The thyroid gland is one of the body’s most important components. The thyroid regulates hormone balance and contributes to weight, mood, and mental stability—and that barely scratches the surface. Because of the thyroid’s influence on so many of the body’s important, and even “secondary” functions, an unhealthy thyroid can have far-reaching, unexpected, and odd effects that manifest into symptoms that many doctors fail to identify as thyroid-related. In fact, of the 12% of Americans that will develop thyroid disease, 60% will never know they have it. That’s a problem. Awareness is key, so to help, here are ten, easy-to-miss symptoms of thyroid problems.
1. Cholesterol That’s Too High or Too Low
Too much fat in your diet causes high cholesterol, right? Wrong. High cholesterol can have a number of originating factors, and diet is a small contributor compared to others. And, in some cases, low cholesterol may be a problem. If your cholesterol is off and diet and exercise don’t help, it may be time to consider the possibility of an underlying problem. If you take medication for cholesterol and it’s not working, it’s time to have your thyroid checked. You may have hypothyroidism, or low thyroid hormone levels. It’s always a good idea to get tested for hyperthyroidism, a condition caused by an overabundance of circulating thyroid hormone.[2, 3]
2. Sore Joints and Nerve Pain
Research has found that thyroid diseases, both hypo- and hyperthyroidism, can cause nerve pain. Getting thyroid health in check has produced improvements in wrist pain and tingling sensations in some people. In one case, a 60-year-old Italian woman suffering from a burning sensation in her feet displayed symptoms of hypothyroidism. As she progressed with her thyroid treatment, the pain went away.
3. Heart Disease
Thyroid hormones play a direct role in heart health, so if you have heart disease, you need to be aware of your thyroid status. A 2014 study out of John Hopkins University reported low thyroid hormone levels were common in young and middle-aged adults with early-stage coronary artery disease and blood vessel calcification. A Polish study similarly compared 25 patients with low levels of thyroid stimulating hormone to 25 patients with normal levels and found that those with lower levels had more cardiac events.
4. Weak, Fragile Fingernails
Fingernails that crack or flake may reflect thyroid problems, as those with hypothyroidism often have soft, fragile nails. Additionally, persons with hyperthyroidism often experience a nail that comes off the bed of the fingertip. In both cases, dry skin and brittle hair often accompany these symptoms.
5. Anxiety and Mood Imbalances
Your hormones play a huge role in affecting how you feel. Low hormone levels, such as in the case of hypothyroidism, can leave you feeling down in the dumps. Conversely, an excess of hormones can lead to anxiety or panic attacks. If you have feelings like this, it might be a good idea to get your thyroid tested before considering psychiatric drugs that could make your problems worse.
6. Inexplicable Weight Gain or Loss
If you’ve lost or gained weight and can’t explain why, it could be your thyroid. Metabolism depends directly on hormone activity. A sudden change in weight, up or down, can be an indication of a thyroid imbalance.
7. Constant Fatigue
Constant fatigue is a common problem that often gets ignored. Many young adults write off fatigue and low energy as a sign of their lifestyle; but if you have an established routine and get regular sleep, you shouldn’t ignore chronic fatigue. If you get 7-8 hours of sleep and it’s not enough, it could be an early symptom of a thyroid issue. Those suffering from hyperthyroidism may find it hard to fall asleep, which can leave you dragging during waking hours.
8. Low Libido
Since the thyroid is all about hormones, it comes as no surprise men and women experience problems with their reproductive organs. Women can have a more frequent, longer menstruation with low hormones and shorter, light menstruation—or have a cycle stop altogether—with too many circulating hormones. Fertility may also be a problem. Men experience infertility, low libido, and may even develop enlarged breasts when sex hormones and the thyroid become imbalanced.
9. Gut Problems
IBS isn’t always caused by diet. In fact, metabolic imbalances may be to blame. This prevents necessary enzymes from getting to the gut to help with digestion. If constipation, diarrhea, or IBS are ongoing problems and therapies aren’t helping, it may be time to consider checking your thyroid.
Hormone imbalances don’t exist in a vacuum, they often lead to other imbalances throughout the body, and an extreme dip in energy levels is one that’s standard. Your thyroid, metabolism, and energy levels are all connected. If you get enough sleep and follow a balanced diet and routinely provide your body with the complete nutrition it needs to perform its functions, and you still feel weak, it’s time to consider underlying possibilities, and your thyroid is one.
Promoting Thyroid Balance
Many factors influence thyroid health, and there are a few things you can do to encourage optimal thyroid function.
- Make sure you get enough iodine. It’s not a cure or treatment; it’s simply the exact nutrition your thyroid needs to function normally. Iodine-rich foods are one way to get your iodine requirements; an iodine supplement is another.
- Exercise regularly. The goal isn’t to become a bodybuilder; it’s to use and work your muscles—all of them. Get up and move around.
- Eat a balanced diet that meets all your nutritional requirements. Your body is like a Swiss watch; all its parts need to be precisely aligned for it to function properly as a whole. If you have nutritional deficiencies, of any kind, you’re not going to feel balance.
Selenium: The Missing Link?
Have you experienced thyroid problems that prove difficult to pinpoint? The culprit could be selenium deficiency. Selenium is an essential mineral that helps protect the thyroid and support normal thyroid function.[10, 11] As with iodine, you can get all the benefits of this mineral by consuming selenium-rich foods or by taking a high-quality selenium supplement.
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- American Thyroid Association. “Prevalence and Impact of Thyroid Disease.” ATA Fact Sheet.
- Rizos, C.V, M.S Elisaf, and E.N Liberopoulos. “Effects of Thyroid Dysfunction on Lipid Profile.” The Open Cardiovascular Medicine Journal 5 (2011): 76–84. PMC. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.
- Melish, J.S. “Thyroid Disease.” In: Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Boston: Butterworths; 1990. Chapter 135.
- Roquer, J., Cano, J.F. “Carpal tunnel syndrome and hyperthyroidism. A prospective study.” Acta Neurol Scand. 1993 Aug;88(2):149-52.
- Penza, P., Lombardi, R., Camozzi, F., Ciano, C., Lauria, G. “Painful neuropathy in subclinical hypothyroidism: clinical and neuropathological recovery after hormone replacement therapy.” Neurol Sci. 2009 Apr;30(2):149-51. doi: 10.1007/s10072-009-0026-x.
- Zhang, Y., Kim, B.K., Chang, Y., et al. “Thyroid hormones and coronary artery calcification in euthyroid men and women.” Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2014 Sep;34(9):2128-34. doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.114.303889.
- Krysicki, M., Jaworska, M., Popowicz, B., et al. “The incidence of hypothyroidism symptoms and risk factors for cardiovascular events in subclinical hypothyroidism.” Pol Merkur Lekarski. 2014 Jul;37(217):10-6.
- Razi, A., Golforoushan, F., Nejad, A.B., Goldust, M. “Evaluation of dermal symptoms in hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.” Pak J Biol Sci. 2013 Jun 1;16(11):541-4.
- Patil, Anant D. “Link between Hypothyroidism and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.” Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism 18.3 (2014): 307–309. PMC. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.
- Drutel, Anne, Francoise, Archambeaud, and Philippe Caron. “Selenium and the Thyroid Gland: More Good News for Clinicians.” Clinical Endocrinology 78.2 (2013): 155-64. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.
- Arthur, John R., Fergus, Nicol, and Geoffrey J. Beckett. “The Role of Selenium in Thyroid Hormone Metabolism and Effects of Selenium Deficiency on Thyroid Hormone and Iodine Metabolism.” Biological Trace Element Research 33.1-3 (1992): 37-42. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.