The thyroid, one of the largest glands of the endocrine system, regulates metabolism by controlling the rate at which the body converts oxygen and calories to energy. The thyroid is the body’s internal thermostat that regulates how quickly the body burns energy to maintain normal body functions. The metabolic rate of every cell in the body is regulated by thyroid hormones. The thyroid produces the hormones triiodothyronine (T-3) and thyroxine (T-4). Both T-3 and T-4 are synthesized from tyrosine, an amino acid found largely in high protein foods, and iodine. The output of these hormones is regulated by a third thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced in the pituitary gland. Another hormone produced by the thyroid is calcitonin, which stimulates the movement of calcium into bones.
Ensuring that the thyroid gland is healthy and functioning is important to overall health. Thyroid hormones are essential to cardiovascular function. Under production of thyroid hormones results in a weakened heart muscle, which can lead to heart failure. Overproduction of thyroid hormones increases the contraction of the heart muscle and oxygen demand to the heart, which has been associated with increased rates of cardiovascular disease. As many as 30 million Americans may be affected by thyroid conditions. As thyroid disease can often be an extremely subtle condition, it is believed that many more people may remain undiagnosed.
What are the risk factors for thyroid disorders?
- Thyroid disorders are most common among women. Women are 5 times more likely to develop hypothyroidism.
- Age is a contributing factor. The risk of thyroid disease increases after age 50 for both men and women.
- There is a genetic predisposition for development of disorders. A family history of thyroid disease or autoimmune disease increases the risk.
- Thyroid surgery. Removal of all or part of the thyroid generally results in hypothyroidism.
- Pregnancy. The risk of developing autoimmune thyroid disease or a temporary thyroiditis increases slightly while pregnant or during the first-year postpartum.
- Cigarette smokers have an increased risk of developing autoimmune thyroid disease.
- Major stress including difficult life events and physical stress is considered an environmental factor for autoimmune thyroid disease.
Fatigue is the most frequent complaint for both over and underactive thyroid conditions. The most common health problems related to the thyroid gland are:
- Hyperthyroidism, a condition in which there is overproduction of T-3 and T-4 thyroid hormones resulting in an overactive metabolic state. This condition is usually caused by Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease in which antibodies are produced that stimulate the over secretion of hormones. People with overactive thyroid glands generally have rapid heart rates, tend to feel nervous or moody, have sleep difficulties and are apt to experience sudden weight loss. Treatments for this condition include medications that inhibit the production of T-3 hormones, radioactive iodine treatments and surgery.
- Hypothyroidism, a condition in which there is an underproduction of the T-3 and T-4 thyroid hormones resulting in a reduction in metabolic rate. Typical symptoms include slower heart rate, unexplained weight gain, fatigue and cold intolerance. Hypothyroidism is commonly caused by Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid tissue impairing the ability to produce hormones. Hypothyroidism may also be a result of congenital abnormalities, iodine deficiency or thyroid removal due to conditions such as cancer. Most people who suffer from thyroid dysfunction have hypothyroidism. This condition can often be easily treated with hormone replacement therapy.
- Thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid, presents symptoms of pain and tenderness in the area of the thyroid. Thyroiditis may trigger hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
- Thyroid cancer, which usually appears as a painless lump, generally on one side. Thyroid cancer is increasing at an alarming rate in America. However, is it also among the most curable, as the most common types of thyroid cancer tend to be slow growing and usually do not spread beyond the neck area. Of the four main types of thyroid cancer, the two most common are treatable with surgical removal of the thyroid followed by radioactive iodine treatments. Most patients with thyroid cancers have excellent prognoses.
To aid early detection, you can perform a simple self-exam. Standing in front of a mirror, stretch your neck backwards and drink a glass of water. Look for any enlargement in the area below the Adam’s Apple and above the collarbone. Feel the area around the thyroid to detect any enlargement or lumps. If you think you may have thyroid problems, it’s best to consult your doctor or endocrinologist. Should you be diagnosed with a thyroid condition it’s very important that you:
- Take your medicine diligently. An under functioning thyroid can lead not only to weight gain and fatigue, it can also lead to other more serious medical problems including cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, gastrointestinal problems, depression and cognitive decline.
- Get your thyroid levels checked regularly. Hormone levels fluctuate and balancing those levels takes time and patience. With balanced hormones, energy levels are improved, sleep is enhanced, and weight more stabilized.
Supplements to support healthy thyroid function include:
Thyroid Support Complex by Pure Encapsulations is a comprehensive formula containing vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts to support healthy thyroid cell metabolism and thyroid hormone function. Healthy vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc and selenium status has been associated with maintaining healthy thyroid cell metabolism as well as triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormone function. Kelp contains nutrients and minerals, particularly iodine, that support the thyroid. Iodine and l-tyrosine are key components in the synthesis of thyroid hormones.
Thyrocsin (Thyroid Cofactors) (SF765) (SF784) by Thorne Research provides nutritional support for thyroid function in a unique non-glandular formula. Thyrocsin contains iodine necessary for formation of T-4 and L-tyrosine a necessary component of both T-4 and T-3 formation.
Thyroid Synergy by Designs for Health is designed to be an all-in-one thyroid support product that may benefit many thyroid conditions.
Thyrosol by Metagenics is a multi-faceted formula featuring targeted nutrients that support healthy thyroid function by supporting the healthy synthesis of thyroid hormones.
i-Throid 12.5 mg by RLC Labs is a superior iodine formulation created to enhance thyroid treatment and offer long-term, consistent results. i-Throid contains the ideal balance of iodide and free elemental iodine which is highly absorbable and binds with tyrosine to produce thyroid hormones.