The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that impacts several significant functions of the body — regulating metabolism, digestion, body temperature, brain function and energy levels. But thyroid issues are common and, according to The American Thyroid Association (ATA), “up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.”
The thyroid and brain work synergistically, balancing and producing hormones to keep your body going. However, the thyroid is in a constant state of flux. Our environment — from stress and diet to genetics and underlying medical conditions — can affect how it functions.
Symptoms of thyroid problems
When the thyroid doesn’t function properly, it can cause a variety of symptoms and health concerns, including:
- Fatigue. One of the most common symptoms of a malfunctioning thyroid is fatigue or loss in energy. Because the thyroid impacts every cell, tissue and organ in the body, if you’re feeling more tired than usual it might indicate a thyroid problem.
- Heart palpitations. Thyroid dysfunctionality can either slow your heart rate or accelerate it. When it slows it can cause fatigue, and when it quickens it can cause a shortness of breath.
- Swelling. As thyroid hormone slows or stills, so does cell health and reproduction — resulting in swelling in different parts of the body, most often the face.
- Dry skin. When skin cell cycles are disrupted by a decrease in thyroid hormone release, skin cells can take longer to form, resulting in dryer skin.
- Irregular periods. Menstrual irregularities include prolonged or unusually heavy periods.
- Weight gain/loss. Thyroids help regulate metabolism, so when it makes less or more of its hormones, noticeable weight gain or loss could occur.
These and other symptoms could be signs of thyroid problems. Make sure to speak with a doctor to receive a valid diagnosis.
Ways to improve thyroid health
While you can’t control things like genetics or pre-existing conditions, there are still steps you can take to help improve your thyroid health:
- Moderate stress. Increased stress can negatively affect your thyroid. Find ways to reduce stress (such as exercise and meditation).
- Add selenium, iodine and zinc to your diet. Selenium is an important mineral that helps maintain your thyroid. It’s found in foods like eggs and legumes. Iodine is not naturally produced in the body, so it’s essential to have a diet containing it. Foods that contain iodine include fish, seaweed and eggs. Zinc is found in meat, poultry and whole grains. Take a daily multivitamin for extra coverage of these important minerals.
- Get adequate sleep. Getting enough good quality sleep every night is essential to your overall health, but it is no less important when it comes to thyroid issues.
Thyroid issues can often go unnoticed, so don’t put up with diminished quality of life. If you have questions about your thyroid function, or think you may have a problem with your thyroid, make sure to schedule an appointment to talk with your doctor about your options.
This article first appeared in the January 2021 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.