Many people don’t realise the Thyroid gland has another name. It is often referred to as the ‘Master Controller’. That tiny butterfly shaped organ found just at the base of your neck literally controls your metabolism, your hormones, even your temperature and heart rate. In fact, every single cell of your body requires Thyroid hormone in order to function. If your Thyroid gland is not functioning at its best, then neither are you!
But what causes a Thyroid issue in the first place? An underactive Thyroid is the most commonly seen disorder, and usually strikes after the age of 40. It is seen more often in women than in men, and affects 6 to 10% of women over the age of 65.
Autoimmune disorders such as Graves and Hashimoto’s disease are another cause of abnormal Thyroid function. This is when the body produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, acting like TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) and stimulate the gland to produce too much hormone. Other causes are Thyroid hormone resistance at the cellular level, or a malfunction in the Pituitary gland producing insufficient TSH. The signs and symptoms of an underactive thyroid are:
1. Exhaustion: If you wake up feeling tired despite having clocked up eight or more hours of sleep, or you regularly feel like you need a daytime nap, your thyroid could be to blame.
2. Weight changes: Difficulty losing weight even when following a strict diet can be a sign of metabolic dysfunction which your thyroid controls. The same goes for unexplained weight loss also.
3. Depression and/or Anxiety: Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) is often associated with depression, while hyperthyroidism (an overactive gland) is commonly linked to anxiety and panic attacks.
4. High Cholesterol: Elevated cholesterol levels, particularly if the levels cannot be lowered with exercise, medication or diet, may indicate problems with the thyroid.
5. Family history: If any of your direct family members have had any thyroid health issues, your chances of developing the same are greatly increased.
6. Hormonal irregularities: Prostate, breast or ovarian cysts such as P.C.O.S. with infrequent or absent periods. Heavier, more frequent and painful periods are often linked to an underactive thyroid gland. Shorter, lighter or irregular periods are commonly seen with a hyperactive gland.
7. Bowel difficulties: Long term constipation can be an indication of hypothyroidism whereas diarrhoea can mean hyperthyroidism.
8. Hair and skin problems: If you are losing hair (particularly at the outer corners of your brows) and your skin feels dry and coarse.
9. Neck discomfort: If your neck feels tight and sore or sensations of something stuck in your throat, you may be developing a Goitre which is a swollen, enlarged Thyroid gland.
10. Autoimmune disorders: The beginnings of many autoimmune disorders such as Rheumatoid arthritis or Diabetes may have originally begun as a dysfunctioning Thyroid gland. Even muscle aches and pains, Carpal tunnel syndrome and Plantar fasciitis have been linked to the Thyroid.
How do you test your Thyroid function?
Your doctor can order a blood test that will test for TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) levels in your blood, or he may refer you to an Endocrinologist or Naturopath for a more comprehensive blood test. A full thyroid profile blood test will look at TSH levels as well as Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, TPA (Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies) and TGA (Thyroid Globulin Antibodies) which can ascertain if you have an autoimmune disorder. You can also conduct a 24 hour urinary Iodine load test to check if your Thyroid is able to uptake iodine, as well as Reflexometry and Tissue Speeds as slower reflexes can often be seen in patients with Hypothyroidism.
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