One of the main functions of the small butterfly-shaped thyroid gland located in the neck is to produce specific hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism.
Thyroid hormone also plays a part in breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and muscle strength, among many other vital functions!
The thyroid gland produces hormones are called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) and many of the body’s functions slow down when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough of them.
What Factors Affect Thyroid Health?
Just like the many functions that the thyroid plays a part in, the factors that can affect its health and proper functioning are many as well.
Among these factors are:
- Fluctuating hormone levels during pregnancy and throughout the menstrual cycle
- Stress and sickness
- Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep
- Dieting and/or changes in diet that may include an overabundance of goitrogenic foods like cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli & kale), peanuts, cassava and sweet potato
- Mineral levels – namely iodine and selenium
- Gut parasites and leaky gut syndrome
- Certain medications that may interfere with thyroid hormone levels, or with their action, potentially altering TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) as the body attempts to compensate for too low (or too high) thyroid hormone activity. READ MORE ABOUT: How Medications Affect Thyroid Function
What Is An Underactive Thyroid?
This is quite simply when your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone to maintain proper gland function. It is also referred to as hypothyroidism.
Common signs of an underactive thyroid
- Tiredness (sometimes extreme)
- Weight gain or weight loss resistance
- Depression and mood swings
- Cold sensitivity
- Dry skin and hair
- Muscle and joint aches
Women’s health signs of an underactive thyroid
- Too heavy or very light menstrual cycle
- Irregularly timed menstrual cycle
- Absent menstrual cycle
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Problems conceiving
Who develops an underactive thyroid?
Both men and women can have an underactive thyroid, although it is more common in women. Children can also develop this condition and some babies are even born with it.
Many cases are caused either by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland and damaging it, or when damage occurs during treatment for an overactive thyroid or thyroid cancer.
Sometimes the thyroid dysfunction is unexplained.
What are other thyroid disorders?
- Grave’s Disease
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroid disease)
- Thyroid nodules
- Thyroid cancer
4 Lifestyle Tips to Help Manage An Underactive Thyroid
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid are often similar to those of other health conditions, and because they usually develop slowly, you may not notice them for years. While prevention or reversing this condition requires a more involved protocol, it IS possible to effectively manage it by improving upon several lifestyle factors.
- Regular moderate intensity exercise
- Consistent routines as far as meal timing, sleep and wake times
- Consume foods high in thyroid supporting minerals- magnesium, iodine, selenium and zinc are just a few!
- Stress management with restorative activities like walking in nature, yoga, or other forms of breathwork
Thyroid medication may still be necessary even if you’re doing your due diligence with all of the above factors.
Even if you’ve been told your thyroid is normal in the past, sometimes comprehensive labs tests done at different points may paint a different picture. Other hormones such as adrenal hormones and reproductive hormones can also influence thyroid. It’s important to look at the big picture in the context of evaluating your thyroid as well.