Thyroid disorders are a concern for a significant number of women, affecting approximately 1 in 8 during their lifetime, as reported by the Office on Women's Health. Furthermore, thyroid disorders tend to be more prevalent among women than men. The thyroid, a small gland located in the neck, plays a vital role in the production of hormones that have a substantial impact on a woman's body. These hormones are essential for regulating major bodily functions such as heart rate, metabolism, and growth. Recognizing the potential prevalence of thyroid disorders among women, it's crucial for them to understand the existing thyroid conditions, recognize associated symptoms, and learn about ways to maintain or improve their thyroid health.
What is Thyroid Gland?
The thyroid is part of the endocrine system. The endocrine system produces and releases hormones that regulate essential body functions of all kinds.The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck. It's located below the Adam's apple and can be felt (palpated) during a physical examination. The two lobes of the thyroid are connected by an isthmus - hence giving it a butterfly shape.
Inside the thyroid, there are hollow follicles. Thyroid hormones are derived from the colloid that fills these follicles.
What Are The Major Thyroid Hormones?
The thyroid gland produces two primary hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), crucial for regulating body functions. Both hormones contain iodine and share a similar chemical structure. T4 and T3 are composed of two tyrosine amino acids, with T4 having four bound iodine atoms and T3 having three.
In ideal circumstances, when blood levels of T4 are low, the pituitary gland releases thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which signals the thyroid to produce more hormones. Conversely, if T4 levels are high, the pituitary gland reduces TSH release, slowing down hormone production.
T4 is secreted by the thyroid follicles, while T3 is formed when T4 is converted in the target tissue.
Another important hormone produced by the thyroid is calcitonin. Its role is to regulate blood calcium levels and primarily impacts bone metabolism. Calcitonin is released in response to increasing blood calcium ions to ensure calcium is deposited in the bones.
Although issues with calcitonin are rare, its production does decline over time, potentially leading to bone weakening as we age. Osteoporosis, a condition where bones are weak and easily broken, is a significant concern for women, affecting 1 in 4 women over the age of 65.
Supporting a healthy thyroid to maintain optimal hormone levels is essential for various aspects of women's health.
Why are Thyroid Hormones Important?
Thyroid hormones are vital for maintaining the body's metabolism, influencing several important functions, including:
Regulating heart rate
Controlling body temperature
Affecting metabolism and weight
Controlling calcium levels
Playing a role in brain development
A disruption in metabolism affecting weight and energy levels is a key indicator of a thyroid disorder. Thyroid hormones play a critical role in regulating how glucose is oxidized and converted to energy (ATP).
Changes in thyroid hormone levels can cause fluctuations in the rate of metabolism, potentially leading to significant weight changes and other related symptoms.
What Types of Thyroid Disorders Are There?
Thyroid disorders encompass various conditions such as thyroid goiter, nodules, cancer, and autoimmune thyroid disorders (AITD). In severe cases, such as cancer, a thyroidectomy (removal of the thyroid gland) may be necessary.
Thyroid disorders vary in severity and presentation, influenced by factors such as the degree of hormone disruption, family history, and other associated symptoms or health conditions.
The most prevalent types of thyroid disorders fall into one of two categories:
Hyperthyroidism: Characterized by an overactive thyroid producing an excessive amount of hormones, often associated with conditions like Grave's disease.
Hypothyroidism: Characterized by an underactive thyroid producing an insufficient amount of hormones, often linked to conditions like Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
What Causes Thyroid Disorders?
The causes of thyroid disorders are varied, and often multiple factors can contribute. Common factors associated with thyroid disorders include:
Iodine deficiency or excessive iodine intake
Certain medications (such as lithium)
Let's explore these factors in more detail.
Autoimmune Disease and Thyroid Disorders
One common cause of thyroid disorders is autoimmune disease, where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. Common symptoms of autoimmune diseases include fatigue, joint pain, digestive issues, and swollen glands.
According to reputable sources like John Hopkins Medicine, thyroid diseases, including Grave's and Hashimoto's, rank among the top five most common autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune diseases tend to be more prevalent in women than men.
Autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD) is a condition characterized by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland, potentially leading to hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Researchers are actively studying the mechanisms that trigger autoimmune attacks on the thyroid gland, considering genetics and environmental factors as key influences. AITD is also linked to other systemic autoimmune disorders such as Sjögren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, systemic sclerosis, psoriatic arthritis, and others.
Iodine Deficiency and Thyroid Disorders
Iodine is a vital trace element necessary for the production of thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland requires iodine to synthesize thyroxine (T₄) and triiodothyronine (T₃) hormones.
