Many years ago, when I was rehashing with my mom my most recent, mysterious digestive attack and visit to the ER, my mom suggested I have my thyroid checked. She had just seen on Oprah that stomach issues could be caused by thyroid disease.
I thought my mom was crazy. Oprah? What? My thyroid had been checked at my last 12 doctor visits and at the hospital recently. I assured her it had been looked at and completely ignored her motherly advice (as usual!) After all, I wasn’t overweight and I had a healthy diet. I also don’t get my medical advice from talk shows, Mom, even from one of my idols, Oprah. Come on now!
So I just blew her off and continued to suffer with a variety symptoms. Imagine my surprise, when a few months later, not only was I diagnosed with a thyroid condition, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease.
The doctor explained to me while he was doling out this diagnosis, that the condition had been missed because all of the markers on the basic thyroid blood panel had been in the normal range. None of the doctors nor the hospital ever bothered to dig deeper and order more comprehensive thyroid testing. They just disregarded the symptoms, told me I was stressed/had the flu and sent me on my way.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought thyroid disease was for fat people who chose to eat a bunch of crappy, junk food despite all the evidence that could cause disease (I know, not PC, but that’s what I thought and felt at the time.) How could I have any disease, let alone a thyroid condition, when I took painstaking measures to eat well and exercise. But here I sat, jaw-dropping, as I learned how my thyroid was creating all these symptoms. I had no idea what a power-house this organ was or how many of the body’s systems it affects.
And there you have it, my mom was right! I’ve never admitted it or reminded her that she called it all those years ago. (Shh…no use telling her now. 😉 )
Perhaps you’ve been suffering with a host of random symptoms and you’re wondering if you should get tested for thyroid disease. Here’s what you need to know about how it affects your body and which thyroid tests to get.
Your thyroid and what it does.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your throat, right below your Adam’s apple. The thyroid makes, stores and releases thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) into your blood. This process affects almost every cell in your body, helping control the body’s functions and it has a profound effect on cellular energy and metabolism.
Thyroid imbalances come in two major forms, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is when there is too little thyroid hormone in your blood. This makes your body and its functions sluggish. Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, is when you have too much thyroid hormone in your blood and everything starts racing.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a condition in which your own immune system attacks the thyroid, and often results in hypothyroidism but can volley you back and forth between hypo- and hyperthyroid symptoms. Hashimoto’s disease is progressive, and can be difficult to diagnose, as your thyroid levels can start out within the “normal” range but still not be at optimal levels. It is only one cause of hypothyroidism, but it is the most common.
But your thyroid doesn’t work alone.
Because those T3 and T4 hormones are part of almost every process in your body, having a malfunctioning thyroid can manifest itself in a zillion different ways – there are more than 300 symptoms linked to thyroid disfunction! But these are some of the most common:
Leaky gut is this silent yet not so silent annoyance that really takes a toll on the body and it takes time to heal. This is the place in your healing journey that needs a lot of extra TLC. Honor your gut, listen to what it’s telling you. If you feel yucky after eating certain types of food (like gluten, grains, cheese or alcohol), you’ll do yourself a world of good to eliminate them and allow your body to heal.
Adrenal fatigue generally develops over a period of years usually due to chronic stress and poor eating habits. Stress to our body comes in many forms. It can appear due to a traumatic event, every day unhappiness, an assault of environmental toxins or a poor diet.
Beyond the obvious daily stressors in our lives, the adrenal glands pump out more stress hormones when your blood sugar isn’t regulated, your gut is leaky, you have food sensitivities (such as gluten), toxins and infections are present, or you are inflamed and under an autoimmune attack. When it comes to your thyroid and your adrenal glands, you can’t look at one without the other, and adrenal stress could possibly be the most important component.
In response to chronic stress, our system creates a constant secretion of cortisol, which can weaken the adrenal glands and eventually lead to adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue creates a host of symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, insomnia, mood swings, sugar and caffeine cravings, irritability and dizziness. It also affects how your hormones are used by your cells, reduces the conversion of T4 to T3, weakens immune barriers, causes hormonal imbalances, promotes the autoimmune response and disrupts the interactions between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. This affects how you react to stress or trauma, your temperature, digestion, immune system, mood, libido and energy. In fact, weak adrenal glands can mimic symptoms of thyroid disease—whether you actually have thyroid disease or not.
When the adrenal glands are weakened, the body is put in a destructive state where it begins to break down. Since the thyroid gland controls the metabolism of the body, the gland will slow itself down in order to hinder this destruction. As a result, a hypothyroid condition will usually manifest in the body. The disheartening part is that it doesn’t take a severe case of adrenal fatigue to wreak havoc on the thyroid gland.
