October is mental health awareness month and we’d like to shed light on a common, yet lesser known, underlying contributor - thyroid dysfunction.
What Is the Thyroid & How It Impacts Mental Well-Being
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland inside your neck which produces and sends hormones responsible for most bodily functions. Though we’ve come to know it in relation to weight loss, the truth is your thyroid regulates everything from your breathing and heartbeat to energy production, body temperature, hormonal balance, digestion and immunity. Basically, your thyroid controls everything which impacts how you feel each day.
Unfortunately, according to the Australian Thyroid Foundation:
· 10% of Australians suffer with some form of thyroid condition
· 70% of those sufferers are women
· 1 million are undiagnosed
· 60,000 Australians are diagnosed each year.
Symptoms of thyroid dysfunction include:
Exhaustion despite good rest
Unexplained weight gain/loss
Irritability, restlessness & insomnia
Fatigue, lethargy, poor exercise performance/recovery
Menstrual irregularities and hormonal imbalance
Constipation, diarrhoea, IBS, bloating and indigestion
Feeling excessively hot/cold (body temperature differing to those around you)
Depression, anxiety and mood swings
What is a Thyroid Condition and How May it Impact Mental Health?
There are two primary thyroid conditions, each with characteristic symptoms which may impact mental health. This includes:
Hypothyroidism - underactive thyroid: Here, your thyroid gland doesn’t produce the optimal level of hormones. You may experience unexplained weight gain, a lack of concentration, poor appetite, poor stress tolerance, exhaustion – even after long sleeps, sugar and caffeine reliance (largely due to the exhaustion), mood swings, low tolerance for exercise and low motivation. With hypothyroidism it is also common to be intolerant to cold temperatures and have cold hands and feet.
Hyperthyroidism – overactive thyroid: Here, the thyroid produces high amounts of thyroid hormones leading to overstimulation. Common symptoms are unexplained weight loss, diarrhoea, excessive hunger, nutritional deficiencies, insomnia, short temper, panic and anxiety attacks, impatience, and tension. With hyperthyroidism it is common to experience hot flushes and be intolerant to warmer temperatures.
One study reveals that 60% of people with hyperthyroidism have clinical anxiety, with 69% of people experiencing depression.
Hypothyroidism is also linked to mood swings and bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, lithium, a prevalent treatment of bipolar depression, may trigger or accelerate hypothyroidism. Studies show a high rate of depression in hypothyroid patients. .
What the research says:
A study by Bathla et al. highlights that patients with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) were more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Interestingly, this study also concluded that whilst 60% of patients were likely to experience some level of depression and 63% experienced anxiety, the most common symptom in males was depressed mood (73.33%) and in females digestive symptoms and anxiety were more prevalent (68.5% and 92.85% respectively).
A study by Bove et al. investigated the impacts of hyperthyroidism and Graves disease (an autoimmune hyperthyroid condition) on mental health. Here, participants with hyperthyroidism were found to have higher symptoms of depression and anxiety compared to control groups.
In another series of studies published in 2020, the relationship between thyroid problems and mental health issues was discussed. The research found mild depressive symptoms in patients with thyroid dysfunction compared to the control group.
Psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Brogan aims to raise awareness about mental health problems and thyroid dysfunction. In an episode, “Boost Your Thyroid, Boost Your Mood," she answers the most common query, “How does the health of the thyroid impact someone’s mental health?”
Dr. Brogan explains that the health and function of the thyroid impacts the function of the mitochondria. The mitochondria are little batteries in our cells which convert foods into energy - the healthier and more efficient they are, the more healthy and energetic you feel. Dr. Brogan discusses how thyroid conditions may result in a range of symptoms which impact mental health, “it could be energy symptoms, metabolic symptoms, and myriad psychiatric symptoms.” Dr. Brogan believes the treatment of mental health conditions (mild or severe) should always include diet, lifestyle and supplemental support - along with a thorough assessment of underlying conditions. Dr. Brogan believes that a large number of patients are inappropriately diagnosed and treated with antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety meds - when they should also be provided dietary and supplement advice to correct underlying conditions such as thyroid disorders.
Please note: Dr. Kelly Brogan is a psychiatrist with decades of experience. Psychiatrists are qualified to prescribe medications for the treatment of mental health conditions - making her uniquely qualified to discuss medication reliance vs lifestyle medicine.
How to Prevent/Treat Thyroid Conditions and Improve Mental Health
So, how can you know you have a thyroid problem? WebMD highlights a few tell-tale signs which may include any/all of the symptoms listed above.
Here's a quick reference guide:
Please remember however, not every case is the same. You may not fit the profile above - your symptoms may differ or you may be experiencing any of the symptoms above due to other conditions. The best way to assess your thyroid health is to speak to a healthcare professional and discuss how to test for abnormalities. If you feel you have already explored this option, don’t be disheartened. The standard tests available via Medicare are not comprehensive enough to detect subclinical conditions. Click here to read more on this.
At Sydney City Nutritionist, we offer a range of thyroid and metabolic testing to help you take charge of your mental and physical well-being. This includes:
Our Ultimate Nutrition Package – Suitable for those who suffer digestive symptoms in addition to common thyroid symptoms noted above. Also a great choice for those with autoimmunity/food sensitivity in the family.
Our Metabolic Health Check – Suited to those who are experiencing common thyroid symptoms particularly related to mood, energy and metabolism (weight gain / weight loss).
Our Fresh Start Program – Suited to those who suffer from thyroid symptoms but would also benefit from one on one support and guidance through ongoing consultations.
Mental health and well-being may be negatively impacted by underlying health conditions including an underactive/overactive thyroid.
With a thyroid hormone imbalance, even if subclinical, there can be many effects on mood, energy motivation and well-being.
Testing available via Medicare may not detect subclinical conditions which may impact mental health and well-being.
There are many testing options available. At SCN we combine testing and consultations in our Fresh Start Program to help you detect and treat underlying conditions and help you feel younger, stronger & happier.
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Until next time, stay deliciously healthy.
Jennifer May BHSc(Nut.Med).Adv.Dip.Nut.Med.ATMS
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