Thyroid Dysfunction: Is Your Thyroid Working Properly?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - 2:49pm

By Mark Hyman, MD

Are you tired and achy? Are your hair and skin dry and your nails chipped and cracking? Do you feel cold, depressed, and bloated? Most importantly, are you overweight? If you answered, “yes” to these questions, your thyroid could be responsible. These symptoms signal a low or under-active thyroid. When your thyroid—the small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck—can’t pump out enough of the hormones that keep your body running optimally, your health suffers.

Many factors affect your thyroid function

You’re not alone. More than 10% of men and 20% of women have thyroid dysfunction—and half of them don’t even know it! Although these numbers may seem stunning, they’re really no surprise. Your thyroid is sensitive to many different influences, including diet and lifestyle. These days we’re eating more toxic foods and are increasingly exposed to pollution, petrochemical and industrial wastes, and heavy metals. No wonder thyroid problems have also skyrocketed. And there’s good research to back these claims: PCBs and other industrial petrochemical toxins can lower thyroid function, as can other pollutants such as chlorine, fluoride, and bromide. Simply put, toxins slow down your thyroid!

And that’s not all. Other factors can affect your thyroid’s function too. For example, food allergies, like sensitivities to gluten and other foods, also negatively affect thyroid function—and are frequently undiagnosed. Likewise, deficiencies in nutrients that are important to good thyroid function (like selenium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine and tyrosine) can also trigger thyroid problems.

The thyroid’s affect on weight gain

But how can your thyroid make you gain weight? Here’s how it works: Because the thyroid produces hormones that manage your metabolism, anything that affects your thyroid will ultimately affect your metabolism. In fact, there’s evidence that toxins boost the excretion of thyroid hormones, leaving you with less of this hormone to control your metabolism…and a decreased ability to burn fat. The truth is: Your thyroid plays a huge role in weight control and in determining your metabolic rate.

The question is not if, but how much is the obesity epidemic linked to the harmful effects of environmental toxins on metabolism. I’ve seen many patients struggle with their weight and then see the pounds melt away when their thyroid problems are addressed. True, not everyone’s weight problems are caused by thyroid dysfunction. But if you’re overweight, you should consider the connection. That’s why the best medical doctors always check their patients’ thyroid function and consider all the possible causes of subtle thyroid imbalance, including toxins, food allergies, nutritional deficiencies, and stress.

We need a new approach to the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disease. Many doctors can miss the subtle signs of thyroid problems. Moreover, conventional medicine often treats low thyroid function with inadequate, one-size-fits-all drugs like Synthroid.

My professional experience has taught me that thyroid dysfunction requires a more personalized, integrative approach—one that patients can help to control by becoming active partners in their health care. To begin with, keep an eye out for the symptoms of a low thyroid function (such as those described above). If you notice any of those signs, bring them to your doctor’s attention, and ask him to test your thyroid function.

Suggestions for thyroid care

If you are diagnosed with low thyroid function, here are some tips:

  • Eliminate the causes of thyroid problems, such as toxins, food allergies, and nutritional deficiencies.
  • Exercise and take saunas.
  • Eat foods that provide nutritional support to your thyroid, while avoiding those that don’t.
  • Use supplements that protect your thyroid, such as vitamin A and vitamin D, selenium, zinc and fish oil.
  • Work with your doctor to choose the right thyroid replacement for you. It should combine the inactive and T4 hormone found in Synthroid with the active hormone T3, found in other medications.

Remember, thyroid hormone is the master metabolism hormone. If your thyroid is out of balance, your metabolism is out of balance too. Do you have a dysfunctional thyroid? Don’t worry, the problem can be fixed. By following the program here you can get your thyroid working properly, keep your weight under control, and start feeling better today.