Let’s talk a little about the thyroid gland – The thyroid gets its name from the Greek word for “shield”, after the shape of the thyroid cartilage. What exactly is the thyroid gland? It is the largest gland in endocrine system that is stimulated to make T3 and T4 by the Thyroid Stimulating hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland.
The thyroid gland controls how quickly the body uses energy, makes proteins, and controls how sensitive the body should be to other hormones. The thyroid gland is also a big part of your immune system. If someone is sick all the time, we look at the thyroid for hypothyroidism. The thyroid is the body’s main storage site for iodine. Principally known for its job in proper metabolism and thyroid function, iodine is also necessary for a healthy immune system and has many therapeutic benefits including antibacterial, anti-parasitic, antiviral and anticancer properties.
Symptoms of a poor functioning thyroid may include poor gut function, abnormal weight gain, tiredness, baldness, cold intolerance, and bradycardia. Hormonally we often see excess estrogen, often referred to as Estrogen Dominance when hypothyroidism is present.
Another big concern when looking at the thyroid is regulating the body’s metabolism. Metabolism is the set of chemical reactions that happen in living organisms to sustain life. If you have a low metabolism you will see symptoms such as weight gain (even on a diet), fatigue, muscle and joint pain, low stamina, and heavy menstrual cycles in women. When we see the combination of low immune system combined with a low metabolism we immediately think hypothyroidism.
To evaluate hypothyroidism in laboratory results we will often see a high thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), and a low T4, low free T4 and low T3. The thyroid releases T4, or thyroxine, and T3, or triiodothyronine. T4 is a storage hormone that converts to T3 when it has the correct nutrients such as selenium, and Vitamin E present to do so. T3 is the active thyroid hormone that enters the cells to maintain metabolic function. When I give lectures I often like to refer to T4 as Clark Kent and T3 as Superman! T3 gives us the power of metabolism! TSH will be released from the pituitary gland when it senses that there is a need for more T3 and/or T4 hormones.
At our Austin clinic, when any of the above symptoms present and hypothyroidism is suspected, we run a thorough laboratory panel as well take a thorough history and exam. Both are vital in evaluating hypothyroidism symptoms in both men and women.