Think back to your last physical, you know, where you are sitting on the table and then your physician gently places a hand on your throat and asks you to swallow. What is that all about anyway? Well, chances are they are checking out a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of the neck just below the Adam’s apple. Although quite small, this gland plays a large role in our overall health and influences the function of many of the body’s most important organs, such as the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin. This gland also controls how your body uses food. Making sure this gland is healthy and functioning correctly is crucial to the body’s overall well-being. What gland is it? The Thyroid gland
The thyroid is often a hot topic on shows like Dr. Oz, magazine covers, click-bait on social media and even amongst friends. Maybe you have heard friends talking about being hypothyroid or hyperthyroid, something about the thyroid doing too much or too little and none of it makes sense to you. Good news, you aren’t alone! This little gland is more complex than meets the eye. It may leave you wondering how can so many people be struggling with their thyroid and yet so many not even know what it is? That’s why January is called, “Thyroid Awareness Month.” It’s a time to raise awareness, share education and start conversations about all things thyroid.
Unfortunately, an “estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease,” according to the American Thyroid Association (ATA). On top of that they say, “up to 60% of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition,” and “more than 12% of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime.” Occasionally this little glad can even turns its back on itself and start to self-destruct. We can’t just turn our back or sit pretty when it isn’t functioning properly. Think about your car when your car engine light comes on, do you keep driving hoping it will just fix itself? Of course not! Same should go for our bodies, when we get those dashboard lights going off, we need to get it checked out too.
When a thyroid gland isn’t happy it can give off many signals, some of these can be the general symptoms of many other health issues. This can be why it is so difficult to come up with a proper diagnosis. Symptoms may include weight gain, weight loss, fatigue, skin issues, thinning hair, heart rate concerns, hoarse voice, and a slew of other general symptoms. More specific concerns include nodules growing on or around the thyroid and or enlargement of the thyroid such as a goiter. Fortunately, there are a variety of different blood tests that can check the function of the thyroid. You might even be encouraged by your provider to get an ultrasound or even a biopsy of the area to learn as much about what is going on as possible.
Hypothyroid is when the thyroid is working below the level it should. Risks of hypothyroid include an enlarged thyroid, birth defects, heart problems, lack of weight management control, infertility, and more. Hyperthyroid is when the gland is working in overdrive, and in the case of the thyroid, more isn’t better. Those with hyperthyroidism are at risk for Graves’ disease, thyroid nodules, immune system problems and increased infections. On top of these are other conditions such as hyperparathyroidism with an abnormally high concentration of parathyroid hormone in the blood, resulting in weakening of the bones through loss of calcium. Another thyroid complication is Hashimoto’s disease, where your immune system starts to attack the thyroid gland. You can read more about these at: https://www.thyroid.org/.
The more we learn about our thyroid and our body, the more we can make the best choices for our overall health. Although there is no true way to prevent the thyroid from going wild, there are a few things we can do to try to support good thyroid health. Nutrients are very important to your thyroid, and how you fuel your body can have a great impact not only on your thyroid but your total health. Iodine, selenium, zinc, copper, vitamins A, C, E and B’s along with other vitamins and minerals are so important. You can’t go wrong with eating a wide variety of colored fruits and vegetables to help your thyroid. When looking for iodine, choose sea vegetables like kelp; for a day’s supply of selenium, just a couple Brazil nuts can pack enough punch for the day. Lean meats, mushrooms, lentils and other foods can also help your body get the nutrients it needs. Foods your thyroid doesn’t like include sea salt, too many sea vegetables, certain veggies like kale and broccoli, soy and organ meats. Talk to your physician about your own circumstances, as some foods are better or worse for people depending on their own thyroid function.
The ATA says that undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and infertility. While there is no cure for thyroid conditions, there are many paths of treating those living with them. If you are experiencing symptoms or concerned about your thyroid health, talk it over with your physician. If your physician has ordered blood work or an ultrasound for your thyroid, don’t put them off. You may be living with thyroid disease and not even know it. Many people become accustomed to their symptoms when they don’t have to. If you are overly tired, puffy, gaining or losing weight, having mental fogginess, memory issues, heart palpitations, mood swings, trouble with temperature control or any other symptoms like these, don’t remain quiet. Speak up, it may be thyroid disease. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you just may be feeling better!
Let’s use this month as not only a chance to raise awareness; but to learn more, schedule our yearly check-up, do research, and start conversations about thyroid health. Thyroid disease isn’t fun, but with proper care it can make living with it less of a pain in the neck!
Director of The Wellness Center