Are you struggling with these top 5 thyroid symptoms?Apr 05, 2021
If you're a fitness coach, health practitioner or health seeker, an under-functioning thyroid could be the reason why you or your client is not having the energy they need for motivation to carry out your recommended behavioral changes.
They could also be struggling with weight loss despite your best advice!
From my point of view, the symptoms are also rather vague and can be a result of other systems besides the thyroid (adrenal, gut, inflammation, nutrient deficits...) so it's always useful to have a solid foundation in the principles of functional medicine, not to miss those other bits!
Nonetheless, here's some focused info on the thyroid to help you piece things together!
Why your Thyroid is so important.
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland that sits in your neck. It releases thyroid hormones – Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxin (T4), which controls the growth and metabolism of essentially every single cell in your body.
These hormones play an important role in regulating your weight, energy levels, body temperature, skin, hair, nail growth, and more.
The pituitary, a tiny gland in the middle of your head, monitors your physiology and releases thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH is the signal to the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormones
When your body makes too much thyroid hormone and becomes overactive, this condition is called Hyperthyroidism.
When your body makes too little thyroid hormone and becomes underactive, it’s called hypothyroidism.
How common is a poorly functioning thyroid?
In the United States, an underachieve thyroid (hypothyroidism) is more common than an overactive one (hyperthyroidism).
Hypothyroidism affected up to 5% of the general population, (5 in 100 persons) with a further estimated 5% being undiagnosed.
Hyperthyroidism affects 1 in 100 persons.
Thyroid conditions, which can occur at any age, are more common in women. Women are about five to eight times more likely than men to develop thyroid disease.
In this post, we are going to focus on Hypothyroidism, where thyroid function is impaired, or decreased.
Top 5 Thyroid Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism tend to develop slowly over many years. Sometimes symptoms like fatigue and weight gain can be misinterpreted as other conditions.
Top 5 thyroid symptoms to look out for:
The most common symptom of Hypothyroidism is feeling tired and worn out all the time. Low motivation and feeling mentally tired is often reported. Low-thyroid individuals feel sleepy and unrested, even though they may be sleeping more.
2) Weight gain
Unexplained weight gain is another common symptom of Hypothyroidism.
When thyroid hormone levels are too low, the body’s cells can’t get enough thyroid hormone and the body’s metabolism starts slowing down causing weight gain.
3) Sensitive to Cold
About 40% of low-thyroid individuals feel more sensitive to cold. With hypothyroidism, your basal metabolic rate decreases resulting in lesser heat generated in the body. This results in you feeling colder than others around you.
4) Hair Loss
Hair follicles are regulated by thyroid hormones. The disruption of thyroid hormones affects the development of hair at the root. As our hair follicles have stem cells that have a short lifespan and rapid turnover, the hair that falls out may not be replaced by new growth. This leads to thinning of hair across the scalp and other areas such as your eyebrows.
5) Sore Muscles and Joints
With low thyroid function, the body’s carnitine levels can decrease. Carnitine is a natural compound in the body that burns fat for energy. The muscle and joints in the body become weak due to malfunctioning mitochondria. Mitochondria are the energy-producing machinery in your cells.
As everything in the body slows down, your muscles can experience stiffness and discomfort due to fluid accumulation in your soft tissues and joints. Calcium absorption becomes difficult leading to prolonged muscle contraction.
Causes of Low Functioning Thyroid
Low functioning thyroid can be caused by the following:
- Autoimmune diseases – most commonly caused by Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis where your immune system attacks the thyroid glands.
- Surgical removal of part/all of thyroid gland - due to thyroid nodules, thyroid cancer or Graves’ disease, which affect the function of the thyroid.
- Radiation treatment - due to certain health conditions like Graves’ disease, thyroid cancer and lymphoma. Radiation treatments can impair thyroid function.
- Thyroiditis - an inflammation of the thyroid glands
- Others - Medication, Iodine deficiency, congenital hypothyroidism or damage to the pituitary gland.
When further upstream causes are examined, low thyroid function is commonly the result of:
- Chronic stress
The thyroid works in tandem with the Adrenal glands. When under chronic stress, it produces stress hormone cortisol, affecting thyroid function. Some studies show significant reductions in tissue T4 and T3 levels with excessive stress, causing hypothyroidism.
- Nutrient Deficiencies
Key nutrients like Vitamin B12, Vitamin A, Magnesium, Zinc, Iodine and Selenium that drives thyroid hormone production are often found to be deficient in cases of hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland is highly nutrient-dependent, poor nutritional status can cause thyroid dysfunction.
- Other factors like Sleep, Toxin load, Endocrine disruptors, and lack of exercise can also affect thyroid function.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Besides assessing a patient’s medical history, asking about symptoms, and physical examination, blood tests to measure thyroid hormones are widely used.
Tests to evaluate thyroid function include TSH, Free T4, Free T3, and Thyroid Antibodies such as TPO and TG antibodies.
Reading test results
- An elevated TSH, alongside low T4/Free T4 indicates primary hypothyroidism due to disease in the thyroid gland.
- A low TSH and low FT4 indicate hypothyroidism due to a problem in the pituitary gland.
- A holistic approach will be to also test for the necessary nutrients (Ferritin, Zinc, Copper) and have a diagnostic eye for all the other nutrients for which tests are currently unvalidated, inaccessible or too expensive.
Besides blood tests, Imaging tests such as a thyroid ultrasound scan or radioactive iodine uptake test are often done to further investigate an abnormal result or a neck lump.
Conventional treatment for Hypothyroidism involves giving thyroid medication that boosts the level of thyroid hormone in the body. The most common medication is levothyroxine, which is a synthetic T4 hormone.
Adopting a holistic approach in supporting your thyroid is, however, key. It is often useful and may result in the avoidance of using synthetic medication altogether.
It is important to take into consideration lifestyle changes. Stress management, diet, sleep, exercise, nutrient intake, and reducing toxin load all play a part in recovering your thyroid health sustainably.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about the thyroid and its interconnectedness with the whole body system, you may be interested in my thyroid deep dive course coming up!
Sign up for the newsletter not to miss a beat. 👇
Because sometimes... it isn't just about the thyroid....
Co-written by Yen and Dr Cheryl Kam