Do you have an underactive thyroid? It is technically called hypothyroidism. This is a condition where the thyroid gland is not functioning the way it should…it’s underactive. It either doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones or the thyroid hormones are not available to the body. It is a lot more common than you think. In fact, it is estimated that nearly 1 in 3 people have some form of thyroid disease, the majority of which are women. Of those, as many as 50% are undiagnosed and don’t even know they have it! It can be diagnosed with a simple blood test or, even better, you can test it yourself in the comfort of your own home. See below for details on how to do this. Hypothyroidism is often due to an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s. Autoimmune simply means that the body attacks itself, in this case, the body attacks its own thyroid gland which destroys the tissue, resulting in an inability to produce sufficient hormones. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include but are not limited to fatigue, weight gain, depression, anxiety, menstrual irregularities, infertility, dry skin, hair loss, joint pain, constipation, impaired memory, slow heart rate, and high cholesterol. Unfortunately, doctors often dismiss the thyroid as the culprit for many of these ‘common’ symptoms leaving you wonder what the heck is wrong with you. So why is hypothyroidism more common in women than men? Well, for a number of reasons but the main one is that women menstruate. Women have hormone cycles. There is a delicate balance among all hormones in the body and when estrogen and progesterone is imbalanced, it can cause havoc to the thyroid gland. Estrogen has the ability to enhance the inflammatory process of the immune system which means estrogen could contribute to the attack on your thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is also highly influenced by stress, so the more emotional, physical and mental demands we put on our bodies, the more harm we create on our thyroid gland over time.
Hypothyroidism can also cause goiters (enlarged thyroid gland). Your thyroid gland uses iodine to produce thyroid hormones however, when your body doesn’t have enough of it, your thyroid gland is forced to go into overdrive to try to compensate and make more hormones. This causes the cells in your thyroid to rapidly multiply and grow, resulting in a goiter. Hypothyroidism (and goiters) have increased due to people using less iodized table salt for fear of it causing high blood pressure. Table salt is iodized. In other words, they add iodine to the salt strictly for the sake of helping to prevent iodine deficiency. Some time in the 1920’s, many countries in the world started adding iodine to salt to prevent iodine deficiency which is (still) a huge problem in many areas around the world who don’t have access to iodine. Just half a teaspoon (3 grams) of iodized salt per day is enough to meet your daily iodine requirement so don’t be afraid to use a little table salt but be sure it is iodized and don’t over do it.
So, how does an underactive thyroid gland cause weight gain? Because the thyroid gland controls your metabolism which is the system that helps the body use energy. Your thyroid gland sends hormones into the bloodstream that help keep your metabolism in check. When you don’t make enough of these hormones, this process slows down. Thyroid disorders can slow down your metabolism. People with hypothyroidism often have gained quite a bit of weight before they are diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. They will also feel fatigue which makes it harder to have the energy to stay active.
The big question? What can you do to improve your thyroid function? There are many, many products available on the market today which target the thyroid gland but the main thing is kelp (seaweed). This is because seaweed contains a good amount of iodine which feeds the thyroid gland, and it is very inexpensive! There are many products on the market that have a combination of different vitamins and herbs which all support the thyroid gland. If you need more information on this, please let me know.
Ok lastly, how to test your thyroid gland at home: This is called the Barnes Basal Temperature Test (BBTT) and is more accurate than a blood test. Before going to bed in the evening, shake down an oral thermometer and place it safely by your bedside. Immediately upon awakening while still in bed and with very little movement, take your temperature and lay still for at least one minute. Chart your temperature. Repeat this for 3-5 days in a row. A temperature below 97.6 indicates a probable underactive thyroid. This test will not be accurate if you are sick, have a fever, or you are menstruating. A temperature above 98.2 indicates possible hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), or fever from an infection.