Feeling tired all the time, experiencing changes in your mood, being constipated, or dealing with infertility can feel like an uphill battle when you’re struggling to find the cause, but the answer might be right under your nose, or rather, chin.
The thyroid , a butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your neck, is responsible for producing and releasing hormones that control everything from metabolism and heart rate to breathing and menstrual cycles. When the thyroid isn’t functioning properly, it may produce too little or too much thyroid hormone, leading to a range of seemingly unlinked symptoms that can progress over time and have serious health consequences.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you’re not alone. Thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s disease, and autoimmune thyroiditis are all on the rise. Thyroid cancer is also the most rapidly increasing cancer in the U.S., tripling in the past three decades. But why the sudden increase? Science is pointing to several reasons that could be to blame.
Around 70 percent of autoimmune thyroid conditions can be attributed to a genetic predisposition that is triggered by an environmental agent, while the other 30 percent are linked to environmental and lifestyle components or triggers. But the incidence of thyroid conditions in women, who are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems , may be more related to environmental concerns.
One study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who were married to men who used agricultural pesticides were at a higher risk of developing thyroid disease than women who didn’t live in agricultural areas. Below are some of the other most common causes of thyroid issues you want to be aware of.
Other environmental factors that can disrupt your thyroid function include BPA in plastic bottles, soy isoflavones, and triclosan, which is found in everything from antibacterial soaps to toys. Workers that are exposed to deodorizers, sanitizers, and disinfectants through jobs in healthcare or cleaning also had a greater risk for developing thyroid cancer. These chemicals and pollutants interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis, metabolism, excretion, and action, often lowering levels of circulating thyroid hormones.
Your diet might also be a contributing factor to a thyroid condition. Iodine, selenium, iron, Zinc, and vitamin A nutrient deficiencies can all disrupt thyroid function . Without sufficient iodine, for instance, your thyroid is unable to produce adequate thyroid hormone, while low selenium could expose your thyroid to free radical damage.
A high-stress lifestyle may also play a role in altered thyroid function. When scientists examined thyroid hormone levels and levels of cortisol , the stress hormone, from a group of men and women, they found that elevated levels of thyroid hormone were associated with elevated cortisol.
Because so many of the symptoms of thyroid disorders can also be symptoms of other issues, more than half of people with thyroid problems have no idea they have them. At Parsley Health we diagnose thyroid issues that have gone undetected. How? Because we look for it in ways other doctors don’t.
We routinely test a complete a thyroid panel on every patient, looking at TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), T4, Total T4, Free T3, Total T3, and Reverse T3. The test also looks for antibodies to the thyroid that indicates autoimmune activity against it. In addition, we’ll look at inflammatory markers and nutrient deficiencies that could signal something is off.
Thyroid function can often be restored through diet and appropriate supplementation, like by adding in these five foods that support thyroid health .
One of our members came to us suffering from weight gain, depression and fatigue. Before coming to Parsley, his doctors put him on antidepressants and told him his problem was testosterone. No one ever thought to test his thyroid. When we began testing him, we discovered he had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. We were then able to heal his glands with diet changes and supplements . (Check out more of his story here. )
Another patient experienced recurrent miscarriages. Her doctor had ignored her symptoms of muscle pain and fatigue because her TSH levels were “normal.” However, at Parsley Health we know from European research that our range for “normal” in the U.S. is too broad, especially if someone is experiencing symptoms.
After we treated her with a natural form of thyroid hormone support, she got pregnant right away and is now mother to a happy, healthy baby boy!
Dr. Robin Berzin is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin completed medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.