Thyroid Gland Facts - Symptoms Diagnosis & Treatment
For Thyroid Problems
than 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with thyroid disease,
and another 13 million people are estimated to have undiagnosed
thyroid problems. Frequently misunderstood, and too often overlooked
or misdiagnosed, thyroid disease affects almost every aspect of
health. So understanding more about the thyroid, and the symptoms
that occur when something goes wrong with this small gland, can
help to protect or regain good health. It's a concern that is widespread,
can affect your overall health, and is obviously important.
A February 2000 research study at the University of Colorado Health
Center, which was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine,
found the estimated number of people with undiagnosed thyroid disease
might be as high as 10 percent-double what was previously thought.
This may mean that 13 million Americans are currently undiagnosed.
Women are at the greatest risk of developing thyroid problems (seven
times more often than men). A woman faces as high as a one in five
chance of developing thyroid problems during her lifetime, a risk
that increases with age, and for those with a family history of
thyroid problems. There are six commonly accepted symptoms of hypothyroidism.
They include weight gain, dry skin and hair, hoarse voice, fatigue,
cold intolerance and puffy facial features.
What You Need to Know
When a thyroid dysfunction is being considered, the usual suspects
must be evaluated, too! The best advice in any decision-making process
regarding a course of action for any suspected malfunction is to
remember that function needs to be thoroughly evaluated. Predictably,
this process should begin with the known (when you hear hoof beats,
look for horses) but it should not stop there. This also applies
to alternative approaches, especially when selected merely for the
sake of choosing an unconventional venue.
Some people have had great success using only alternative medicine,
while others must combine alternative and conventional. Frequently,
symptoms are so vague in their expression that they elude the sensitivity
of traditional laboratory analysis until they are permanently fixed
in the form of a recognizable disease. In the case of the potential
thyroid involvement described above, it is just as likely that the
thyroid-like symptoms are presenting themselves due to the functional
hypoadrenia described earlier.
This may be the early warning system suggesting that the body is
compensating for a stress assault. The stresses can originate from
any source of stimulation imaginable. Likewise, the symptoms can
be portrayed in any form, or in any system of the body. What is
seen is ultimately going to be determined by what is looked at and
how it is interpreted.
Where Is The Thyroid and What Does It Do?
Your thyroid is a small bowtie or butterfly-shaped gland located
in your neck, wrapped around the windpipe, behind and below the
Adam's apple area. The thyroid produces several hormones, of which
two are key: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones
help oxygen get into cells, and make your thyroid the master gland
The thyroid has the only cells in the body capable of absorbing
iodine. The thyroid takes in iodine obtained through food, iodized
salt, or supplements, and combines it with the amino acid tyrosine.
The thyroid then converts the iodine/tyrosine into the hormones
T3 and T4. The "3" and the "4" refer to the
number of iodine molecules in each thyroid hormone molecule.
When your thyroid is in good condition, 80 percent of the hormones
produced by your thyroid will be T4, and 20 percent T3. T3 is considered
the biologically more active hormone-the one that actually functions
at the cellular level-and is also considered several times stronger
than T4. Once released by the thyroid, the T3 and T4 travel through
the bloodstream. The purpose is to help cells convert oxygen and
calories into energy.
As mentioned, the thyroid produces some T3. But the rest of the
T3 needed by the body is actually formed from the mostly inactive
T4 by a process sometimes referred to as "T4 to T3 conversion."
This conversion of T4 to T3 can take place in some organs other
than the thyroid, such as the hypothalamus, a part of your brain.
thyroid is part of a huge feedback process. The hypothalamus in
the brain releases thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). The release
of TRH tells the pituitary gland to release thyroid stimulating
hormone (TSH). This TSH circulating in your bloodstream is what
tells the thyroid to make thyroid hormones and release them into
An overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism)
thyroid can result in increased allergies, skin problems, fatigue,
nervousness, gastrointestinal problems, sleeping too much or too
little, gaining or losing weight, swelling, and various types of
pain. Of these two possible imbalances, hypothyroidism is the most
common. Doctors are aware of the six basic symptoms associated with
But these symptoms are minor compared to the effects thyroid deficiency
can have on the body, since every cell in the body needs thyroid
hormone. You may experience any number of the "text book"
symptoms or none at all. Many people whose blood results are "normal"
have debilitating symptoms of hypothyroidism and no hope of any
help from the medical profession.
