Your thyroid controls your heart rate, your respiration, major organs, and your metabolism. That’s why no one should take this little gland in your neck for granted. Here’s what thyroid experts need you to know.
“The thyroid either directly or indirectly controls almost every single function in the body,” says Becky Campbell, DNM, DC, author of The 30-Day Thyroid Reset Plan. “We need thyroid hormone in all of our cells, so it is very important to produce a healthy amount of thyroid hormone.”
Thyroid issues can affect your overall health
With great power comes great responsibility, and the thyroid is no exception. Unfortunately, there are many ways in which this gland can be thrown off, and there are a number of conditions that fall under the category of thyroid disease. The big ones are hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland), hyperthyroidism (when it’s overactive), Hashimoto’s (an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid, causing hypothyroidism), and Graves’ disease (an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism). There are also four types of thyroid cancer to watch for: papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic.
Getting your thyroid checked may take more than bloodwork
Whether as part of your annual physical or something you schedule because you’re concerned that something is off, bloodwork can reveal troubles with your thyroid. “Normal” results, however, don’t necessarily mean everything is in working order. “The thyroid lab ranges used can be very wide,” explains Dr. Campbell. “Most doctors are only testing one or two markers, when they should be testing seven to nine markers for a full thyroid panel.” Even if a full panel looks normal, a thyroid ultrasound may be needed to detect an issue.
Thyroid conditions can arise at any age
“A common myth about thyroid health is that only older women can develop a thyroid condition,” says Dr. Campbell. “The fact is that women of all ages develop thyroid issues. During puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, and perimenopause, the risk of developing thyroid disease is increased.”
Hyperthyroidism symptoms are varied
When your thyroid is producing too much thyroid hormone, it can result in hyperthyroidism. Christian Nasr, MD, director of the Thyroid Center at Cleveland Clinic, describes this as feeling like you’re going 100 miles per hour all the time. Symptoms include feeling anxious, visibly shaky or feeling shaky inside, insomnia, multiple daily bowel movements, weight loss with an increase in appetite, feeling warm and sweating excessively, and abnormal menstrual periods.
Hypothyroidism affects energy levels and more
On the opposite end of the spectrum, hypothyroidism is when your thyroid is underactive. “Imagine going at ten miles per hour all the time,” says Dr. Nasr. “Moving slowly. Feeling tired and sleepy. Feeling bloated and constipated. Experiencing hair and nail changes. Feeling cold all the time. Feeling depressed. Experiencing mental slowness, slow heart rate.”
Your quality of life can suffer
Dr. Nasr explains that without proper treatment, the most severe forms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be life-threatening. But even milder issues can interfere with your daily life. “People who have an underactive thyroid that is left untreated may lack energy and mental alertness,” he says, noting that this can be particularly problematic at work. “Women with either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism can experience infertility.”
Finding balance is key
When doctors diagnose a patient with a thyroid condition, they will likely prescribe medication that promotes hormonal balance. In Dr. Campbell’s The 30-Day Thyroid Reset Plan, she addresses additional ways to support the thyroid. “‘Resetting’ your thyroid is a term used when you start to remove harmful foods, toxic household products, and cosmetics filled with endocrine-disrupting chemicals and start adding foods that support your thyroid, like foods high in selenium,” she says. Learn which foods thyroid experts avoid.
You are what you eat
Dr. Campbell points out that food plays a major role in the levels of inflammation in your body. Many thyroid issues result from inflammation, so eating the right foods to support the thyroid is extremely important. “Ninety-seven percent of thyroid issues are autoimmune in nature, and the majority of the immune system resides in the gut,” she says. “This is why supporting the gut takes priority when supporting the thyroid naturally.”
Selenium is essential to thyroid function
Selenium is key because the thyroid is the organ with the highest amount of selenium per gram of tissue. This micronutrient helps defend against disease, and it also supports the metabolism of thyroid hormones. According to the National Institutes of Health, the main sources of selenium in the American diet are bread, grain, meat, poultry, fish such as halibut and tuna, and eggs. Find out if your thyroid levels need to be checked.
Approaches to thyroid cancer are changing
Since 1975, the rate of thyroid cancer has tripled. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that approximately 53,990 people will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2018. But a new approach has some doctors debating aggressive treatment of these cancers. In an article published on Endocrine Web, doctors are now trying less intensive treatments, meaning that not every patient will be told he or she needs to have the entire gland removed. Small tumors may receive a watch-and-wait approach, with monitoring to see if the tumor will become larger to determine if surgery is necessary. Read about 6 thyroid cancer symptoms you should never ignore.
Thyroid cancer diagnoses appear to be surging
Thyroid cancer is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the United States, according to the ACS. With such an uptick in diagnoses, the natural question is, why this particular cancer? More studies need to be done, but Dr. Nasr attributes much of the rise to the most common type, which is papillary cancer. “Most of the increase is due to finding small thyroid nodules incidentally on imaging,” he says. “However, approximately 30 percent of the increase is due to large tumors that require treatment.”
Screening for thyroid nodules isn’t always recommended
We’re fortunate enough to live in a time with many different methods of imaging, like CT scans and ultrasound. But that’s where the risk of overdiagnosing lies, since, as Dr. Nasr has noted, doctors are finding more small nodules. “Once a nodule is found, it needs to be addressed, which may require a biopsy,” he says, explaining that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Forcerecommends against doing screening for thyroid nodules if there are no known thyroid problems in adults without symptoms. Read about 8 conditions caused by your thyroid.
By Kelly Bryant