January is Thyroid Awareness Month
Thyroid Awareness Month. Over the last decade, people have become aware of illnesses, diseases, and health conditions we face more and more each day. It’s not just heart disease and worrying about cholesterol levels anymore, and the gravity of the overall health situation worldwide has made health organizations to dedicate specific moments and months throughout the year to some of the most serious and harmful conditions.
January shines the light on the thyroid and all of the conditions surrounding it. As one of our most important hormone glands, thyroid disorders and inflammations affect almost every other function in the human body. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself on how to take care of your thyroid and, more importantly, how to prevent diseases and heal in case they do occur.
How Important is the Thyroid Gland?
The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly, and it’s located at the base of your neck. From there, it governs almost all processes in the human body, mostly by releasing important thyroid hormones.
The thyroid is a part of the endocrine system where it works in conjunction with all other important glands to support the optimal function of every area of your body. Its main role is to manage and control your metabolism, starting with your body temperature and heartbeat to the way you digest food and absorb nutrients.
Additionally, it plays an important part in muscle function, brain development, stress management, and more, and the main drivers behind these actions are thyroid hormones.
The thyroid releases four important hormones, but you’ll most likely usually hear about the first two:
- T4, also known as thyroxine: T4 is the thyroid’s primary hormone which gets converted into T3.
- T3, also known as triiodothyronine: Your thyroid releases T3, but the majority of it gets converted from T4. This hormone plays the most important role in metabolism management.
- RT3, or reverse triiodothyronine: Your thyroid releases tiny amounts of RT3, which reverses the effects of T3 in case you have a thyroid disorder.
- Calcitonin: This thyroid hormone helps regulate the amount of calcium in your blood.
TSH, or thyroid-stimulating hormone, is another important hormone in the function of the thyroid gland, but it isn’t released by it. Instead, the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland, also known as the master gland in the human body, to release TSH, which then stimulates the thyroid to release T4 and T3. So, as you can see, the connection between all glands in the endocrine system is very tight and complex.
Some Eye-Opening Facts about Thyroid Conditions
The hectic aspect of our lives doesn’t do us any good, what with our stress hormones being through the roof, lack of movement, poor nutrition, and impaired sleep. All of these factors contribute to issues with our thyroid.
Once inflammation hits your thyroid, whatever the reason behind it, you might end up with a series of conditions that, if left untreated, might cause severe complications and irreparable damage to your overall health and well-being. Here are some eye-opening facts about thyroid conditions you might not be aware of:
- It’s generally considered that around 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, 60% of which are completely unaware of their condition.
- Even though medicine is drastically updating, the main causes of thyroid conditions are still not completely known.
- The majority of thyroid diseases aren’t curable, but only manageable with life-long care.
- It seems like one in every 8 women will develop some sort of thyroid disorder in her lifetime.
- Thyroid conditions may cause complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
- Obese people are more likely to develop thyroid conditions, as well as those with high cholesterol levels.
- Commonly used endocrine disruptors, like triclosan that’s widely used in cleaning and household products, can affect the action of endocrine glands, including the thyroid gland.
Most Common Inflammatory Thyroid Diseases
Hypothyroidism refers to a condition where your thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones to support its function, leading to an underactive thyroid. This shows up as a slowed-down metabolism, inexplicable weight gain and fatigue, brain fog, low body temperature, anemia, digestion issues, and more.
Even though it can be a result of a variety of causes, the most common one is thyroiditis or inflammation of your thyroid. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition that’s one of the main causes of hypothyroidism, but luckily, there are ways to deal with this inflammation and prevent it from wreaking more havoc on our bodies. So as difficult as this condition may be, it’s not untreatable, and it’s crucial to get to the bottom of it before it complicates even further.
Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, is a condition where your thyroid produces and releases and excess of thyroid hormones, leading to an overactive thyroid that, once again, cannot perform its usual functions properly. The most common symptoms include an overactive metabolism, digestion issues, weight loss, feelings of anxiety and jitteriness, nervousness, rapid heartbeat, and more.
