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Symptoms and Causes of Hypothyroidism


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Endocrine System


Author: Edward F. Group III, D.C., Ph.D, N.D.,CCN

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam's apple. It produces what is called thyroid hormones. These hormones are used to regulate the body. As long as your thyroid releases the proper amounts of these hormones, your system functions normally. But sometimes your thyroid doesn't produce enough hormones. This causes your body's chemical composition to become unbalanced. This condition is known as hypothyroidism.

An estimated 27 million Americans have thyroid disease, and more than half are undiagnosed. About 6 million to 7 million of them are women older than age 40 who have an under active thyroid. Because hypothyroidism usually develops slowly, only about half of all cases are diagnosed early. Frequently misunderstood, and too often overlooked and misdiagnosed, thyroid disease affects almost every aspect of health, so understanding more about the thyroid, and the symptoms that occur when something goes wrong with this small gland, can help you protect or regain good health.

Women are at the greatest risk, developing thyroid problems seven times more often than men. A woman faces as high as a one in five chance of developing thyroid problems during her lifetime, a risk that increases with age and especially for those with a family history of thyroid problems.

The thyroid has the only cells in the body capable of absorbing iodine. The thyroid takes in iodine, obtained through food, iodized salt, or supplements, and combines it with the amino acid tyrosine. The thyroid then converts the iodine/tyrosine into the hormones T3 and T4. The "3" and the "4" refer to the number of iodine molecules in each thyroid hormone molecule.

When it's in good condition, of the hormone produced by your thyroid, 80% will be T4 and 20% T3. T3 is considered the biologically more active hormone -- the one that actually functions at the cellular level -- and is also considered several times stronger than T4.

Once released by the thyroid, the T3 and T4 travel through the bloodstream. The purpose is to help cells convert oxygen and calories into energy.

As mentioned, the thyroid produces some T3. But the rest of the T3 needed by the body is actually formed from the mostly inactive T4 by a process sometimes referred to as "T4 to T3 conversion." This conversion of T4 to T3 can take place in some organs other than the thyroid, including the hypothalamus, a part of your brain.

The thyroid is part of a huge feedback process. The hypothalamus in the brain releases Thyrotropin-releasing Hormone (TRH). The release of TRH tells the pituitary gland to release Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). This TSH, circulating in your bloodstream, is what tells the thyroid to make thyroid hormones and release them into your bloodstream.


Causes of Thyroid Disease

What causes thyroid problems? There are a variety of factors that can contribute to the development of thyroid problems:

Exposure to radiation, such as occurred after the Chernobyl nuclear accident /. Over-consumption of isoflavone-intensive soy products, such as soy protein, capsules and powders.

Some drugs, such as synthetic lithium and the heart drug cordarone, can cause hypothyroidism.

An over-consumption or shortage of iodine in the diet can also trigger some thyroid problems. This also applies to iodine-containing supplements, such as kelp and bladderwrack.

Radiation treatment to the head, neck or chest. Radiation treatment for tonsils, adenoids, lymph nodes, thymus gland problems, or acne.

Nasal Radium Therapy,  which took place during the 1940s through 1960s, as a treatment for tonsillitis, colds and other ailments, or as a military submariner and/or pilot who had trouble with drastic changes in pressure

Over consumption of uncooked "goitrogenic" foods,  such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, rutabaga, turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, cauliflower, African cassava, millet, babassu, cabbage and kale

Surgical treatments for thyroid cancer, goiter, or nodules, in which all or part of the thyroid is removed, leave you hypothyroid

Radioactive iodine treatment (RAI) for Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism typically leave patients hypothyroid

You have a higher risk of developing thyroid disease if, among a variety of factors:

  • You have a family member with a thyroid problem

  • You have another pituitary or endocrine disease

  • You or a family member has another autoimmune disease

  • You've been diagnosed with  Chronic fatigue syndrome

  • You've been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia

  • You're female

  • You're over 60

  • You've just had a baby

  • You're near menopause hormones or  menopause

  • You're a smoker

  • You've been exposed to radiation

  • You've been treated with synthetic lithium

  • You've been exposed to certain chemicals (i.e., perchlorate, fluoride)


Hypothyroidism can also be caused by the following:

  • Congenital disease. Approximately 1 in 5,000 babies in the United States is born with a defective thyroid gland or no thyroid gland at all.

  • Pituitary disorder. About 1 percent of cases of hypothyroidism are caused by the failure of the pituitary gland to produce enough TSH — usually due to a benign tumor of the pituitary gland.

  • Some women develop hypothyroidism during or after pregnancy, often because they produce antibodies to their own thyroid gland.

  • Iodine deficiency. The trace mineral iodine, found in seafood, seaweed, plants grown in iodine-rich soil, and iodized salt, is essential for the production of thyroid hormones.

At first, you may barely notice symptoms such as Fatigue and sluggishness, or you may simply attribute them to getting older. But over time, untreated hypothyroidism can cause a number of health problems. The symptoms of hypothyroidism vary widely, depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency. But as your metabolism continues to slow, you may develop more obvious symptoms, including:

When hypothyroidism isn't treated, symptoms can gradually become more severe. Constant stimulation of your thyroid to release more hormones may lead to an enlarged thyroid (goiter). You also may become more forgetful, your thought processes may slow or you may feel depressed.

Advanced hypothyroidism, known as myxedema, is very rare, but when it occurs it can be life-threatening. Its symptoms include drowsiness and intense intolerance to cold followed by profound lethargy and unconsciousness.

To learn about ways to cure this condition continue reading.


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