Do You Have An Underactive Thyroid

By Donna Gates, Body Ecology

What Role Does The Thyroid Play?


The thyroid gland is a small butterfly shaped gland that sits just below the thyroid cartilage. The hormones secreted by the thyroid help to regulate heart rate, maintain healthy skin, and play a crucial part in regulating your metabolism.

The thyroid also works to:
  • Lift your energy
  • Regulate your core temperature and warm your body
  • Activate your immune system

It can also tell the body to slow down. Sometimes the thyroid slows down so much that it becomes underactive. This is what is known as hypothyroidism. When this happens, the thyroid gland does not do its job, and the whole body suffers as a result. As common as hypothyroidism is, the detection and treatment of it are getting a second look by doctors.


What Symptoms Does An Underactive Thyroid Produce?


When the gland is sluggish (hypothyroidism), your body will give you some fairly obvious signs. 

Some common signs include:
  • Edema, or swelling in the legs, arms, or face
  • Abdominal weight gain
  • Cold hands and feet. Also, check if the nail beds are overgrown with fungus
  • Increased susceptibility to the common cold and flu. Or, a respiratory infection that hangs around for months
  • Dryness, which shows up in loss of hair, brittle nails, constipation, and achy joints

What Does It Mean When Your Symptoms Persist?


  • You still feel like there is something wrong with your energy levels and basal body temperature?
  • You continue to lose hair and gain abdominal weight?
  • You begin to feel better and then start to feel just as crummy as before the medication, even though you now take it religiously?
  • Do you feel like you're always the first to catch a cold? An increased susceptibility to the common cold and flu is one possible sign of an underactive thyroid. 

5 Clues That May Indicate Your Thyroid Is Underactive


Doctors are now investigating why thyroid tests may appear normal, but the thyroid itself may still be dysfunctional. Seeing a pattern will help you determine if your thyroid medication is properly treating an underactive thyroid, or if more diagnosis is necessary. 

1. Edema, which is the abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin. The edema that occurs in hypothyroidism is the “non-pitting” form of edema.
  • “Non-pitting” means: You press your finger into the flesh, and it bounces right back and leaves no mark.
  • This is called myxedema, which is specifically associated with low levels of thyroid hormones.
  • Myxedema is swelling of the arms, legs, and face.

2. There is persistent weight gain, especially around your torso, that you just can’t lose no matter how frugal you are with calories.

Dr. Roby Mitchell tells us that thyroid hormones help insulin move glucose from blood into the cells. “When thyroid levels are low, more insulin is needed to maintain normal glucose. More insulin means more fat cell hyperplasia, which shows up as increased fat deposition.” The adrenals lose strength when the thyroid is underactive, which also slows down metabolism.


3. Cold hands and cold feet may mean lack of blood flow.

Lack of blood flow to the extremities, like your hands and feet, can also show up as chronic fungal infections. This is because the essential nutrients carried in the blood do not reach the extremities as frequently. Low thyroid activity is associated with too much homocysteine - an amino acid associated with heart disease, poor blood flow, and stiff vasculature. 



4. Nagging infections could point to an underactive thyroid.

Dr. Mitchell points out that because beta-carotene depends on thyroid hormones in order to convert into vitamin A, beta-carotene can build up in the body and cause yellow skin, especially in the hands. The official name for this is called carotoderma.

Vitamin A plays an important role in immune system health. What happens when the body cannot convert beta-carotene into vitamin A? The body may become more susceptible to infections, or it simply may not have the strength to kick a bug.


5. Excessive hair loss, painful joints, and other signs of dryness.

Iodine and Thyroid Function


Because there are so many pathways to an underactive thyroid, including autoimmune hypothyroid, be careful when supplementing with iodine. Iodine, while central to the production of thyroid hormones T3 and T4, can actually make some hypothyroid conditions worse. This is because iodine speeds up the production of a thyroid enzyme. If the body has developed autoimmunity to this enzyme, which happens in the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, then this will increase the inflammatory cascade.
  • Iodine is not a cure-all.
  • Diagnosis, knowing the mechanism responsible for an underactive thyroid, is paramount.
Using iodine to address a thyroid condition does not take into account autoimmune hypothyroid. It also does not address diet or lifestyle, which can make a tremendous impact on thyroid hormone levels. 

Testing for Hypothyroidism Can Be Tricky


A major issue has erupted in the medical community. Many doctors are now disagreeing over what tests should be done to check thyroid function. Traditionally, TSH, Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone that is released from the pituitary gland in the brain, would be checked along with the two thyroid hormones it produces, T3 and T4.

However, it has become commonplace to only test for TSH, and that is only one part of a very detailed picture. There are many other mechanisms at work in thyroid health. 

For example, healthy thyroid activity relies on:
  • Stable levels of other hormones, like estrogen and progesterone. Too much estrogen, such as from the birth control pill, will create too many thyroid-binding proteins.
  • A healthy immune system. Autoimmune hypothyroid can be missed by TSH blood panels.
  • Beneficial bacteria in the gut. Antibiotics wipe out these good microbes, which account for around 20% of the conversion of T4 to usable T3. (1)
  • An uncongested and healthy liver. The liver converts over half of T4 from the thyroid into usable T3.
  • Good adrenal function. Adrenal fatigue can slow down the function of the pituitary and hypothalamus in the brain. These three glands are a part of what is called the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis). An alert and healthy pituitary is essential for good thyroid function.
Clearly, with so many pathways available for the production and conversion of thyroid hormones, there are a lot of opportunities for something to go wrong.

Many people are diagnosed with this condition and given thyroid medication. Sometimes, this medication will show improvements in lab analysis as hormone levels fall into normal range. But many people still have symptoms.

Tips For Treating An Underactive Thyroid


  1. Work with a qualified health care practitioner
  2. Populate your gut with good microbes. Remember, gut flora convert 20% of T4 into usable T3! Eat fermented foods and drink probiotic beverages with every meal!
  3. Regulate your immune system
  4. Address any blood sugar imbalances
  5. Diet and lifestyle can drastically affect your adrenals, the HPA axis, and the health of your thyroid; does your current diet and lifestyle support a healthy thyroid?

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