Always Tired? It Could Be Your Thyroid |

Always Tired? It Could Be Your Thyroid

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Suffering from weight gain or unexplained fatigue? Your thyroid – a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck – may be to blame. We sat down with hormone specialist Dr Sohère Roked to discover the tell-tale signs your thyroid is out of balance…

What is the thyroid and what does it do?

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the front of the neck in between your voice box and collarbones – it’s no bigger than your thumb. Affecting almost every process in the body, it controls your metabolism (how many calories you burn) as well as how fast or slow your brain, heart, liver and countless other organs work. In short? The thyroid plays a role in everything from your mood to periods to bone health – when it isn’t functioning properly, things can go haywire in a hurry.

How common are thyroid issues?

More common than you’d think – recent studies suggest one in 20 people in the UK suffer from thyroid disorders, typically affecting women in their forties (women are around ten times more likely to have thyroid issues than men).But they can also affect men, teenagers, children, babies and pregnant women.

What causes a thyroid issue?

The most common cause is an underlying autoimmune disease, although unfortunately this cannot be prevented. Research also suggests genetics, chronic stress and environmental toxins could play a part.

How does a thyroid issue manifest itself?

The thyroid works by secreting a balance of two hormones into the blood. An overactive thyroid produces too much of these hormones (known as hyperthyroidism), resulting in weight loss, rapid heart rate, anxiety and sore eyes. An underactive thyroid (known as hypothyroidism) produces too few hormones, causing a slower than normal heart rate, constipation, tiredness, feeling cold, weight gain and depression.
We often use the analogy of a car when talking about the thyroid – when it’s working properly, the car is driving smoothly and there’s just the right amount of pressure on the accelerator. When the thyroid is running too high (hyperthyroidism), it’s akin to pushing hard on the accelerator and when the thyroid is underactive, it’s similar to pushing down on the brakes, leading to a sluggish feeling.

On a Similar Note

If the symptoms are so diverse, how can we know our thyroid is unbalanced?

An overactive thyroid may be slightly easier to spot – if you’re always tired, very sensitive to heat, have an unusually fast heart rate and swelling in your neck from an enlarged thyroid gland, pop to your GP.
However, the symptoms of an underactive thyroid can relate to many other conditions and can therefore be tricky to spot. You’ll always know when your body is not feeling 100% but take extra note if you’re experiencing these symptoms and let your GP know: unusual weight gain, low mood, slow movements, thought and speech, dry skin, loss of appetite, loss of libido, hair loss and dry/gritty eyes.

Is it possible to get tested?

Most GPs will be able to do some basic blood testing – ask to have your TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) and T4 (thyroxine) levels checked. However they’re not able to do detailed thyroid tests to check your T3 (triiodothyronine), reverse T3 and thyroid antibody levels routinely as they don’t have access to them. When I see a patient, we do this test as a baseline and recheck it a few months later to measure change. Your GP can refer you, of course, if they suspect your thyroid is out of balance.

Is treatment available?

Medication to control the thyroid is advised in most cases although if your thyroid is only mildly over or under-active, you may not need treatment.

Can lifestyle changes make a difference?

Absolutely. In addition to medical treatment, there are a few lifestyle changes that can help keep your thyroid on track – make an effort to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins and take control of your stress levels, as studies show there is a strong connection between your thyroid and adrenal glands.
At the same time, do a gut check – a whopping 20% of thyroid function depends on a sufficient supply of healthy gut bacteria, so try supplementing with probiotics. A well-balanced diet is vital: plenty of vitamins, minerals and nutrients like iodine, selenium, zinc, iron, B vitamins, vitamin A and vitamin D (think: grass-fed and wild-caught proteins, vegetables, healthy fats and fruits). Selenium in particular is crucial for thyroid function – just one or two Brazil nuts a day can help – as is iodine, which can be found in kelp, spirulina, cod, baked potatoes with the skin, turkey breasts, tuna and eggs. If you struggle to eat these foods, try taking an iodine supplement. Just be wary that an excessive intake of iodine can cause thyroid problems in itself, so be sure to strike a balance.
Make an effort to reduce your toxic burden by cutting back on alcohol, sugar, caffeine and junk food as well as removing gluten from your diet if tests show you struggle to digest it.
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