By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Thyroid issues are extremely common in women, and low thyroid function, or hypothyroidism is a chronic health condition that is both under-diagnosed and under-treated. This article is meant to inform you about signs and symptoms of low thyroid function, and how it is treated.
Do you experience any of the following?
- Are you tired, sluggish in the morning or having trouble with memory, concentration and focus?
- Do you have dry skin or fluid retention?
- Is your sex drive lower than it was previously?
- Are you hands and feet always cold, and do you experience chills that are difficult to warm up from?
- Are your constipated or do you have slow digestion?
- Is your hair thinning?
- Is your cholesterol high?
- Have you gained weight recently or are you having difficulty losing it?
- Do you suffer from depression?
- Is your PMS getting worse?
- Are you having difficulty getting pregnant?
- Do you have muscle cramps or muscle weakness?
What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid gland which controls your metabolic rate. When your thyroid slows down, every other organ and system in your body slows down, including your brain, heart, digestion and muscles.
Thyroid function however is a gray area of medicine – there are degrees of imbalance. But even a mildly underactive thyroid can have a dramatic effect on the quality of your life.
Unfortunately, this condition is highly under-diagnosed because conventionally, it is diagnosed through one blood test, called TSH, and you are considered hypothyroid only with a level over 5.0.
This diagnosis misses a large group of people who have what is called “subclinical hypothyroidism“, and it is less clear to diagnose. Subclinical hypothyroidism may cause many low-grade symptoms, such as fatigue, difficulty losing weight, mild depression, constipation, and more. Yet, it causes just slight changes in the blood tests. In fact, it often only shows up in tests that most doctors do not perform.
Who is Affected by Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism affects men and women of all ages, however there are increasing incidences in women post-pregnancy and during menopause.
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
There are several key factors that contribute to the large number of cases of hypothyroidism: chronic stress, environmental toxins, inflammation, and vitamin / nutrient deficiencies.
- Chronic stress is a very common cause of hypothyroidism as there is an intimate connection between thyroid and adrenal hormones.
- Another factor with hypothyroidism is exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides and heavy metals, which act as hormone disrupters and interfere with hormone metabolism and function.
- It is a very common condition because of the many factors that can affect thyroid function: chronic stress, nutritional deficiencies, food intolerances, and environmental toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides.
- Chronic inflammation in the body can be caused by factors such as food intolerances where antibodies are formed and cause an over-activity of the immune system. One of the most common causes of inflammation is gluten intolerance. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, spelt, rye, barley and oats.
- Finally, nutritional deficiencies also affect thyroid function. These include: iodine, vitamin D, selenium, zinc, omega-3 fast, B-complex vitamins and vitamin A.
How is hypothyroidism diagnosed and treated?
If you suspect that you may have an underactive thyroid, a combination of physical examination, blood testing and measuring your basal body temperature is recommended to confirm.
Treatment will start by addressing the root causes of your thyroid imbalance in order to restore balance. In many cases this can be treated naturally with detoxification, dietary changes and natural supplements to improve your stress hormones or rebalance your immune system. Naturopathic doctors can now prescribe desiccated thyroid, which can be a great alternative to Synthroid or Eltroxin for hypothyroidism.
Special note about fertility:
Low thyroid function, especially in the “Subclinical” range is a very common cause of difficulty conceiving, and also of early miscarriage. This is one area of health that should be thoroughly tested in a fertility work-up. In the conventional medical world, most general practitioners hold strongly to the belief that if your TSH is under 5.0, then your hormones are in balance for fertility. I would adamantly dispute this, as in my practice I have seen many cases of infertility resolve with getting this TSH in an optimal range of 1.0-2.5.
If you have any questions, or would like to investigate your thyroid function further, please contact the clinic or ask at your next appointment.