How you sleep, how easy it is to wake up, and how much energy and stamina you have during the day is directly related to the levels of the thyroid hormones. The thyroid is heavily involved in so many more processes in the body as well!
Hypothyroidism is a common health condition in the U.S. and means that the thyroid gland is not active enough. It may cause symptoms such as weight gain, tiredness, pale and cold skin, constipation, high cholesterol levels, weakness, and joint pain. The opposite condition is called Hyperthyroidism in which the thyroid gland is too active. This may result in symptoms such as weight loss, tremors, heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat, difficulty sleeping, and so forth. But naturally, the thyroid is a sneaky organ and your symptoms typically won't be "textbook" as described or all occur at the same time. It could be something as subtle as noticing you just can't make it through a day without coffee anymore.
The blood work performed by doctors is typically a "basic" or "expanded" thyroid panel, and can include variety of measurements. Normal values are constantly changing. As a physician, I am only interested in the optimal, ideal specific range of these values, whereas many outdated laboratory values have a great range and a different motivation and view point for what's normal.
Here's briefly how the thyroid gland works and don't worry, I won't bore you with science! The thyroid is like middle management in the corporate world. His office is located in the throat, wrapped around our windpipe as two lobes. His big time boss is the brain, who works up at corporate headquarters. That's how body works - the brain is the master control of every organ, tissue, muscle, and cell in the body. The thyroid's upper management is the pituitary gland, whom he also takes orders from. Thyroid manages many functions of the corporation especially the customer service teams, but instead of sending out memos all day from his desk, he sends out hormones. Hormones are the messages that act out what the brain commands. So he send out hormones (messages) to his customer service team to go out into the body and check in with every single cell (customers). They stop at every cell to see if its doing okay - does it need more nutrients? More oxygen? Anything? More important than that, the hormones get to call on some large important customers. For example hormones help the heart utilize cholesterol. His best customer service representatives are T3 and T4 and are his right hand team. For that reason, T3 is the most active thyroid number measured. This is certainly not the complete picture, just an overview of what the thyroid does.
Did you know that there's a real definition of "being healthy?" It's the definition adopted by all major medical textbooks, including Gray's Anatomy (the textbook that's the corner stone of the entire medical profession, not the television show). Being healthy is the ability to function at one hundred percent mentally, physically, and socially. This definition tells me that health is more than just the physical body, it's all encompassing. And health is about function. Nowhere in that definition did it discuss how someone feels. It's about how well the body works beneath the surface and adapts for you.
Here are 9 causes of thyroid levels that are off on your blood work, and what further steps might you want to explore:
1) Environmental Factors. The body is shutting down because it's exhausted. The two most common examples of environmental factors affecting the thyroid gland are high stress levels and a lack of sleep. Sleep is literally the body's time to heal itself and depriving ourselves of that has a much greater effect than we realize. High stress levels will cause excess cortisol in the body, which is a hormone linked to increased risks of heart disease (and other conditions) and keeps your body in the "flight or fight" response mode. These are the two first things that I recommend all of my patients to address. Here are some tips for sleeping well and lowering stress:
a. Deep breathing exercises
b. Use of essential oils like lavender
c. Eliminate tvs, cell phones, etc. in the bedroom
d. Yoga, meditation, or stretching to promote a calm, clear mind
2) Gastrointestinal Function. Not only does our digestive system break down food to use as nutrients, it also contains almost 80% of our immune system! Food Intolerances are a common cause of digestive problems and there is a strong link in the research to Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease with thyroid imbalances. Many people with suspected gluten intolerance also have many other hidden undetected food intolerances that mimick similar symptoms.
3) Toxicity. A common sign of toxicity in the body can be bags underneath the eyes. Liver is our main organ responsible for detoxing the body and preventing any garbage from hanging around to destroy our tissues. If a need for detoxing exists, it can involve dietary changes, adding more vegetables to the diet in the form of Juicing in order to make the internal body conditions inhospitable for toxins, infrared saunas, and acupuncture to balance energy meridians corresponding to these organs. One of my tips is to drink a mug of warm water with half a fresh squeezed lemon every morning 15 minutes before breakfast. It gets the liver active and ready to work!
4) Hormonal Imbalances such as pregnancy, contraceptive use, estrogen / hormone replacement therapy, or bowel dysfunctions. Too much estrogen will increase the activity in the thyroid gland. Estrogen is also used as a medication for which the effects are over played and risks minimized. Research and results on Hormone Replacement Therapy now show that it does not protect anyone from incontinence, Alzheimer's, heart disease, and so forth but it actually increases your risk for cancer. Other natural ways to resolve a hormonal imbalance, especially around menopausal age are acupuncture or a physician grade nutritional supplement prescription.
5) Consumption of soy products and non-organic dairy. Soy and non-organic dairy both will increase estrogen in the body and therefore affect the thyroid gland. I would recommend anyone (regardless of your health condition) to eliminate both of these items from your diet. Remember, both of these are very sneaky and hidden in many processed foods.
6) Constipation. Too many toxins being recycled in our bowels from lack of elimination will put extra estrogen into system. My favorite, most effect and natural solutions for constipation are acupuncture, dietary changes like eliminating sugar and grains, probiotics supplementation, food intolerance testing, other lab measurements that could enlighten the reason for constipation.
7) Nutritional Deficiencies such as B12 or Iron deficiency. Some of the signs of nutrient deficiencies are similar to symptoms of hypothyroidism. Reasons that one could have nutrient deficiencies could include lack of nutritional dietary habits or heavy metal toxicity (which is actually much more common than it sounds). Hair analysis is the best long term blueprint of the body to assess for heavy metal toxicity or nutrient deficiencies.
8) Immune System Dysfunctions such as adrenal problems which increase cortisol in the body, increase your risk for heart disease (among other conditions) and keep your body in constant "flight or fight" panic mode. Adrenal problems are typically measured with easy, at home saliva testing.
9) Chronic Candidiasis which may cause symptoms such as white patches in mouth, memory problems, issues with sugar handling, gas and bloating, mucous in the stool, and cold hands or feet. Ask your doctor about an easy blood test to see if you have an acute or long term candida problem. Solutions for candidiasis may involve dietary changes, detoxification, and using natural herbs or supplements to resolve candida imbalance