Often times, the initial adrenal fatigue is what actually caused your thyroid to malfunction. If you don’t address adrenal fatigue, that limits your opportunity of restoring the health of your thyroid.
Your skin, scalp and fingernails tell a lot about your health. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times (and literally, I have said it a million times), whether it’s nutrient malabsorption, eczema or dry skin, healing the leaky gut is going to be key to long-term reversal of these symptoms. As I’m sure you’re starting to realize, it’s all about the gut, baby!
The inflammation caused by leaky gut is also responsible for some skin conditions, and many people who suffer from skin diseases are also more sensitive to the substances and influences of gut bacteria. In addition, studies have shown that using probiotics—in essence, balancing gut bacteria—improve skin conditions.
Hair loss may be one of the most painful and embarrassing symptoms of thyroid disorder for women. It’s just not socially acceptable and it’s hard to cope with emotionally.
Your individual hair follicles grow and rest at different times, and that cycle is all controlled by your hormones. And—here’s a big shocker!—when your thyroid hormones are off, it can have very noticeable effects on your hair. In fact, hair loss is a very common symptom of thyroid disease. Too much thyroid hormone can cause your hair to become very fine and thin; too little can make it fall out—not just on your head, but all over your body.
As we now know, the adrenals, thyroid and our gut are inextricably linked. So it’s a chicken and egg scenario as to whether a malfunctioning thyroid affects your adrenals or if your adrenals are taxed and that affects your thyroid.
Stress begets stress—this is why even when you’re trying to be a “normal” person, you may have trouble managing your emotions and reactions to situations. When your thyroid and adrenals are out-of-whack, it creates a recipe for panic soup—and that’s not tasty.
Some foods—like carbs, chocolate, and others—contain compounds that definitely affect our moods and our brain chemistry. Plus, there’s more and more scientific evidence that our gut flora and our brains are totally linked—that when you have a “gut feeling” it’s really those billions of bacteria talking to you. Wild, right? But scientifically supported.
Which means that, when we’re not taking care of our gut, we’re not taking care of our brains and moods. We’ve got to heal our leaky guts in order to truly heal from depression. Luckily, what’s good for your gut is also good for your thyroid.
I go over all of this (and sooooo much more!) in the Thyroid Fix in 6 program, but if you’re looking at this list and wondering if you might have a thyroid problem — even if all your tests have come back normal — you may want to have your doctor run a FULL thyroid blood panel (which analyzes all your different thyroid hormone levels instead of just one) and compare them not just to a normal range, but to optimal ranges. My TSH, T3, T4 and other basic thyroid levels have ALWAYS been in the “normal” range. However, when I was sick, they were not in the OPTIMAL ranges. (See this blog post for a chart of normal and optimal ranges.)
Ready to heal for good? I’m so proud of you. Click here to check out my Thyroid Fix in 6 program to see if it’s right for you. You’ll be so glad you did!
If you’ve been suffering with random symptoms and are wondering about your thyroid, I provide a ton of resources for you, including:
- Our totally free Thyroid Healing Type Assessment, Report and Coaching Sessions
- Right here on my blog, where I talk about what’s worked best for me and my clients, as well as the latest research and resources I come across. You can subscribe to get new blog posts delivered right to your email by signing up on the righthand side of the page.
- My book, Healing Hashimoto’s Naturally — part memoir, part instruction manual for how I personally healed my Hashimoto’s disease.
- My exclusive free 6 Thyroid Myths That Can Keep You From Healing workshop — with info on the comprehensive Thyroid Fix in 6 program, which walks you through, step-by-step, the exact actions you need to take to heal your thyroid and get your life back! We’ve seen hundreds of participants in the Thyroid Fix in 6 avoid, decrease, or even eliminate the need need for thyroid medications.
- The incredible Your Best Thyroid Life Video Bundle, in which I personally invited 27 of the world’s top health experts to share their best tips for living with and healing thyroid disease.
Jen Wittman is a Certified Holistic Health Expert, Chef, Author & Vitality Coach, who teaches women how to reverse thyroid and autoimmune conditions naturally. She’s helped hundreds of women decrease (or even eliminate) their thyroid medications and has helped others stay off thyroid medication entirely.
Through her free Thyroid Healing Type Assessment, Jen teaches easy and simple steps to thyroid healing that can fit into your busy day. She also provides print outs to bring to your next doctor’s appointment so you can get the support and respect you deserve.