What Does Hypothyroidism Do to Your Body?

You may have heard a lot about hypothyroidism (perhaps by reading our last few blog posts!), but what does a diagnosis of hypothyroidism actually mean for your body? The negative impacts of inadequately treated hypothyroidism can be quite serious and far-reaching.

How The Thyroid Works

The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped gland in your neck just below the voice box. It releases hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism, as well as regulates a number of other bodily functions. When the thyroid isn’t functioning properly, it can wreak having on your body and your health.

The thyroid gland makes two hormones – triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones are derived from iodine in the foods you eat. If you aren’t getting enough iodine in your diet, your body may not be able to produce T3 and T4 effectively. Not only that, but the body may not be able to maintain the T3 and T4 hormones at the correct levels.

This is where the pituitary and the hypothalamus come into play.

These two glands, which reside in the brain, communicate with each other to ensure T3 and T4 levels are where they need to be in order to make the body function at best capacity.

How, you ask?

The pituitary and hypothalamus work with the thyroid on a feedback loop. The pituitary gland releases thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). The hypothalamus produces thyroid releasing hormone (TRH). The hypothalamus tells the pituitary to tell the thyroid how much T3 and T4 it needs to produce by releasing more or less TSH.

This release of TSH allows the thyroid to generate and deliver hormones to various parts of the body when they need energy. When thyroid levels are low, pituitary and hypothalamus levels go up, and vice versa. The result is one of two disorders – hyperthyroidism from the overproduction of hormones in the thyroid and hypothyroidism from the underproduction of hormones in the thyroid.

Effects of Hypothyroidism

Most notably, hypothyroidism affects the metabolism and can play a major role in decreased energy levels and memory recall.

In addition to affecting metabolism and energy levels, hypothyroidism can also have a significant impact on other systems of the body.

Hypothyroidism can impact the cardiovascular and circulatory systems because it can slow the heart rate, which causes the heart to then inefficiently pump blood to the body. This has a ripple effect that can cause shortness of breath and a narrowing of the arteries, whichcan then lead to increased blood pressure.

Hypothyroidism can also raise cholesterol, and, when combined with high blood pressure, can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease.

But the heart isn’t the only thing that can cause shortness of breath when you have hypothyroidism. When the body doesn’t produce enough T3 and T4, it can cause the muscles used to breathe to become weak and the lungs to work less efficiently.

Hypothyroidism can influence fertility as well. Low thyroid hormone levels may prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs during ovulation. As a result, women may struggle to get pregnant. If gone untreated, hypothyroidism may even lead to miscarriage.

In rare cases, hypothyroidism may lead to peripheral neuropathy if gone untreated for a long period of time. Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage to the peripheral nerves and can cause swelling, tingling, pain, and burning throughout the body, as well as cause muscle weakness.

People who suffer from hypothyroidism often experience an intolerance to cold. This is because the thyroid acts as a thermostat and works to regulate body temperature. If you have hypothyroidism, your body temperature decreases thus, causing an inability to withstand the cold.  

Other common effects of hypothyroidism include:

  • Weight gain
  • Thinning hair
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Enlarged thyroid (goiter)

You may notice some of the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism can be hard to link directly to the condition. Symptoms like constipation, muscle stiffness, and dry skin may be indicative of innocuous instances of diet, exercise, and time of year. If the above list spoke to you, however, it may be time to request a blood test from your doctor.

What You Can Do To Improve Hypothyroidism

The bad news is, there is no definitive cure for hypothyroidism. The good news is, hypothyroidism is totally manageable and treatable. The main thing to do if you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism is to replace the thyroid hormone the body has lost. This can be done through medication that mirrors your natural thyroid hormones.

Routine blood work is necessary to ensure your medication is adequately replenishing your thyroid hormone levels, and if it isn’t, your doctor should adjust your dose accordingly.

While a synthetic medication to treat hypothyroidism is the option most commonly prescribedby medical professionals, there are prescription medications t taken from the thyroid glands of a pig that are also available, and have been proven to be more holistic options in treating hypothyroidism. These medications are especially effective because they  contain both T3 and T4 hormones, whereas synthetic medications only contain the T4 hormone. Like synthetic thyroid medications, these medications should be prescribed by your doctor.

Certain foods can also help regulate thyroid hormone production. As mentioned previously, foods rich in iodine can boost the health of the thyroid since it relies on iodine to make thyroid hormones. Be aware, though, as increasing iodine levels in your diet may actually worsen some thyroid disorders like Hashimoto’s disease. Always consult your doctor before making a dietary change to help manage your hypothyroidism.

If you suspect you might suffer from thyroid issues, take our thyroid quiz or schedule an appointment to see if our Functional Thyroid Support Program is right for you.



Posted in Autoimmune , Functional Medicine , Thyroid
Kathleen Funk

Kathleen Funk, founder at Acufunkture, is a fourth generation healer and an industry leader in acupuncture for women's health. She received her BA at Baylor University where she studied Philosophy and Medicine and went on to receive her Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine from the American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine.

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