Thyroid problems: key facts

Did you know that…?

One in eight women will develop thyroid disease during her lifetime.

Women are more prone to thyroid dysfunction than man and most women are diagnosed when they are between 30 and 50 years old. With such prevalence, it’s very important to understand its causes as well as how you can effectively prevent or treat this common condition.

In this article:

How your thyroid gland works?

Let’s start by briefly explaining how your thyroid work and why its so important for overall health. Feel free to skip that part if you know the basics already:)

Your thyroid is part of the endocrine system. The thyroid produces hormones that are released into the blood. The thyroid produces the T4 hormones using iodine and tyrosine (amino acid) making those two critical to the health of your thyroid. Then T4 is being converted to active form T3. More than 99 percent of thyroid hormones hormones are bound to blood proteins known as TBG. This renders them inactive. Only free T3 and T4 hormones have any effect on your body. It’s vital that your body maintains the right levels of free T3 and free T4 hormones, and the job of retaining this balance is performed by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland.

TSH is not a hormone but your signalling molecule…

When your levels of these hormones are too high or low, the hypothalamus produces the Thyroid Releasing Hormone (TRH). This hormone signals the pituitary, which increases or decreases the levels of another hormone called the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). When TSH levels are rising it means that there is not enough hormones available and your pituitary is screaming to your thyroid “hey can you produce more hormones as they are needed here and there”. If your thyroid is functioning well it will produce as much hormones as its currently needed and all your blood levels will be normal. However if there is a problem we speak about under or over production of thyroid hormones

HYPOTHYROIDISM = under active thyroid (low thyroid hormone production)

HYPERTHYROIDISM = over reactive thyroid (excess hormone production)

When on the top of that your thyroid becomes inflammed we talk about autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease which I explain more in detail in a bit:)

What your thyroid is responsible for?

Thyroid is a tiny gland but yet so powerful and also very sensitive. Thyroid hormones control basically thousands processes in your body including:

  • Metabolism and weight control
  • Cognitive functions like mental clarity, focus and memory
  • Regulating your sleep, menstrual cycle and body temperature.
  • Digestion, absorption and energy use
  • Maintaining hormonal balance, bone mass and muscle strength.
  • Heart function and keeping cholesterol in a healthy range and much more

What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis commonly known as just Hashimoto’s. It’s an autoimmune condition that affects thyroid but is related to immune system dysfunction. It develops over time, usually it takes 3 to 10 years for the symptoms to show.  

Does Hashimoto’s lead to under active thyroid?

Yes – Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition where your body is attacking your own thyroid gland, gradually leading to thyroid damage. As a result, your thyroid will slow down and become less efficient at producing thyroid hormones. That’s why many people with Hashimoto’s also experience variety of symptoms related to under-active thyroid or so-called hypothyroidism.

However, you can have hypothyroidism or sub-clinical hypothyroidism without Hashimoto’s

Hashimoto’s and under active thyroid signs and symptoms:

If your thyroid become sluggish or inflamed, you may experience range of symptoms. The most common is fatigue (especially on waking up in the morning), weight gain (no matter how much or how little you eat), hair loss and low mood.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives a good overview of how vast (and nonspecific) the symptoms can be.

  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue and tiredness even with sufficient sleep
  • Indigestion, constipation, bloating 
  • Hair loss & thinning eyebrows
  • Feeling cold
  • Having cold hands and feet
  • Cognitive changes, “brain fog”, memory problems, difficulties to focus or concentrare, forgetfulness.
  • Feeling low and depressed
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Skin problems like eczema, acne
  • PMS, Irregular or heavy periods
  • Low sex drive
  • Muscle weakness, stiff and tender joints particularly in the hands, feet and knees.
  • Infertility or miscarriage
  • Reduced exercise or activity tolerance
  • High cholesterol
  • More frequent cold
  • Fluid retention
  • Goiter, or swelling of the neck

What can cause low thyroid function?

Usually, it’s a combination of multiple factors, the most common are:

  • Iodine and other nutrient deficiencies
  • Excess of soy and goitrogenic raw vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli etc
  • Chronic stress
  • Adrenal exhaustion
  • Gut dysbiosis 
  • Toxic and heavy metals overload (from food, beauty and cleaning products, tap water and environment)
  • Excessive and intense exercise
  • Menopause
  • Pregnancy
  • Certain medications, especially used to treat cancer, psychiatric conditions and heart problems.
  • Pituitary gland or hypothalamus disorder

close up of woman in home wear sitting with cup

How to diagnose Hashimoto’s?

The most common diagnostic tests for Hashimoto’s are thyroid antibodies markers: thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO Ab) and thyroglobulin antibodies (TGB Ab). However, to get better picture of your thyroid health in general, it’s worth running a full thyroid panel that includes: TSH, Total T4, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3 and Thyroid Antibodies. 

To find out more why thyroid conditions are so commonly misdiagnosed and what blood tests to run to detect thyroid dysfunction early click here. You will also find there a cheat sheet with functional medicine optimal ranges and how to interpret your results.