How to Take Care of Your Thyroid
Because January is National Thyroid Awareness Month, our primary care doctors in Delray Beach want to tell you a bit about this important gland and offer a few steps you can take for the health of your thyroid.
Many people aren’t aware of how big a role this tiny butterfly-shaped gland plays in their overall health.
Located at the front of the neck, just below Adam’s apple, it produces a hormone (thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH) that influences every cell in the body.
As a result, when something goes wrong with it, this little gland can produce big problems.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 750 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease. As many as 60 percent of those are undiagnosed.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that women are more likely than men to have thyroid disease and that one in eight women will develop thyroid problems during their lifetime. Anyone over age 60, especially women, is at higher risk of developing thyroid disease. So is anyone who has diabetes.
In women, thyroid disease can cause several issues specific to them, including problems with the menstrual period, problems with getting pregnant, and problems during pregnancy.
In general, the two main types of thyroid disorder result from either underproduction or overproduction of TSH, and the symptoms of each are generally opposites of each other, although thyroid dysfunction can have hundreds of possible symptoms.
These two main disorders, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, can result from many different causes, and can also be inherited.
Too much of a good thing
Hyperthyroidism results from the overproduction of thyroid hormones. The result is that every process in the body is speeded up. The heart beats faster, food is digested more rapidly, the kidneys process urine more quickly, and so on.
Some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- increased perspiration
- increased appetite
- weight loss
- hair loss
- heart palpitations/irregular heartbeat
- sensitivity to heat
- thinning hair
There can also be other symptoms, and they vary from person to person. Often they are dismissed as stress, feeling “run down,” or simply aging.
Too little creates other problems
Hypothyroidism, which is the more common thyroid disease, means the thyroid doesn’t release enough thyroid hormone. Therefore, every process in the body is slowed down.
Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- sensitivity to cold, especially cold hands and feet
- constipation and gas
- pain, stiffness, or swelling in joints
- brain fog/memory problems
- weight gain
- dry skin
- poor appetite
- lowered libido
- puffy/swollen face
- muscle weakness
Other symptoms can occur, and vary from person to person. Sometimes they are so subtle that they can be dismissed as “just life.”
But if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important that you let us know. Untreated thyroid disease can damage many organs of the body, including the heart and kidneys. In rare cases (myxedema), it can even lead to death. We can perform various thyroid function tests, including blood tests, imaging tests, and a physical exam to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms.
Treatment for an over-or underactive thyroid is simple, safe, and effective. This includes anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, and beta-blockers to help control symptoms.
Food is medicine
Here are some steps you can take to keep your thyroid healthy.
- Be sure the salt you use is iodized. Many specialty salts do not contain iodine. The thyroid requires iodine to function properly, but the recent popularity of such specialty salts as sea salt and Himalayan salt has reduced the amount of iodine in some diets. Too little iodine can result in hypothyroidism.
- Avoid uncooked cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts kale, watercress, and kohlrabi. These particular vegetables contain substances called goitrogens that interfere with the efficient synthesis of thyroid hormones. Cooking inactivates these substances, making them safer to eat.
- Opt for more seafood in your diet, especially crab, shrimp, lobster, clams, and mussels. All of these are rich sources of iodine.
- Avoid processed foods. Although high in sodium, processed and packaged foods do not contain iodized salt.
These guidelines can help maintain the health of your thyroid. But please do not try to self-treat a suspected thyroid problem, especially with iodine supplements, which can make symptoms worse. The thyroid can be a tricky gland, and problems with it need professional help to treat.
Correcting an unbalanced thyroid is a process that takes careful monitoring to reach the correct levels your body needs. If you suspect you have a thyroid problem, let us know. We can help pinpoint the cause and take steps to correct it, as well as manage symptoms.