Living with Vitality column: Feeling sluggish? Check your thyroid
VAIL CO, Colorado
The thyroid gland is a two-inch long gland in the neck that has an important job: producing the thyroid hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic function (the body’s use of energy).
A sluggish thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is the most common type of thyroid imbalance. It occurs when the thyroid gland is under-active and may cause symptoms including:
• General fatigue – Waking up exhausted, no matter how much sleep you get
• Hair loss
• Weight gain (both fluid and fat) – despite working out more and eating less
• Puffiness in the face and/or swelling of the ankles
• Low body temperature – ice cold hands or feet
• Digestive problems (constipation, irritable bowel)
• “Brain fog”
• Dry skin
• Muscle pain and longer recovery time
• Elevated cholesterol
• Increased risk of coronary heart disease – according to a recent article in The Journal of the American Medical Association (Sept. 22/29 2010)
In some cases, hypothyroidism is the result of a common autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The immune system in people with this condition attacks and destroys the thyroid gland tissue. When inflamed then damaged, the thyroid gland is not able to produce thyroid hormones at the levels the body needs.
It is also important that your body is properly converting the relatively inactive thyroid hormone T4 into the active thyroid hormone T3. This conversion occurs in the liver and is performed by a certain enzyme that relies on nutrients in your diet.
Traditional thyroid tests often check for TSH or total T4 levels, but don’t check T3 levels. If your body is not converting T4 into T3, these tests may be negative for hypothyroidism, even though you do not have adequate levels of the thyroid hormone your body can effectively use. The only way to evaluate your ability to convert T4 into T3 is to test for free T3 levels, which often are not included in routine testing.
Many people have been theoretically treated for hypothyroidism but still have very low levels of T3. This is because the typical hypothyroid drugs, synthroid and levothyroxine, only include T4. Since they still have a T3 deficiency, they continue to experience the symptoms of hypothyroidism. But there are many ways to treat this deficiency and hypothyroidism, and in many cases, you may not even need medication.
An under active thyroid is frequently the result of nutritional deficiencies and once these deficiencies have been reversed, thyroid function usually improves. Iodine is among the major nutrients needed by the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones. You also need an amino acid called tyrosine (found in certain proteins) and several trace minerals and nutrients, including zinc, selenium, iron and the B vitamins.
All of the hormones in your body work together, so levels of one hormone affect all your other hormones, including your thyroid hormone levels. Hypothyroidism may result due to a hormone imbalance:
• Estrogen: If your estrogen levels are too high, your thyroid gland may not be able to produce thyroid hormones in the levels that your body needs.
• Progesterone: Progesterone has a stimulating effect on thyroid hormone production so a decline in progesterone levels (from menopause and perimenopause) may result in an under-functioning thyroid gland.
• Testosterone: Testosterone also helps to stimulate the thyroid gland, so when testosterone levels decline, such as during andropause (male menopause), you may experience reduced thyroid function that can result in hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroid symptoms frequently improve when your hormone levels are balanced through bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). At The Vitality Center, we can test your current hormone levels for any imbalances and help you bring your hormones back into harmony.
Heidi Archer, M.D., practices Regenerative Medicine at The Vitality Center at Vail Mountain Lodge. Archer is AMA board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation, anti-aging, regenerative and functional medicine. Her practice focuses on preventative/regenerative medicine, anti-aging and hormone therapy for the well patient or athlete, with expertise in diagnosis and treatment of pain from injury, illness, or disabling conditions.
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