Is Your Thyroid Out of Balance?
Chances are you know you have a thyroid; however, there is an equal chance that you are unaware of the devastating effects of an imbalanced thyroid.
The human body is in constant operation like a high-tech machine in a sophisticated factory with assembly lines and busy intricate moving parts. In the machine of the body, the thyroid gland holds one of the top-administrative positions. The thyroid has the job of making sure everyone is doing their job, with enough energy and tools to do it. The thyroid manager gets its marching orders from the pituitary gland, and the higher up administrator of the brain—the hypothalamus. The messages that are constantly being sent from the “top-dog” in the brain are in the form of memos, called hormones, which communicate necessary messages to appropriate workers ensuring that the tasks for that particular moment are completed as ordered.
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the base of your neck that wraps around the windpipe. It produces two very special hormones, thyroxine (T4)—a storage hormone—and from the conversion of T4 we get Triiodothyronine (T3), the active form of thyroid. The job of these powerful messenger hormones, through traveling in the blood, is to visit every cell in the body instructing them to either consume more oxygen or nutrients, thereby increasing the metabolism.
So what happens when these microscopic messengers tip out of balance, or their marching orders from above become unclear? When there is an over-production of thyroid hormones the result is the less common problem of hyperthyroidism, which can cause the body to go into overdrive. Symptoms include tremors, heat sensitivity, insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, racing heart, muscle weakness and loss of menstrual periods.
On the other side of the thyroid imbalance is hypothyroidism, the slowing down of your engine, the loss of circulating T3 or T4 in the body. When the thyroid conks out the symptoms can be severe including fatigue, exhaustion, hair loss, dry skin, brittle nails, body pain, insomnia, weight gain, cold hands and feet and loss of outer eyebrow hair. And as if that’s not enough, there’s pale skin, puffy face, forgetfulness, depression, muscle weakness, and many more on the list of ailments stemming from an engine that is running out of steam.
Hormone experts believe that the cause or trigger to low thyroid may begin with excessive stress. The overworking and constant performance pressure we put on the master adrenal glands (stress glands producing hormones/steroids that help your body handle stress) eventually creates a faulty rhythm in the stress hormone cortisol, leading to a disturbance in the conversion of T4 into active and powerful T3 hormone.
The testing for low thyroid can be tricky and requires an astute evaluation of the patient’s symptoms, family history, hormonal profile and knowledge of the appropriate blood tests to get to the bottom of the situation. The standard TSH (signaling hormone from the brain) only tells part of the story, and many laboratories have not updated the appropriate reference range for this test leaving an estimated 50 percent of affected Americans undiagnosed. The T3 and T4 levels should be evaluated in those with symptoms or those at high risk. Evidence is beginning to surface suggesting that borderline-low hypothyroidism should be treated to help reverse inflammatory changes in the body that are directly related to the progression of heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, brain and neurological problems.
So…what can you do with a failing thyroid gland? It has been my experience and the experience of many hormone experts that lifestyle factors are intimately involved with thyroid health. Some compelling studies related to diet show that getting the body into a more anti-inflamed state by cutting out refined and processed foods and sugars and eating a whole food, Mediterranean diet will lower the risk factors for many health problems and diseases. Processed foods, white starches and sugar (added sugar), including sugary drinks, can cause chronic elevations in insulin levels (belly-fat storage hormone) leading to inflammation in the body. This inflammation wreaks havoc on the entire hormone system.
For thyroid balance it is imperative that you sleep eight to 10 hours to get your full “recovery” nightly. Knowing it is difficult to sleep well if you are not engaging in cardio exercise, a program of daily cardio is imperative. This not only creates a better hormone balance, it is the best outlet for your stress, helping to keep your brain and body in balance. Supplements that can help support the thyroid are: Omega 3 fatty acids, iodine/kelp or iodine rich foods, selenium, zinc and vitamins C, E, and A. Emotional health seems to play an active role in thyroid health as well. Unattended emotional stress will eventually take its toll on your entire hormone system. This stress leaves you feeling emotionally and physically wrung out.
Keeping the thyroid working optimally, like most hormones in the body, can change your life. Getting the right diagnosis and insuring your levels are in optimal range, specifically for you, is important to not only reverse the symptoms associated with thyroid imbalance, but to optimize your health as you age. Treating the body, as a whole, and getting your factory working well for you can be a dynamically productive process.
Here’s to Balance!
Nisha Jackson PhD, MS, WHCNP, HHP