Do you know the difference between hyperthyroidism vs hypothyroidism? Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland becomes overactive. Hypothyroidism means the thyroid is underactive. Both conditions can cause a cascade of problems, because when the thyroid is not working properly, it can throw off many other vital functions of the body.
Doctors see hyperthyroidism in men and women, but this health condition occurs most often in women between the ages of 20 and 40. Hyperthyroidism in children is also possible. But it doesn’t stop there — it’s actually a condition that can affect our pets, too, with feline hyperthyroidism cases being more prevalent than canine.
Do you think your thyroid is functioning as it should? Many times thyroid problems go unaddressed, especially in cases of subclinical hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Is an overactive thyroid serious?
It’s important to know common signs of hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, because if left untreated, it’s a health condition that can cause even more to worry about, including serious heart problems.
What Is Hyperthyroidism?
Very simply, hyperthyroidism is overactivity of the thyroid gland. Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck. This gland may be small, but it has an incredible impact on your health. For starters, thyroid hormones produced by the gland regulate every aspect of your metabolism, from nutrient usage to body temperature control to heart rate.
There are two main hormones your thyroid gland produces, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), and these two hormones affect every cell in your body.
What does an overactive thyroid do to your body? This means your thyroid manufactures and releases more hormones than your body needs, which can then cause a large variety of unpleasant symptoms.
There are many possible hyperthyroidism signs and symptoms, including:
- Unintentional weight loss, even when your appetite and food intake stay the same or increase
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) — commonly more than 100 beats per minute
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Heart palpitations
- Increased appetite
- Nervousness, anxiety and irritability
- Tremor — usually a fine trembling in your hands and fingers
- Changes in menstrual patterns (one of the specific hyperthyroidism symptoms in women)
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Changes in bowel patterns, especially more frequent bowel movements
- An enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), which may appear as a swelling at the base of your neck
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
- Trouble sleeping
- Skin thinning
- Fine, brittle hair
A lack of symptoms or subtle symptoms are more common in older adults. Subtle symptoms can include an intolerance to heat, increased heart rate or a tendency to feel tired during everyday activities.
What causes hyperthyroidism? The most common cause and type of hyperthyroidism is the autoimmune disorder known as Graves’ disease. It’s estimated that about 85 percent of hyperthyroidism comes in the form of Graves’ disease.
In this disorder, the body makes an antibody (a protein produced by the body to protect against a virus or bacteria) called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) that causes the thyroid gland to make too much thyroid hormone. Graves’ disease is hereditary and seen more often in women than men.
Another cause of an overactive or hyper thyroid is thyroid nodules, which are lumps (that can be non-cancerous or cancerous) within the thyroid gland that cause an overproduction of thyroid hormones.
Thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid gland, is another possible cause of hyperthyroidism. Thyroiditis is usually the result of an infection or immune system malfunction that causes the thyroid gland to leak excess hormones. It can also occur after child birth (it’s then called postpartum thyroiditis) or from taking the drugs interferon and amiodarone.
Another possible root issue is overconsumption of iodine, typically from supplements or from medications containing iodine, which may actually cause a goiter and exacerbate thyroid problems.
Other contributing factors or causes of hyperthyroidism may include:
Hyperthyroidism is known to mimic other health problems, which can make it difficult for your doctor to diagnose.
To make a diagnosis, your healthcare provider is likely to perform a physical examination as well as blood work to access your hormone levels, including your thyroid stimulating hormone (or TSH).
What is the TSH level for hyperthyroidism? Hyperthyroidism TSH levels are typically lower than normal, while levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 are higher than normal.
Your doctor may also request a thyroid scan to look at its shape and to see if there are any nodules present.
There are many forms of conventional treatment for hyperthyroidism. Conventional treatments include the following:
- Hyperthyroidism medication (also called anti-thyroid drugs) such as methimazole (Tapazole) or propylthioracil (PTU), which stop the thyroid from making hormones.
- Radioactive iodine taken by mouth. The overactive thyroid cells absorb the radioactive iodine, which damages and shrinks the cells, which results in lowered hormone levels. This form of treatment typically permanently destroys the thyroid gland, requiring patients to take thyroid hormone drugs for the remainder of their lives.
- Beta blockers, which are drugs that block the action of thyroid hormones. Beta blockers won’t alter the levels of thyroid hormones, but they are said to help control overactive thyroid symptoms like rapid heartbeat, nervousness and shakiness.
- A thyroidectomy, which is surgery to remove the thyroid gland. After this surgery, patients must take thyroid supplements to keep hormone levels normal.
1. Foods to Eat
When it comes to seeing improvements in thyroid function, the best place to start is by improving your diet with these helpful foods:
- Whole foods: In general, you want your diet to consist of whole healing foods like fresh vegetables, fruits and lean protein, rather than processed foods.
- Green juices: Fresh green juices from nutrient dense vegetables such as kale, spinach and spirulina can help provide vital nutrients.
