Are you one of the 30 million women and 15 million men who have a chronic medical problem that is both under-diagnosed and under-treated? Are you suffering from vague symptoms that you think are normal parts of life, such as fatigue, feeling sluggish in the morning, and having trouble with your memory, concentration or focus? Do you have dry skin or fluid retention? Is your sex drive not what it used to be?
Most of these symptoms aren’t severe enough to send you to the emergency room, but they do significantly affect your quality of life. And most of us accept them as a normal part of our lives without really questioning them. If you do go to see your doctor, he or she probably shrugs it off. Yes, doctors are experts in acute illness. But they often fail miserably when it comes to addressing subtle changes in your body that affect the quality of your life.
According to conventional medicine, low sex drive is not necessarily a disease. Neither is a little dry skin or constipation or being tired most of the day. But for you, those problems are significant.
So what causes them? Often, they’re caused by a condition that goes undiagnosed in half of the 45 million people who have it. It’s called hypothyroidism.
What is hypothyroidism?
When you have hypothyroidism, your overall metabolic gas pedal slows down because the master gland that controls it, your thyroid gland, is not functioning at full speed.
If your thyroid slows down, every other organ and system in your body slows down, including your brain, heart, gut and muscles.
Who is affected by hypothyroidism?
This problem affects men and women of all ages. And it is very common because of all the stressors in our environment, including toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides, nutritional deficiencies and chronic stress, all of which interfere with our thyroid function.
It’s critical to understand that your thyroid is not just linked to energy and other symptoms that I described here. It is the master metabolism hormone that controls the function and activity of almost every organ and cell in your body — so when it is sluggish or slow, everything slows down.
But there is good news: There are clear ways to diagnose the problem as well as to treat it, with a comprehensive functional medicine approach.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
The first step is to find out if you have any of the chronic symptoms of hypothyroidism or any of the diseases associated with hypothyroidism. Ask yourself if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Sluggishness in the morning
- Poor concentration and memory
- Low-grade depression
- Dry skin
- Hoarse voice
- Thinning hair
- Coarse hair
- Being very sensitive to cold and having cold hands and feet
- Low body temperature
- Muscle pain
- Weakness or cramps
- Low sex drive
- Fluid retention
- High cholesterol
After I have asked my patients about all these symptoms, I do a physical examination for clues to a low-functioning thyroid. I check for a low body temperature. Anything lower than 97.6 degrees Fahrenheit may be a sign of hypothyroidism.
I might also find fluid retention, a thick tongue, swollen feet, swollen eyelids, an enlarged thyroid gland, excessive earwax, a dry mouth, coarse skin, low blood pressure or decreased ankle reflexes. I might even find that the outer third of the eyebrows is gone. These are all physical signs that can be put together along with other symptoms to form a story of what is causing the problem.
Once I have done that, I perform specific blood tests that give me a full picture of thyroid problems. Then I design a nutritional, lifestyle, and supplement regimen and hormone replacement plan as needed to help people regain their health.
That’s all for today. In my next blog, I will discuss the major preventable — and mostly hidden — factors that slow your thyroid down. And I’ll tell you more about the special tests I use to diagnose thyroid problems, as well as how to specifically treat low thyroid function.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.
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