Yet, if left untreated, you put yourself at risk for diabetes,
high blood pressure, emphysema, arthritis, depression, migraines,
and carpal tunnel syndrome. Foods that depress thyroid activity
include broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale,
spinach, turnips, soybeans, and mustard greens.
These foods should be included in the diet for hyperthyroid conditions
and avoided for hypothyroid conditions. Also consider the following:
- Avoid refined foods, sugar, dairy products, wheat, caffeine,
- Essential fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and necessary for
- Take 1,000 to 1,500 mg flaxseed oil three times per day.
- Calcium (1,000 mg per day) and magnesium (200 to 600 mg per
day) help many metabolic processes function correctly.
When dealing with the thyroid there are some other possibilities
to be taken into account. Two of these may not be directly reflected
in the conventional assessments of the thyroid gland, but may actually
involve the thyroid. Since the thyroid gland has a specific relationship
with the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands, involvement of
one or the other as a primary source of imbalance may be misconstrued
as a primary thyroid dysfunction.
So, fundamentally, there are really three possibilities for functional
thyroid involvement. The first is a primary dysfunction of the thyroid
gland. The other two are imbalances in the pituitary or adrenals
reflected as a thyroid involvement. Often these other two can be
identified by the relationship of the levels in the other factors
evaluated as part of a thyroid assessment. Specifically, this involves
an expanded assessment of the blood
and its components.
additional parameters must be tested to accurately isolate the source
of the imbalance and associated dysfunction. Since the thyroid gland
maintains an active and intimate relationship with the adrenal and
pituitary glands, an imbalance in either one can produce thyroid-like
symptoms. The thyroid itself plays a major role in digestion and
metabolism. The subjective indications for primary and secondary
thyroid hypo-function can include morning headaches that wear off
as the day progresses, resting muscle cramps, frequent infection,
slow healing, chronic digestive problems, and excessive sleep requirements,
to name a few.
Textbook hypothyroidism exists when symptoms and serum tests show
elevated TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone from the pituitary telling
the thyroid to work harder), low T4 (thyroxine produced by the thyroid
and sent to the tissues), and low T3 triiodothyronine converted
from T4 to affect cellular metabolic processes). However, most of
the time, hypothyroid symptoms and serum levels usually do not correlate
Several other peripheral chemistries, which are very helpful in
confirming a suspicion, are too numerous to mention at this time.
A brief general summary of an expanded approach is presented in
the following illustration.
Blood chemistries are the best way to determine which type of thyroid
hypo-function to suspect. The following overview is presented as
an example of how otherwise normal findings might be utilized in
establishing the cause of related symptoms.
- Primary thyroid hypo-function: T3 and T4 are low normal to
decreased. Avoid foods in cabbage family, refined carbohydrates,
dairy, fats and oils.
- Thyroid hypo-function secondary to anterior pituitary hypo-function:
TSH below 2.0, low to normal T3 and T4. Drink only pure water
(no tap water or water containing chlorine or fluoride). Increase
consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Eliminate refined,
processed and fast foods. Eliminate hydrogenated fats or oils
and all fried foods.
- Thyroid hypo-function secondary to adrenal cortical hyper-function:
TSH below 2.0, normal T3 and T4, potassium levels below 4.0, salivary
cortisol normal in the morning and high all day. Drink plenty
of water (no tap water or water containing chlorine or fluoride).
Increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Eliminate
refined, processed and fast foods. Eliminate hydrogenated fats
or oils and all fried foods. Eliminate all alcoholic and caffeinated
When the thyroid isn't working properly it can affect our energy
levels, muscle strength, body weight, skin health, menstrual cycle,
memory, heart rate and cholesterol levels.
In light of the delicate balance in which the thyroid gland participates
it is critical that a distinction be made between a major thyroid
problem and a mere thyroid involvement so that the appropriate solution
can be put in place to target the cause of these non-specific symptoms.
Richard A. DiCenso