According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. Up to 60 percent of people affected with the disease are unaware of their condition (1).
These diseases affect the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck. This gland affects your metabolism as well as other bodily functions.
One of the hormones it produces influences every cell, tissue and organ in the body.
Here are the two most common diseases that can affect this tiny but mighty gland.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is overactive and makes excessive amounts of thyroid hormone.
This can be caused by low levels of iodine. Lumps and inflammation in the gland can also cause the body to produce too much of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which forces metabolism and other processes to go into overdrive (2,3).
In 70% of people, the condition is caused by Graves’ disease, a condition in which the antibodies in the blood that turn on the thyroid and cause it to grow and secrete too much thyroid hormone (4).
Symptoms include (5):
- Fatigue or muscle weakness
- Hand tremors
- Mood swings
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Rapid heartbeat
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
- Skin dryness
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
- Increased frequency of bowel movements
- Light periods or skipping periods
- Irregular heartbeat
- Fine, brittle hair and hair loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Breast development in men
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of consciousness
- Weak bones
Hypothyroidism is the exact opposite of hyperthyroidism: it occurs when the gland produces too little thyroid hormone. It’s often caused by autoimmune disease, treatment for hyperthyroidism, radiation therapy, thyroid surgery and certain medications (6).
Left untreated, hypothyroidism can cause obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease, among other health problems (7). In some rare cases, complications can result in severe life-threatening depression, heart failure, or coma.
- Weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight
- Coarse, dry hair
- Dry, rough pale skin
- Hair loss
- Cold intolerance (you can’t tolerate cold temperatures like those around you)
- Muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches
- Memory loss
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Decreased libido
- Puffy face
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
- Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
How To Treat Thyroid Disease
If you suffer form any of the symptoms listed above, speak to your doctor and request a blood test which determines blood thyroid hormone levels.
Instead of taking thyroid-managing drugs, there are many ways that you can improve the health of your endocrine system and manage your own thyroid.
Whether it’s stress, nutritional deficiencies, heavy metal overload or chronic allergies and digestive distress, it’s always best to treat your symptoms by treating the underlying cause.
1. Proper nutrition
Diet is the best way to get your hormones in check. It’s important to reduce your intake of sugar, processed foods, inflammatory foods and refined flours.
It may also be beneficial for you to increase your intake of iodine, zinc, omega-3 fats, and selenium, according to the type of disease you’re suffering from.
Exercise helps regulate your metabolism and keeping your thyroid regular. Staying fit will also improve hormonal imbalance to prevent and treat the disease.
3. Stress management
Stress contributes to inflammation and adrenal exhaustion, which can lead to hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Try to practice relaxing activities like meditation, yoga, walks in nature or breathing exercises to melt away tension and improve hormonal health.
4. Heat therapy
Taking hot baths and spending time in the sauna helps to detoxify your body and release toxins form the thyroid. This also relaxes muscles and relieves inflammation.
5. Nutritional supplements
Consult your doctor, nutritionist or naturopath before self-treating with supplements. You may find that taking calcium, sodium and vitamin D will help treat the symptoms and help you manage your condition (10).