One in eight women in the United States is impacted by a thyroid disorder at some point in their lifetime (1), and it is something I see frequently in my practice – at least 70% of my female patients have thyroid disorders – so I’m addressing it this month in a four-part blog series.
This, the first blog post in the series, will provide you with some thyroid basics – where it’s located and what it does – as well as information on one of the most common thyroid disorders I see in my practice, hypothyroidism. Later in the series, I’ll share information about the root causes of thyroid disorders and the types of testing you need to determine if your thyroid is functioning properly.
The Thyroid: What is it and what does it do?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your adam’s apple. It is a relatively small gland, but plays a huge role in your body, influencing the function of some of your most important organs, including your brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and skin.
Your thyroid is responsible for regulating metabolism and body temperature. It is also responsible for the production of various hormones that enable your body to carry out essential functions, like reproduction and digestion.
Two of the most important hormones produced by the thyroid are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones travel through the bloodstream and convert oxygen and calories into energy. This energy is used to help regulate your mood, sustain cognitive functioning (like memory and concentration), and assist with the healthy functioning of both digestion and sex drive (2).
Since your thyroid is responsible for regulating so many functions in your body – metabolism, hormone production, body temperature, energy production, and cellular repair – thyroid disorders can cause an array of symptoms.
The Most Common Thyroid Disorders
The two main types of thyroid disorders are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism – an overactive or underactive thyroid, respectively. The most common of the two is hypothyroidism, especially in reproductive and middle-aged women (3).
In hypothyroidism, your body literally slows down, causing weight gain, trouble concentrating, difficulty regulating body temperature, and fatigue.
Conversely, if your thyroid is hyperactive, you may experience some of the following symptoms: rapid weight loss, increased heart rate, nervousness, and anxiety.
Neither is ideal, but both can be managed with diet and lifestyle changes.
The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism are:
- Dry hair and skin
- Brain fog, trouble concentrating and forgetfulness
- Unexplained weight gain
- Intolerance to cold
- Depression and/or mood swings
- Muscle weakness, aches, pains, discomfort
Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism:
- Nervousness and/or anxiety
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid and unexplained weight loss
- Thinning or brittle hair
There are approximately 20 million Americans suffering from some type of thyroid disorder – more than half of those suffering have no idea that the cause of their weight gain, fatigue, depression, and other symptoms are related to to the health of their thyroid.
In the next post in this series on thyroid health, I’ll discuss the type of testing that is needed to properly detect thyroid disorders, followed by information on root causes and prevention.
My hope is that the knowledge shared in this series will help you to understand your thyroid and how it works, so you are able to get the care and support you need to keep it functioning optimally.