Could you have a thyroid problem?

January 1, 2012

Google "thyroid disease" and you'll find well over five million references.

And that's precisely the problem, says thyroid expert Sara Rosenthal.

While the Internet has helped to correct what was previously a lack of information about the body's butterfly gland, it has now created another problem: Too much misinformation.

"If you are a newly diagnosed thyroid disease patient and don't know anything about thyroid disease, you will come away from the Internet with some facts that are true but a lot of facts that are not true," Rosenthal told me recently.

The former thyroid cancer patient who heads up the program for bioethics at the University of Kentucky, wrote The Thyroid Sourcebook, a go-to-guide for credible, easy-to-understand information on living with thyroid disease.

The thyroid, located near the Adam's apple at the base of the throat in front of the windpipe, is important because it affects and regulates virtually every bodily activity, she says.

"Thyroid hormone serves as the speed control for our cells, controlling their 'speed of life.'"

And while it's true that wonky hormone levels can cause everything from exhaustion to eye problems -- and that about 12% of the world's population suffers from some sort of thyroid disease -- the thyroid is commonly blamed (often wrongly) for a variety of ills.

Too hot? Hyperthyroidism.

Always cold? Must be hypothyroidism.

When Oprah talked about gaining back her weight, feeling lethargic and tired, she blamed her thyroid!

Not so fast, says Rosenthal who with a cool head deconstructs thyroid symptoms.

She also takes on some myths surrounding thyroid disease.

One is that the TSH blood test (it assesses whether thyroid-stimulating hormone levels are high or low) is outdated. (It's not, she says.)

Another is the world of herbal supplements: Kelp, manganese, selenium and other supplements are touted as treatments for restoring thyroid function but there's no evidence they work.

Millions of thyroid patients world-wide take thyroid replacement pills.

"Today's synthetic thyroid hormone is a purified exact copy of what your body would normally make," Rosenthal stresses. It's bioidentical.

Any book on the thyroid today wouldn't be complete without a section on thyroid cancer, now ranked as the fastest rising cancer, topping the rate of increase in lung and breast cancers, especially in women.

Unfortunately, most people are unaware of this gland until they have a thyroid problem.

"My big concern is that thyroid patients make informed decisions, and to do that they need accurate information."


Thyroid pills are extremely heat sensitive and shouldn't be taken with a hot drink, nor stored where it's warm. "Apply the Aero bar rule," says Rosenthal. "If chocolate would melt where you're keeping your pills, don't put them there."


Common symptoms of thyroid problems related to hyperthyroidism:

Fatigue and weakness, heat intolerance, dry and coarse skin, clammy skin, hair loss, warm hands and feet, weight loss, insomnia, depression, poor memory, forgetfulness, nervousness and tremors, immune system problems, light menstrual periods, frequent defecation

Common symptoms of thyroid problems related to hypothyroidism:

Fatigue and weakness, low basal temperature (cold intolerance), dry and coarse skin, hair loss, cold hands and feet, weight gain, insomnia, constipation, depression, poor memory, forgetfulness, dementia, nervousness and tremors, immune system problems, heavy menstrual periods



Located in the lower part of your neck, in front of your windpipe, it is shaped like a butterfly or like the H of the Honda vehicle logo.

The thyroid hormone that this gland produces is essential for life.

A TSH bloodtest tells the doctor whether or not your gland is functioning properly; it should be done annually.

Hypothyroidism or feeling sluggish due to an underactive thyroid gland is one of the most common health problems in North America.

An overactive thyroid gland produces a feeling of speeding up and is called hyperthyroidism.

The thyroid can produce nodules or lumps, most of which are benign but some of which may be cancerous.

Thyroid hormone replacement therapy, in the form of a daily pill, is taken to restore thyroid levels to normal.

There is no such thing as a thyroid diet.

Thyroid disorders can affect many parts of the body including the eyes, the skin and the heart.



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