And once again, the most common cause of this thyroid condition is thyroiditis, only this time, it usually shows up as Graves’ disease, another autoimmune condition where your body attacks its own thyroid cells thinking they’re harmful.
Even though serious and could potentially lead to a series of problems, this inflammation is also treatable and manageable, and only by becoming more aware of the symptoms and doing your best to keep them under control, can you eventually start your healing process.
Goiter is a thyroid condition that shows up as an enlargement of the thyroid gland and it’s usually caused by iodine deficiency. When iodine is lacking in your bloodstream, the thyroid cannot produce enough of the thyroid hormones, risking hypothyroidism. That’s why the pituitary gland stimulates TSH to signal the thyroid to produce more hormones which often results in an enlarged gland. Usually caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, goiter is usually treated with iodine supplements and radioactive iodine (if the condition is caused by Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism).
Thyroid Nodules are an unusual growth of thyroid cells that form in your neck, resulting in visible lumps. They are mostly benign and rarely show up as cancerous, but in rare cases, they do. Even though it’s not completely known why they occur, some studies show how they’re most likely to show up in populations where iodine deficiency is prevalent.
Now, aside from the most common inflammatory diseases of the thyroid gland, thyroid cancer is also becoming more and more common in our population. It occurs when the thyroid cells start duplicating rapidly and spin out of control, and depending on which cells are affected, there is a variety of different thyroid cancers that can develop.
That’s why the treatment of each thyroid cancer condition may drastically differ from one another, leaving you once again with the serious task of learning about your condition and educating yourself about every possible factor that can influence your healing.
What can You Do to Support?
Now, since January is thyroid awareness month, spend these four weeks really diving deep into your thyroid health. Remember: you don’t have to actually have a problem to go test your levels and see if everything is running smoothly. Western medicine is unfortunately geared towards treating conditions instead of preventing them, but knowing where you stand and tackling any potential issue that might pop out as early as possible is the best way to heal and successfully reduce inflammation.
In addition to drawing blood and checking your thyroid function, there are plenty of different ways to support your thyroid health. Here are some of the most important:
- Eat Nutritious Thyroid-Boosting Foods – what you eat is extremely important as food breaks down into nutrients that literally build and support our bodies. When you look at it from that perspective, it’s incredibly important to eat foods that will support your thyroid. These include superfoods like ginger, camu camu, yacon, cacao, maca, seaweed, cruciferous vegetables, and healthy fats like avocado and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Reduce and Abstain From Inflammatory Foods – to that same point, eating inflammatory foods can only further inflame your body and cause your thyroid to become under or over-active. Stay away from processed foods, excess sugars, artificial additives, and hydrogenated oils.
- Move Your Body – sedentary lives we all lead make the importance of movement even greater. Find the time in your week to move your body. Whether it’s yoga, pilates, running, or long walks, it doesn’t matter. Just keep moving.
- Drink Plenty of Water – our bodies are 60-70% made of water, so it’s only normal to accentuate how important proper nutrition is for the optimal function of all of our body’s organs and cells. The “8 cups of water” rule has long been overruled, and the needs of each individual greatly differ. Listen to your body and stay hydrated throughout the day, especially if you live in warmer climates or lead an active lifestyle.
- Improve Your Sleep – sleep deprivation has been linked to a variety of health conditions, some of which can greatly impact the health of your thyroid. Focus on getting enough, high-quality sleep every night and support your thyroid instead of making her work harder.
- Lower Your Stress Levels – easier said than done, but one of the most common causes of thyroid conditions and disorder comes as a result of chronic stress and its ability to really push your body’s limits, weakening its immune system and leaving you incapable of protecting your thyroid. Implement good self-care habits that will protect and support your thyroid (and overall health), like meditation, journaling, spending quality time with family and friends, long walks in nature, warm baths, infrared sauna sessions, and similar.
2023 may be a new year, but in reality, it’s just another year in your lifetime. Still, it’s never too late to start increasing your awareness surrounding your health, and in January, with its focus on the thyroid, is the perfect time to start.
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