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Let’s talk thyroids for a minute. They can be quite controversial and cause a bit of confusion within the medical arena. For something so little, the thyroid makes a massive difference in our quality of life and overall health. According to the NCBI, the thyroid gland is a vital hormone gland. It plays a significant role in the metabolism, growth, and development of the human body. It helps regulate many body functions by constantly releasing a steady amount of thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3), tetraiodothyronine (T4), and calcitonin into the bloodstream.

It’s the T3 and T4 hormones that make this tiny but mighty organ so volatile. If your thyroid is happy, you’ll more than likely not notice, but if something becomes out of sorts, you may start to see odd but “explainable” things happening to your body. Even more confusing is why most doctors won’t order the proper tests to figure out what’s going on (more on that in a bit).

So what do T3 and T4 do. 

The Society for Endocrinology explains it nicely:

Triiodothyronine (T3) is the active form of the thyroid hormone thyroxine(T4). Approximately 20% of triiodothyronine is secreted into the bloodstream directly by the thyroid gland. The remaining 80% is produced from the conversion of thyroxine by organs such as the liver and kidneys. It plays vital roles in the body’s metabolic rate, heart and digestive functions, muscle control, brain development and function, and bones’ maintenance. The production and release of thyroid hormones, thyroxine, and triiodothyronine, is controlled by a feedback loop system that involves the hypothalamus in the brain and the pituitary and thyroid glands. The hypothalamus secretes the thyrotropin-releasing hormone, which stimulates the pituitary gland to produce the thyroid-stimulating hormone. This hormone stimulates the production of the thyroid hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine, by the thyroid gland.

When the levels of the thyroid hormones (thyroxine and triiodothyronine) increase, they prevent the release of both the thyrotropin-releasing hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone. This system allows the body to maintain a constant level of thyroid hormones in the body.

So, what happens when things start to run amuck?

Hypothyroidism (Hashimoto disease) and Hyperthyroidism (Graves’ disease), namely. 

The two most common types of thyroid problems are hypothyroidism, in which the thyroid is under-functioning, and hyperthyroidism, in which it over functions. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune form of hypothyroidism, while Grave’s disease is an autoimmune form of hyperthyroidism.

It’s estimated that about 4.6 percent of the U.S. population ages 12 and older has hypothyroidism, although most cases are mild. That’s almost five people out of 100. Symptoms can include:

  • Feeling sluggish, tired, or having no energy
  • Heavy, skipped, or excessively light periods for women
  • Gaining weight in the past few months without being able to figure out why
  • Trouble losing weight, no matter how hard you try
  • Experiencing insomnia, trouble falling asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night
  • Brain fog, memory problems, or trouble concentrating
  • Feeling sad or depressed and not knowing why
  • Feeling anxious or worried without cause
  • Slugging bowels or constipation
  • Feeling chilly or cold – even when the temp is warm
  • Dry, itchy, or rough skin
  • Dry, coarse, brittle hair and nails
  • Thinning hair or hair loss, and thinning outer third of eyebrows
  • High cholesterol
  • Puffy face 
  • Fertility problems
  • Postpartum depression or trouble producing breast milk

Hyperthyroidism is much less common, affecting about 1.2 percent of people in the United States, that’s a little more than one person out of 100. Symptoms, in addition to menstrual cycle ones, can include:

  • Nervousness, irritability, mood swings
  • Muscle weakness
  • Heat intolerance, feeling overheated
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weight loss
  • Tremor, usually in the hands
  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat
  • Frequent bowel movements, loose stools
  • Fatigue (usually from inability to sleep)

A lot of these symptoms could possibly be explained away, but it’s of the utmost importance that you are able to talk to your healthcare provider about them without fear of being dismissed. You know your body better than anyone else. If you feel like something is “off,” get it checked out. Most doctors will only order the T4 test and the TSH test, which are the two most common thyroid function tests. What you really need to be looking at is full panel testing, which also includes Tri-iodothyronine (T3) Free Serum, Thyroxine (T4) Free Direct Serum, Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) Antibodies, Thyroid Antithyroglobulin Antibody (TAA) plus Reverse T3, Thyroxine-binding Globulin (TBG), Thyroid-stimulating Immunoglobulin (TSI), and Tri-iodothyronine (T3).

These tests are crucial when it comes to investigating and knowing the full story of what’s going on with your health. You can talk to your doctor and ask for these by name if you must. Most doctors have been trained to only administer the two tests, so it may take some convincing on your part that you need them. Be proactive, and listen to your gut. It’s worth the investigation. YOU are worth the conversation. Your health depends on you.