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January is Thyroid Awareness Month

January 19, 2012 No Comments by Scott Isaacs, M.D.

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped, brownish-red organ located at the base of the neck. It weighs only about an ounce and produces relatively small amounts of two potent hormones. This small structure, the thyroid gland, and the hormones it produces have a wide-ranging impact on your health and your weight—an impact that is often misunderstood or ignored. The thyroid controls metabolism and therefore plays a major role in body weight regulation. Low thyroid, or hypothyroidism, causes weight gain or makes it difficult to lose weight, even with vigorous exercise and the right diet.

The thyroid helps maintain organ function, brain function, body temperature, sleep, energy level, sex drive, mood, and much more. Many people struggle with a wide variety of symptoms and don’t know the symptoms are caused by their thyroid. It is easy to overlook the effects of a dysfunctional thyroid gland because the symptoms can come on slowly and are often blamed on old age, stress, or depression.

Your thyroid gland is like a car engine that regulates the rate at which your body functions. Just like a car can’t function without gas, your body can’t function without enough thyroid hormone. Having low thyroid hormone levels, known as hypothyroidism will slow your bodily functions which results in a number of symptoms.

Thyroid disease is the third most common disease inAmerica. According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, thyroid disease affects one in ten people—more than 30 million Americans. Roughly half are undiagnosed. Thyroid disease can affect anyone at any age, but it is more likely to develop as you get older. Women are ten times more likely to get thyroid disease than men. It is also more common during pregnancy or in the year after having a baby. The immune system, stress, nutritional deficiencies, medications, and exposure to radiation and toxins can damage the thyroid gland.

Forty percent of overweight Americans have thyroid dysfunction. Many people suffer for years before getting diagnosed. Without a diagnosis and treatment that addresses the thyroid, many patients —who otherwise could have been well on their way to better health—may have  painfully slow metabolisms, and slow metabolism is something no diet can cure.

Many of my patients have been told they don’t have thyroid problems, or they are taking thyroid medications yet they still can’t lose weight. Many of these patients have undiagnosed or improperly treated thyroid problems. Undiagnosed thyroid dysfunction or improperly treated hypothyroidism can be related to:

  • Subclinical thyroid disease
  • Taking an incorrect dosage of thyroid medication
  • Taking the wrong type of thyroid medication
  • Needing to take a combination of thyroid medications
  • Taking the medication incorrectly or occasionally forgetting
  • Gluten intolerance
  • Bowel problems impairing medication absorption
  • Low-quality medication, fluctuating hormone levels
  • Stress, inflammation, or immune system issues
  • Health issues impairing thyroid hormone activation (T4:T3 conversion)
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Thyroid toxins

A tweak in the dosage, changing medication brands, or adding another medication, along with a few simple diet and lifestyle changes, can optimize thyroid function, increasing metabolism and energy levels. For more information on these topics, please read my book Hormonal Balance.

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