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What Is Your Thyroid? What Does It Do?

Chest-up graphic of the body's hormonal glands

The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland that sits in the area just below the Adam’s Apple. Although it is about the size of a butterfly, it serves as the hormone powerhouse of your entire body. It is estimated that 27 million Americans have a thyroid disorder and more than half of them remain undiagnosed. About 10% of women have some type of thyroid dysfunction. The incidence of Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid) increases with age so that by the time one reaches 60, as many as 17 percent of women and 9 percent of men fall into this category. Thyroid disease runs in families and is associated with diabetes. Thyroid disease affects every organ in your body including your skin and hair. It also influences your mood and energy level. The signs and symptoms of an under active thyroid include dry skin, thinning hair, constipation, muscle cramps, feeling cold when others are comfortable, tired, weight gain, and high cholesterol. Some women experience irregular intervals of increased menstrual flow. Now all of that is enough to make anyone depressed!

So how would you determine if you are one of the 10% of women or 3% of men with hypothyroidism? First make notes of any changes in your general health. There are a lot of people with thinning hair and many people with high cholesterol, but not all have a low functioning thyroid. But if you are a person who used to feel normal but have noticed a change in several of these areas, then give us a call to schedule a consultation to test your Thyroid.

There is a panel of tests that can be used to determine your thyroid status. The major screening tool is a measurement of your TSH – thyroid-stimulating hormone. If it is elevated, then you probably have a low functioning thyroid. TSH is a hormone made by your brain to stimulate your thyroid to work. It acts like the driver of horse drawncarriage. If your horse (thyroid) is working normally then your driver (brain) does not have to work hard to make it go, so your TSH would be in normal levels. If your horse is lazy then your driver (brain) has to work hard to stimulate your thyroid, making your TSH levels elevated. The normal ranges of TSH were changed in 2003 with normal currently being reported between 0.3 – 3.0 mU/L. Just remember that what is normal for someone else will not be normal for you. Your primary care provider will play an important role in screening you for thyroid disease and we can work closely in partnership with your primary care provider to provide you with optimum wellness.

If you are taking thyroid replacements, then it is important to take your medicine on a regular basis and at the same time of day every day. Changes in your general health and increased stress levels may cause you to need more thyroid replacement. Let your physician know if you think that your symptoms are returning so that your replacement medicine can be reassessed. There are alternative remedies available now to help treat thyroid disease that we can help with as integrative providers.

Be aware that certain foods can affect your thyroid function including soy products. Most people do not realize how much soy they consume, but US statistics report that over 80% of all oil consumed in America is soy based. In 1991, Japanese researchers reported that consumption of as little as 30 grams or 2 tablespoons of soybeans per day for only one month suppressed thyroid function. Read your labels and you will find soy in most packaged baked goods, all regular mayonnaise, and most gums. You may not think that you consume soy, but it may be consuming you! A poorly functioning thyroid will affect the skin and hair. Often people will seek a consultation with a plastic surgeon or dermatologist because they are distressed about their sallow, dry skin and thinning hair. It is important that any underlying issues are addressed instead of just trying to treat the symptoms. Part of a comprehensive exam includes a history of systemic disorders including thyroid disease that may be contributing to the problem. Since the thyroid plays an important role in the metabolic health of a person, it is important that your thyroid is in good order prior to initiating any other type of rejuvenation care including surgery.

Your primary care physician will be a good starting point for evaluation and our clinic is an additional source for investigating the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid deficiencies. Remember be radiant and care for yourself, both inside and out!

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