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The thyroid is not normally a part of the body anyone gives much thought to – until they know how important the gland is to basic body function.
According to Dr. Deborah Plante, an endocrinologist with Mercy Medical Group, the thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits in your neck and produces thyroid hormones known as T3 and T4. She says the thyroid controls pretty much everything in the body, including heart rate, digestion, temperature regulation, bone turnover, metabolism of medications and cholesterol. “It basically controls your overall metabolism – it’s pretty important,” she adds. According to Dr. Jaiwant Rangi, medical director of Capitol Endocrinology, Inc., in Cameron Park, the thyroid will sometimes stop working properly and begin to either produce too many (hyperthyroid) or too few hormones (hypothyroid).
Dr. Rangi says some symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, constipation, feeling cold all the time, slow metabolism and slow heart rate. “In severe cases you could have mental fog and not be able to think clearly,” she adds. With the opposite, hyperthyroidism, Dr. Rangi says the patient’s metabolism is “all revved up” causing them to feel hyper and anxious. Common symptoms include feeling hot all the time, diarrhea, rapid heart rate and rapid weight loss.
To check for thyroid issues, Dr. Plante says the first step is a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) – a pituitary hormone – test, which is the most sensitive test to small changes in T3 and T4. “Even if someone has a mildly over- or under-active thyroid, the TSH becomes abnormal first and the free T3 and T4 levels may still be normal,” she adds. Since thyroid disorders are more common in women, the American Thyroid Association recommends all pregnant women and everyone over age 35 have a routine annual thyroid screening.
Dr. Plante says treatment options are dependent upon the underlying cause of the thyroid disorder. For hyperthyroidism, treatment can include medication or radioactive iodine treatment, while the treatment for hypothyroidism is thyroid hormone replacement in most cases.
Another thyroid disorder to be aware of is thyroid nodules, which Dr. Rangi says is swelling or lumps on your thyroid. She says 95 percent of nodules are not cancerous, but should still be checked. Thyroid swelling is more likely to be cancer in men than in women. “[Thyroid cancer] has excellent outcomes, if it’s detected and treated on time,” she adds.
Thyroid disorders, including autoimmune disorders, are both hereditary and affected by environmental factors; in addition, they’re more common in women, Dr. Plante says. Unfortunately, there is little people can proactively do to keep their thyroid working well – except managing stress and eating well.
Since it’s possible for a patient to have a subtle thyroid disorder that goes undiagnosed for years, Dr. Rangi urges those with symptoms to seek proper medical care. “If they really feel the thyroid should be checked, they should see a specialist – an endocrinologist who specializes in thyroid disorders,” she shares. “Even the ones with subtle problems noted just on routine testing and no symptoms should be addressed appropriately and not overlooked. If not, years of abnormality may add to the risk of heart disease, atrial fibrillation (arrhythmias) and higher risk of fractures.”
Upon further investigation and in our earnest efforts to provide the most accurate information to our readers, we must apologize for inaccurately suggesting that there are foods to avoid or consume for thyroid health. Please see your physician for any information regarding the treatment of your thyroid condition.
"At this time, the American Thyroid Association does not give any specific recommendations for thyroid supplements except to avoid iodine deficiency and to treat that (see the link below). There are naturopaths and others who recommend other dietary supplements and say to avoid certain food items...but these are not evidence based."
–Jaiwant Rangi, MD, FACE
Capitol Endocrinology Inc.
Cameron Park, 530-677-0700
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