In developing countries, iodine deficiency is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It can result in a high prevalence of goiters (enlarged thyroid glands), and many children are born with congenital hypothyroidism in iodine-deficient areas.
Natural sources of iodine in foods include seafood, seaweed, and dairy products. Historically, iodine deficiency was prevalent in interior parts of the US until the 1920s. To address this, food manufacturers began adding iodine to salt, reducing the issue in the so-called 'goiter-belt.'
Although iodized salt and increased awareness have significantly reduced deficiency cases in the US and Canada, approximately 30% of the world's population is still at risk of iodine deficiency. It's important to note that while sufficient iodine is crucial for thyroid hormone production, excessive intake can be harmful and lead to hyperthyroidism.
Certain Medications and Thyroid Disorders
Certain medications can potentially influence thyroid function either by interfering with the body's iodine absorption or by directly affecting the thyroid gland. Some commonly known medications associated with this include:
Amiodarone (Cordarone) - used for heart rhythm issues
Lithium - used in the treatment of bipolar disorder
Phenylbutazone (Butazolidin) - used for pain and inflammation management
Interferon alpha - used in the treatment of cancer and viral infection
Hormonal Imbalance In Menopause And Pregnancy
Hormonal imbalances caused by menopause and pregnancy can also overlap with or cause thyroid disorders.
During menopause, the level ofestrogen in a woman's body drops. This can lead to an increase in thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. Another issue is that hypothyroidism can exacerbate symptoms of menopause and according to Healthline, increase the risk ofcomplications with osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases.
Pregnancy also alters hormone levels, including estrogen and progesterone.
These hormone changes can lead to either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. In addition, in pregnant women with Graves' disease (a type of hyperthyroidism), the risk for miscarriage is high, and the baby is at risk for birth defects.
Post-partum thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid after giving birth. According to the Office of Women's Health, this affects about10% of women and often goes undetected because symptoms are similar to "baby blues." Although the thyroid returns to normal for most women within 12-18 months after symptoms start, some may have lingering effects or need treatment.
Read more about the connection between hypothyroidism, menopause, and pregnancyhere.
So now, let's talk more about the symptoms of the two major forms of thyroid disorders in women: hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Like the name suggests, "hyper" refers to too much activity, aka too much thyroid hormone. Conditions to be aware of:
As depicted, various thyroid conditions exist, and the appropriate approach can vary. Consulting a healthcare professional is essential to accurately diagnose the thyroid condition and assess any potential underlying health issues.
Common treatments for thyroid disorders may include:
Medications: Synthetic hormones for managing hypothyroidism and antithyroid medicines or beta-blockers for hyperthyroidism.
Radioactive iodine treatment: Utilized for conditions like Graves' disease and toxic nodular goiter, involving the ingestion of a pill to shrink or kill thyroid cells.
Thyroid surgery: In certain cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to either partially or entirely remove the thyroid gland.
Thyroid hormone replacement therapy: Utilized when the thyroid gland is removed or not functioning adequately.
Supplements: Iodine and selenium are crucial minerals for thyroid health. Some individuals with thyroid disorders or risk factors may consider supplements containing these minerals.
How Can You Support Your Thyroid With Supplements?
Several nutrients play a direct role in supporting your body's ability to produce thyroid hormone.
Selenium: An essential mineral crucial for regulating thyroid function. Selenium deficiency can adversely affect thyroid hormone production and metabolism. The daily recommended intake for selenium is 20-55 mcg for children and teens, and 55 mcg for adults. Foods rich in selenium include Brazil nuts, seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. Avoid excess selenium to prevent severe problems.
Iodine: Another vital mineral for thyroid health. Iodine deficiency can lead to goiter (thyroid gland enlargement), hypothyroidism, and cretinism (resulting in mental and physical retardation). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends 150 mcg of iodine for healthy adults, and 220 mcg during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Avoid excessive iodine intake to prevent hyperthyroidism.
Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial for supporting your thyroid. Appropriate exercise also positively impacts thyroid health and overall well-being.
Individuals with thyroid disorders may consider mineral supplements supporting thyroid function. If you're uncertain about the need for a thyroid supplement, consult your healthcare professional.
If you suspect a thyroid disorder, the best course of action is to consult your doctor. They can conduct blood tests to diagnose the type and severity of the disorder and recommend appropriate treatment options.
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It's important to note that 1 Body Thyroid Support Formula is free from common allergens including wheat, gluten, soy, milk, egg, fish, and tree nut ingredients.
This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Individual results may vary. Thyroid Support is intended to complement a healthy diet and provide additional nutritional support. Please consult with your healthcare professional before starting any new dietary supplement.