The Thyroid is a gland that is butterfly shaped and lies in front of the windpipe at the base of the neck. The thyroid releases hormones that are literally involved in almost every single process in the body because thyroid hormone works to help with cellular metabolism. “There isn’t one cell that escapes the effects of thyroid hormone.”
Hypothyroidism is a disease where the thyroid stops doing it’s job. Hypo=not enough. Hypo-thyroidism = not enough thyroid hormone. The list of symptoms of hypothyroidism may be endless…because it affects every body system. I will mention some of the common symptoms: fatigue, thick or dry skin, slow reflexes, trouble focusing, small weight gain, constipation, heavy periods, easily cold or chilled, depressed mood, or dry brittle hair and nails.
So you may be asking… “Why do I care about the thyroid or hypothyroidism?” Well, healthcare providers check thyroid levels very often. If a patient has dry skin, fatigue, depression, heart disease, or even constipation…….a thyroid level may be drawn. It is even offered by our lab at a reduced price during our health fair because it is ordered so often by health care providers at our clinic. It also affects many people. Even if you personally don’t have thyroid problems, there is a good chance that you know someone who does. For instance, about 10% of women will develop hypothyroidism at some point in their lifetime. About 5% or less of men will develop hypothyroidism in their lifetime. Things that increase a person’s risk of developing hypothyroidism include but are not limited to: age >60, history of thyroid or neck surgery, history of neck irradiation, downs syndrome, personal or family history of autoimmune disorders, or certain medications (i.e. amiodorone and lithium).
When checking on the thyroid, health care providers don’t actually draw a thyroid level but we draw a lab called Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). The pituitary gland in our brain releases TSH which travels down to our thyroid gland and instructs the gland to release thyroid hormone or Free T4 (FT4). When we don’t have enough FT4 the brain gets a message to “release more TSH up there, we don’t have enough FT4 down here” and the brain listens. So that is why a HIGH TSH means that we don’t have enough FT4 or possibly hypothyroidism. If the TSH is high then a FT4 level is usually looked at as well to help diagnose the problem. It is best to check the TSH at the same time each day because it does peak in the afternoon and that way we can spot trending levels.
If you find that you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism you will be placed on medicine, usually this is a synthetic form of FT4. Medication should be taken on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. After taking the medicine a person should not eat anything for 30 minutes. The medication should aslo be taken separate from other medications including over-the-counter meds, minerals, and vitamins (separate by at least 2 hours). Don’t take with milk or soy milk because these may block absorption of the medicine. Always tell your health care provider about any new medications.
Once started on the synthetic FT4, your labs are repeated at about 6 weeks. This is how long it takes to reach a steady state in the body. If your health care provider feels like you need more and they change the dose, they will wait another 6 weeks to recheck your TSH. Once they feel you are at the correct dose, they will continue to check it regularly to make sure you stay at the correct level.
So if you don’t have any thyroid problems and you are reading this and possibly getting a little bored, well hang in there. There is a reason that endocrinologists (doctors who specialize in thyroid disorders) are some of the smartest people I know. They have a very complicated job and you have to be very smart and educated to do it. (One of the endocrinologists that I used to work with actually was planning to be on Jeopardy because he was so brainy!!) The complex endocrine system requires a lot of studying in order to understand…..even for the family practice providers…..believe me I know!
If you do have thyroid problems and you are reading this and saying “My health care provider never told me all of these details!” well the reason might be that it is not easy to explain all of this. Usually about half way into the conversation about TSH and FT4 the patient’s eyes glaze over and they look like they are about to fall asleep! I know, I know…..”Not easy to explain” is not a good reason to NOT explain all the details, but I promise this….if you ask questions your healthcare provider will answer them. This is a good way to let them know you are interested in all the details. If you ask, soon you will know all that you EVER wanted to know about the thyroid and more! If you aren’t a patient of mine, I highly encourage you to have a primary provider that will take the time to sit down and answer all of your questions.
No matter whether or not you have thyroid disease, there are certain nutrients that will help your thyroid function to its full potential. Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B complexes, selenium, iodine, zinc, L-tyrosine, copper, calcium, and magnesium. Some of these vitamins can be ingested in your diet (remember we are what we eat!) but some can be purchased as supplements as well. Always ask your health care provider before adding new supplements in your diet in order to safely promote your health and wellness.
This is a lot of info for a person to take in in one sitting. So if you need to come back and read my blog again at any time feel free! If anyone wants to know what causes hypothyroidism you will have to ask me and I will respond. That way I know that you are interested ;)
Have a great weekend!
Erin Tobin APRN
Salmon has: Vit B12, Niacin, Selenium, Vit D, Vit B6, and Magnesium.
Sweet Potato has: Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Zinc.
Asparagus has: Vit A, Zinc, Magnesium, Vit E, Vit C, Copper, and multiple B Vitamins.