adequate levels can prevent anxiety and insomnia. Moreover, low progesterone can easily lead to estrogen dominance. With hormones, it’s always all about ratios. Estrogen dominance is basically too much estrogen in relation to progesteron but it doesnt mean that your estrogen is too high. It means you have too little progesterone and estrogen became more ‘dominant’ that it should. Estrogen dominance can affect a woman’s body in many ways, including abnormal menstruation (heavy/painful periods), PMS, headaches, decreased sex drive, bloating, mood swings, fatigue, anxiety & depression, breast tenderness, endometriosis, fibroids, and hormonal weight gain (especially around belly).
Cholesterol, heart and cardiovascular diseases
Don’t be misled be health campaigns promoting low fat products and spreading bad public of cholesterol. Cholesterol is not a problem, but impaired cholesterol metabolism is. You need cholesterol for three main reasons: its required for the synthesis of sex hormones, it’s a building block for human tissues and it assists in bile production (digestive ‘enzyme’ that helps to break down fat when you eat). The problem starts when we have too much cholesterol in the wrong place. Too much cholesterol in your blood can clog your blood vessels but avoiding cholesterol rich products is not a solution. In a healthy human body cholesterol is processed by liver. Also, HDL and LDL transporters should take care of removing any excess cholesterol from the blood back to the liver where it can be stored or processed and excreted.
As you can imagine with sluggish thyroid, your liver will be sluggish too. It increases your risk of cardiovascular diseases because of too much cholesterol in the wrong place and also because of impaired detoxification abilities by the liver. Toxins build up is highly proinflammatory and chronic inflammation is another big contributor in developing chronic diseases including heart diseases. Additionally, thyroid hormones regulate glucose homeostasis. Blood glucose out of balance over extended period of time is highly inflammatory and damaging to blood vessels. As you can see cholesterol itself is not a problem. It’s more about if your body can’t process and manage cholesterol levels effectively.
Skin and hair loss
When thyroid hormone production is disrupted, it affects development of hair at the root and your skin (dry skin is the most common). If it comes to hair, it’s usually hair fall out and thinning hair across your scalp and other areas such as your eyebrows. You can keep wasting money for shampoos, and skin care products but without addressing your thyroid you will never get rid of the hair fall out or dry skin problem.
Dry skin is the most common one but there are more conditions linked and I am a good example of one of them. I have been struggling with acne for years, to be precise 15 years. As you can imagine, as a teenage, I visited every possible beauty salon for facial treatments, tried every possible skin cream or gel for acne on the market or ‘acne’ supplements. Everything with no real results. The only thing that has cleared was my bank account but not my skin. Finally, when I fixed the gut and improved my thyroid, my skin got so much better!
Why still so many people are misdiagnosed or diagnosed too late?
Many doctors measure TSH and T4 only and based on that they asses your thyroid status (and/or a drug does). What happens often is that you hear that your thyroid is ‘normal’ but you still feel unwell and your doctor keep ignoring all symptoms that you are telling him/her about. Or you get medication which is usually levothyroxine and again – you don’t feel really better.
TSH and T4 is not enough to asses your thyroid
TSH is really a signalling molecule and T4 is inactive hormone so measuring both of them doesn’t tell you a lot. To get an idea of your thyroid situation, at least free T3 should be tested, alongside TSH and free T4. If you really want to get to the root cause and solve thyroid problem quickly it’s good to additionally test thyroid antibodies, total T4, total T3 and reverse t3.
Another issue with TSH and T4 testing only is the range which is way to wide. I.e TSH over 4 or 5 usually will be marked as too high but actually according to the functional medicine range it should be between 1 and 2 – this is the range for optimal health.
The main difference between functional medicine and conventional medicine is that functional medicine provides lab ranges for optimal health. It means that if you fall in that range there are great chances that you will feel great. Conventional medicine on the other hand will only highlight something as low or high when you are already sick. Between being sick and optimal health there is a huge gap. Every disorder we develop, it takes time. That’s why it’s important to listed and observe your body, address any concern and take steps to fix it as soon as possible. The sooner you act, the less damage and less time you will need to reverse whatever went wrong.
The biggest mistake you can do when trying to heal your thyroid
Getting medication without knowing what is causing your thyroid disorder – that’s the main mistake a lot of peope do. I’m not saying that all medications are bad. Some of them can actually safe lives but the problem these days is that we live in a world where we expect instant solution, quick fixes and expect one magic pill to sort out all our problems.
Unfortunately, most medications are not fixing the real root cause but only symptons. Also, worth keeping in mind that hypo or hyperthyroidism is related to your thyroid gland dysfunction. Hashimoto’s and Graves on the other hand, where your antibodies are slowly destroying your thyroid gland are related to immune system dysfunction, thyroid gland is only the victim of the whole mess.
It’s really heart breaking when I hear or see so many people complaining about feeling unwell or even worse after starting levothyroxine (also called Synthroid). The problem is that, first of all, as each medication it has side effects, but what worse is that it even doesn’t make people feel better. Levothyroxin is synthetic form of T4 that is prescribed for hypothyroidism. What really speeds your metabolism is T3 so getting T4 simply doesn’t work. Also when you keep increasing dosage hoping that it will improve your symptoms, you are only putting yourself at risk of heart palpitations, nervousness, poor concentration and sleeping problems.
I dont want to exagerate importance of thyroid too much but when you look at the whole body and how eveyrthing is interconnected you will realise that actually thyroid runs the show and decides about so many processes impacting both your physical and mental health. If you experience any ‘mysterious’ symptoms and eveyrthing else looks fine – check your thyroid! It can really save your time of being unwell, money spent on supplements, superfoods or beauty products and save your life at the end of the day. If there is something unclear or doesnt make sense from what I just wrote – just drop me an email or comment below. Always happy to help or discuss your concerns:)