- Anti-inflammatory herbs: Many herbs such as basil, rosemary and oregano can be anti-inflammatory and help improve thyroid function.
- Bone Broth: Bone broth supports detoxification and aids in healing of leaky gut issues that can make hyperthyroidism worse.
2. Foods to Avoid
- High iodine foods: Iodine-rich foods like kelp, dulse and other kinds of seaweed should be avoided. It’s also commonly recommended to avoid other sources of iodine such as iodized salt, seafood, multi-vitamins that include iodine, as well as many conventional cough syrups.
- Conventional dairy: People with thyroid problems may benefit from an A1 casein-free diet, since this protein found in dairy has been linked to increased inflammation in the thyroid gland and digestive tract.
- Gluten: A gluten-free diet can be beneficial for people with thyroid issues. Research has shown that a gluten-free diet can help autoimmune thyroid disease.
- Artificial flavorings or dyes: These can negatively influence thyroid function; therefore, it is best to avoid them.
- Sugar: By now you probably know sugar is bad for you. It suppresses immune function and contributes to autoimmune diseases.
- Packaged and processed foods: These goods have been linked to increased intestinal permeability (a leaky gut) and the occurrence of autoimmune disorders (Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder).
It’s generally a good idea to eliminate any suspected food allergens, such as dairy, gluten, soy, corn, preservatives and chemical food additives, since a food allergy can contribute to thyroid problems. You may want to consider being tested for food allergies if you haven’t already.
Some sources report that bugleweed, a member of the mint family, can act as a thyroid suppressant and help to decrease the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. It’s recommended to take 2 mL three times daily.
Research demonstrates that L-carnitine may help hyperthyroidism in some cases. L-carnitine is a derivative of the amino acid lysine. It’s believed to help reduce hyperthyroid symptoms by decreasing thyroid activity. It’s recommended to take 1,000 milligrams two to four times daily.
3. Lemon balm
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb belonging to the mint family. Lemon balm extract is a form of treatment that some natural health practitioners use when trying to regulate an overactive thyroid. Research suggests that lemon balm extract can stop the components that over-activate the thyroid from binding with the TSH receptor, specifically in patients with Graves’ disease.
Lemon balm can be taken as an extract. The recommendation is 2 mL three times daily. It can also be used in tea form to help normalize an overactive thyroid. To make a lemon balm tea, steep two tablespoons of lemon balm in one cup of boiling water, strain and allow to cool before consuming.
4. Exercise and General Stress Reduction
Stress can contribute to thyroid problems, so making sure to practice forms of relaxation, such as breathing exercises, regularly is very important. Exercise is another great way to destress, and it can also help to decrease an excessive appetite and increase energy levels.
5. Essential Oils for Hyperthyroidism
Certain essential oils like frankincense may be able to help with thyroid conditions, especially when inflammation is at the root — since its well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties. One study published in the European Journal of Immunology demonstrates how the boswellic acids in frankincense can help to reduce Th17 cytokines, which are increased in patients with autoimmune thyroid disorders.
Complications and Precautions
What happens if hyperthyroidism is left untreated? If it’s not treated, it can cause serious health issues related to the heart, bones, muscles, menstrual cycle and fertility.
Hyperthyroidism causes the body to be in a constant state of overdrive, which can really affect the heart. Some possible heart-related complications of uncontrolled hyperthyroidism include:
- Arrhythmia (abnormal heart beat, such as atrial fibrillation)
- Cardiac dilation (increase in the size of the heart cavities, which actually thins the heart muscle)
- Congestive heart failure
- Sudden cardiac arrest
Studies have also linked hyperthyroidism to an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, since this thyroid condition is known for causing a loss of bone mineral density.
Hyperthyroidism and pregnancy are a very concerning mix. Untreated hyperthyroidism in pregnancy can cause premature birth, low birthweight, preeclampsia or even miscarriage.
It’s very important that if you suspect you are having signs of an overactive thyroid, you see your doctor right away and have your thyroid hormone levels tested. Always check with your healthcare provider before using natural remedies for hyperthyroidism.
- Hyperthyroidism is overactivity of the thyroid gland, which means it makes and releases more hormones than your body needs. This can affect your body and how it functions in major ways.
- Low TSH levels with high levels of thyroid hormones T3 and T4 are common in cases of hyperthyroidism.
- Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include irritability, nervousness, muscle weakness, unexplained weight loss, sleep disturbances and more.
- Graves’ disease is the number one cause of hyperthyroidism. Other hyperthyroidism causes include thyroid nodules and thyroiditis. Leaky gut syndrome, toxicity, hormonal imbalances and food allergies can also contribute to an overactive thyroid.
- Natural remedies for hyperthyroidism include a whole foods-based diet free of processed foods, avoiding common food allergens and iodine sources, regular exercise and more.
- If you opt to take medication for hyperthyroidism, it’s important that you are aware of the side effects. Also, let your doctor know if you are interested in using any natural remedies for your condition to ensure you don’t have any drug interactions or unwanted side effects.