The concept of the 'butterfly effect' is that small changes will have huge effects. No where in the body is this more relevent than when it comes to the thyroid. And perhaps it's not a coincidence that the gland that is responsible for regulating things like heart rate, body weight and temperature, cholesterol levels, nervous system activities and breathing, is in the shape of a butterfly. Because as small things affect thyroid function, you get large responses that will have a direct result on your wellbeing.
The thyroid is located in your neck just below the Adam's apple and is comprised of two lobes that are connected in the middle. This gland produces and distributes two hormones — Triiodothyronine (also known as T3) and Thyroxine (known as T4) — which are regulated and kept in balance by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. These two glands will stimulate the thyroid with a hormone called TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) which will tell the thyroid to produce more or less of T3 and T4 to maintain proper equilibrium. Once the T3 and T4 enter the bloodstream, they are delivered throughout the body and are used for a variety of processes. When there is an imbalance in the stimulating hormone, you will either have an excess of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism) or a deficiency of these hormones (hypothyroidism).
When the levels are low, you may experience trouble sleeping, depression, sensitivity to cold, joint and muscle pain, exhaustion, dry skin and brittle hair, as well as difficulty concentrating.
In the instances where your body has too much T3 or T4, you may find you have anxiety, unexplained hair loss, sweating or a sensitivity to higher temperatures, nervousness, trembling in the hands, or you may experience moodiness.
What causes hyperthyroidism?
An overproduction of thyroid can be caused by underlying issues like Grave's disease, inflammation of the thyroid, malfunctions in the pituitary gland, or a cancer on the thyroid gland, as well as nodules that can form on the thyroid which leak out T3 and T4 without the regulation of the pituitary or hypothalamus glands.
What causes hypothyroidism?
A decline in the thyroid levels can be caused by Hashimoto's disease which is an autoimmune disease where your body begins to attack your thyroid, eventually leading to the destruction of the gland. It can also be caused by excessive amounts of iodide, which is an element that is necessary for growth and metabolic function. Some cold and sinus medicines and even some heart medications contain iodide and can lead to higher levels in the body. Another drug that has been shown to be a cause of hypothyroidism is lithium.
What can be done to treat thyroid disorders?
With proper testing for both T3 and T4 levels, we can establish if you have hyperthyroid or hypothyroid conditions. If you have elevated levels it requires a method of suppressing the output to bring the levels within the acceptable ranges. This can be done with radioactive iodide treatments, anti-thyroid medications, and in severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
In cases where thyroid production is lower than acceptable, it generally requires the need for thyroid hormone replacement. This is typically something you will do for the rest of your life to ensure you have normal delivery of thyroid.