What Is Thyroid Disease?
Thyroid disease is any disorder of the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that secretes hormones that influence almost every metabolic process in the body. Thyroid diseases involve either too high or too low levels of thyroid hormones, and symptoms can range from small, innocuous goiters to life-threatening cancers. Most of these conditions can be managed if properly diagnosed and treated.
At the Texas Center for Lifestyle Medicine located in Houston, TX, we are committed to treating the root cause of thyroid diseases. Dr. Cheng Ruan is able to offer unique insight into the causes and treatment of these diseases:
Learn More About Thyroid Disease
Thyroid disease can be divided into four main types: hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, structural abnormalities in the thyroid gland, and thyroid tumors.
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are the most common types of thyroid dysfunction.
Hypothyroidism is the lack of sufficient thyroid hormones, and hyperthyroidism is overproduction of thyroid hormones. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be caused by a malfunctioning thyroid gland (primary) or caused by a malfunctioning pituitary gland or hypothalamus (secondary).
We at the Texas Center for Lifestyle Medicine focus mostly on autoimmune thyroid disease. Autoimmune diseases are caused by the body’s immune system attacking healthy tissue. Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease are two of the most common autoimmune thyroid disorders.
There are many causes of thyroid disease. The causes of autoimmune thyroid conditions are thought to be a result of multiple factors, including genetic predisposition and the environment.
Did you know your brain and gut are two of the most common sources of thyroid dysfunction? To understand the thyroid means that we have to take a holistic approach to uncover root causes
In the case of Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease, sex hormones are thought to play a role in their development. Research suggests that Graves’ disease may develop in genetically predisposed individuals after pregnancy or an outside trigger like a viral infection.
Some causes of hyperthyroidism include:
- Toxic adenomas (nodules or lumps that form on the thyroid gland)
- Thyroiditis (swelling in the thyroid)
- Pituitary gland malfunctions
- Graves’ disease
Some causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Treatment for hyperthyroidism
- Thyroid surgery
- Radiation therapy
- Lithium medications
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea
- Stress and anxiety
Hypothyroidism/underactive thyroid symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Impaired memory
- Elevated blood cholesterol
- Stiffness or pain in joints
- Fatigue or muscle weakness
- Dry skin
- Puffy face
- Unusually heavy or irregular periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Increased sensitivity to cold
Hyperthyroidism/overactive thyroid symptoms include:
- Sudden weight loss
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Fatigue or muscle weakness
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased appetite
- Nervousness, anxiety, and irritability
- Changes in bowel patterns
- Goiter (enlargement of thyroid gland, causing swelling in the neck)
- Skin thinning
- Fine, brittle hair
- Thyroid storm (if left untreated or under-treated)
- Graves’ ophthalmopathy (swelling of tissues behind eyes)
Thyroid disease diagnosis involves a review of the patient’s medical history to check for past or hereditary thyroid problems, a physical exam to check for abnormalities in the thyroid gland, and a blood test to check the levels of TSH, T4, and T3 hormones. The best blood test is for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH); not only can this test detect a mostly or completely asymptomatic disease, but TSH signals the thyroid gland to produce T4.
We take a top-down approach to all hormone function disorders such as thyroid disorders. We start with the the brain. Our brain has multiple neuro-endocrine pathway that dictates thyroid function. After that we look at the way we take in air through the skull. As many as 1 in 4 humans have restricted airflow that can create hormone disruptions. Then we see how these systems interact with other hormones that affect the thyroid such as the autonomic nervous system as well as the immune system.
A healthcare provider may perform radio iodine uptake test or thyroid scan, both of which measure how much iodine the thyroid absorbs from the blood, to test for hyperthyroidism. Thyroid scans may also be done for diagnosis of hypothyroidism. Once either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism is diagnosed, doctors may also perform antibody screenings to see if the thyroid dysfunction is being caused by an autoimmune issue.
The most common treatment for hypothyroidism is hormone replacement therapy with the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine, but some patients may take natural thyroid medication containing porcine T4 and T3.
While medications are important to treat thyroid disorders, it may just be part of the big picture. Understand the interaction of your brain, gut, sleep, and stress are big components to improve overall thyroid function.
There are many available treatments for hyperthyroidism, such as:
- Radioactive iodine
- Anti-thyroid medications
- Beta blockers
- Thyroidectomy surgery
Diet can affect thyroid function, so depending on the type of thyroid disease a patient is suffering from, a medical professional may recommend eating or cutting out certain foods, vitamins, and minerals.
Frequently Asked Questions about Thryoid Disease
The thyroid gland releases several hormones, mainly T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine). These hormones affect almost every cell in the body, playing major roles in metabolism, growth, and development. The thyroid also produces a hormone called calcitonin, which regulates calcium levels in blood plasma.
T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) are two hormones released by the thyroid gland. Both of them have many functions, including affecting metabolism, growth, and development. T4 also plays a role in protein synthesis and T3 regulates body temperature and heart rate.
Thyroid disease is any disorder of the thyroid gland, and can be divided into four main types: hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, structural abnormalities in the thyroid gland, and thyroid tumors. Hypothyroidism is the lack of sufficient thyroid hormones, and hyperthyroidism is overproduction of thyroid hormones. Hashimoto’s disease Graves’ disease are two of the most common thyroid disorders.
There is no one cause of thyroid disease, but many thyroid disorders have a genetic component. It is thought that those who are genetically predisposed may develop thyroid disorders after exposure to a trigger, like an infection or pregnancy. Estrogen and prolactin have also been implicated in the development of autoimmune thyroid diseases, especially during puberty, pregnancy, and perimenopause.
Autoimmune diseases are caused by the body’s immune system attacking healthy tissue. Not all thyroid diseases are autoimmune in nature, but two of the most common thyroid diseases − Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease − are both autoimmune.
The most common treatment for hypothyroidism is hormone replacement therapy, while the most common treatments for hyperthyroidism are anti-thyroid medications and radioactive iodine (though surgery may be recommended in some cases). In addition to medication and surgery, some treatments may include exercise, supplements, or diet changes. Foods and nutrients that may be beneficial for patients with hypothyroidism include:
- Brazil nuts
- Fish and shellfish
Foods and substances that should be avoided include:
- Trans fats
- Processed sugar
For patients with hyperthyroidism, foods and nutrients that may be beneficial include:
- Vitamins A, B, C, and E
- Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables
- Ancient grains
Foods and substances that patients with hyperthyroidism should be avoid include:
- Red meats
- Trans fats
Talk with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your eating habits as part of thyroid disease treatment.