This little gland may be small in stature, but it has a big impact on your wellbeing.
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormone. It’s the most common disorder and it can go on for years without being detected. Symptoms include intolerance to cold, extreme fatigue, weight gain, poor memory, constipation, thinning hair and depression.
Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid is overactive and produces too much thyroid hormone. Symptoms include rapid weight loss, sensitivity to heat, anxiety, insomnia, and an irregular heartbeat.
How common is it?
Thyroid problems occur in about 10 per cent of the population, mostly in people over 40 and in more women than men. It’s unclear why women are more susceptible than men, but a connection between female hormones and thyroid health is believed to play a role. If you’ve noticed changes in your body, talk to your doctor about a blood test to check your thyroid function.
Thyroid hormones at a glance
Thyroid-stimulating hormone is released by the pituitary gland and tells the thyroid how much T4 and T3 to produce. Screening TSH levels is the main way to check for thyroid issues.
Made by your thyroid, T4 (thyroxine) is the primary hormone that helps regulate your body functions.
Along with T4, T3 (triiodothyronine) controls many of your body’s functions. Levels of T3 are checked to screen for hyperthyroidism.
Causes and care
Autoimmune disorders (including Hashimoto disease and Graves disease) can impact your thyroid and, indirectly, so can lifestyle factors such as stress and diet. Having a balanced diet is one of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy thyroid. For example, one low in sugar but rich in healthy fats, lean meat, fatty fish such as salmon, plenty of vegetables and low in sugar. Looking after your gut health is also a major factor in keeping your thyroid functions on track.
The role of iodine
The thyroid requires a regular supply of iodine from your diet. It’s found in most foods, especially seafood and dairy products and it’s often added to foods in the form of iodised salt. In Australia and New Zealand the salt used in commercially baked bread, except organic and bread mixes, must be iodised. Keep in mind you only need a little.
If your thyroid hormone levels are off, there is good news. Although people who take medication may have to remain on it for life, some people with borderline hypothyroidism are able to come off meds without TSH levels (or symptoms) increasing. Many people like to try an integrative approach, using a combination of mainstream medicine and natural therapies, but everyone is different so discuss what’s best for you with your doctor.