Is your thyroid bringing you down?
Are you tired? Gaining weight? Wonder why?
It could be your thyroid.
Thyroid issues are common in women: 1 In 4 women over the age of 35 have thyroid issues, and over 50% are undiagnosed. Women are 10 times more likely to have thyroid issues compared to men. As a clinician specializing in women’s health and fertility, thyroid complaints are something I see every day. The first step is getting a thorough work-up completed in order to diagnose any thyroid issue, and the next step is getting a successful treatment plan in place to effectively manage the symptoms.
What is the thyroid? And what does it do?
The vitally important thyroid gland is a small butterfly shaped organ that sits in the front of the throat, constantly releasing a steady supply of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones play a major role in regulating many essential functions of the body including your weight, energy levels, and pregnancy. Thyroid function can be abnormal either because it is sluggish and your thyroid hormone levels are too low, or it may be hyperactive and your thyroid hormone levels are too high. Between these two, low thyroid hormones are far more common.
Are you suffering from these thyroid symptoms?
Low thyroid hormone levels, known as hypothyroidism, lead to the following symptoms:
- Cold hands and feet
- Lost interest in sex
- Brain fog
- Weight gain
- Poor digestion
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Heavy menstrual flow
- Sleeping long hours without feeling refreshed
- Repeat pregnancy loss
- Preterm delivery
Symptoms for elevated thyroid hormone levels, known as hyperthyroidism, include:
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling wired and tired
- Sensitive to heat
- Frequent bowel movements
- Increased appetite
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Increased risk of pregnancy complications
What causes thyroid problems?
Most thyroid issues are due to an autoimmune disease damaging the thyroid gland. An autoimmune disease is when your immune system starts attacking and destroying your own body. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the cause of low thyroid function, as it destroys the thyroid gland leaving it unable to make enough thyroid hormones. Grave’s disease is the cause of a hyperactive thyroid, as it triggers excessive release of the thyroid hormones. Autoimmune diseases are on the rise for a number of reasons: better diagnostics, environmental toxins, unhealthy diets (you couldn’t get junk food 100 years ago), and many other factors that are still being discovered.
Diagnosing thyroid issues is done via lab testing
The first step to managing thyroid issues is getting a proper diagnosis. More than half of thyroid patients are unaware that they even have a thyroid problem. Diagnosing thyroid issues is done via blood testing to look at what is known as the thyroid cascade of hormones. Depending on your clinician, and your case, they may screen some or all of these:
- Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
- Free and Total T4 (a thyroid hormone)
- Free and Total T3 (a thyroid hormone)
- Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPO Ab)
- Thyrogloubin Antibodies (TG Ab)
- Thyroid Stimulating Immunogloubins (TSI)
Successful treatment includes nutrition and acupuncture
Once you have identified a thyroid problem, what do you do? There are two components of care. One is managing hormone levels, and the other is managing the autoimmune disease. The conventional approach is to give thyroid hormones as a prescription medication in order to keep the hormone levels in the normal range. This is especially important during pregnancy to prevent miscarriage or repeat pregnancy loss.
The conventional approach does not look at managing the immune system, and yet this is critically important for resolving symptoms, improving the patient’s quality of life, and preventing long term complications. Acupuncture is superb at regulating healthy immune function. Good nutrition plays a major role in keeping the immune system balanced. Look for a blog in the near future going into detail on how to maintain a healthy immune system and successfully manage autoimmune issues.
In conclusion, thyroid problems are a common women’s health issue, causing a wide variety of symptoms including fatigue, weight gain, and infertility. Getting a thorough work-up, and a treatment plan to successfully treat the problems, can make a huge difference in the quality of women’s lives.
Leslie Oldershaw, L.Ac.
Acupuncturist East Bay
Follow Me on Facebook