The phrase is banded around a lot – but what actually is an under-active thyroid, and how do you know if you have one?
Getting a diagnosis
They’re tricky to diagnose is the first thing to note, because the symptoms are similar to those of other ailments. Be sure to go to a doctor for an official diagnosis.
What is an under-active thyroid?
Vishal Shah is the medical director at Thriva. The thyroid gland produces the thyroid hormone, and “an under-active thyroid means that the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone to perform its necessary metabolic functions,” Vishal says.
Also known as hypothyroidism, “an under-active thyroid results in the slowing of physical and mental processes within the body,” nutritional therapist Gabriela Peacock says.
Vishal continues, “the only accurate way of finding out whether you have a thyroid problem is to have a thyroid function test, where a sample of blood is tested to measure your hormone levels. But there are also a number of common signs that may show as a result of the lack of hormones that cause a ‘slowing down’ of many of the body’s functions.”
He goes on, “these signs include weight gain, fatigue, irregular periods – usually heavy bleeding – difficulty concentrating or ‘slowing’ of thought, dry skin, brittle hair or hair loss (including the hair on the outer third of the eyebrow), intolerance to the cold, hoarse voice, muscle aches or cramps and weakness.” Gabriela also adds, “low energy, constipation and low moods.”
What should you ask for at the doctor?
Clarissa Lenherr is a nutritionist. “When you get tested, the parameters to look out for are:
TSH – thyroid stimulating hormoneThyroid Stimulating Hormone stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). High levels of TSH can be indicative of an under-active thyroid while low levels indicate an overactive thyroid.
FT4 – Free T4Thyroxine (T4) is one of two hormones produced by the thyroid gland. It is important to test free T4 as this measures free and therefore utilised thyroid hormone. High levels of free thyroxine can indicate an overactive thyroid while low levels can indicate an under-active thyroid.
FT3 – Free T3Triiodothyronine (T3) the other thyroid hormone produced by the thyroid gland. Free T3 measures the level of T3 that is available to regulate metabolism. Low levels of T3 can be caused by low levels of co-factors needed to convert T4 to T3.
You can also check your thyroid antibodies to ensure that you do not have an auto-immune condition. This might be harming your thyroid gland and therefore impacting its ability to produce and control thyroid hormone output. These are TGAb and TPOAb,” she says.
How can you support your thyroid health?
“By providing the body with the micronutrients the thyroid gland needs to produce and regulate the thyroid hormones. These include Selenium, found in Brazil nuts, iron and iodine,” Vishal says. Plus, “an under-active thyroid can also be successfully treated by taking daily hormone tablets. They can replace the hormones your thyroid is not making.”
But – general advice here is look out for symptoms but then always go to a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment. Now you know exactly what to test for.
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Charlotte is a London girl through and through. She sweats through spin and puffs through Pilates to justify trying the latest restaurants and devouring copious amounts of sweet potato fries, burrata and bread – preferably on holiday. Her favourite destinations include Italy, the Maldives and anywhere where the sun’s shining and there’s a strong breakfast buffet. She’s obsessed with walking, visiting farmers’ markets and reading. She’s also learning to cook. Wish her (and her husband) luck.