According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. Along with insulin and cortisol, the thyroid hormones play a pertinent role in metabolism rate and weight management. Hormones secreted by the thyroid work to maintain the health of vital organs like the brain, heart and muscles, and help the body to use energy properly. If the thyroid is not working properly, either being underactive or overactive, your metabolism will consequently get too low or too high, resulting in an array of health problems. Although they both affect the same gland, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism affect the body differently. Learn the signs of each condition, and how you can take advantage of lifestyle changes to ensure such conditions don’t overcome your wellbeing.
The Difference Between Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism
The biggest difference between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism is the thyroid’s hormone output. Hypothyroidism refers to an underactive thyroid, which means the thyroid gland doesn’t produce a sufficient amount of thyroid hormone for the body to thrive properly. Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, refers to an overactive thyroid, which means the thyroid makes too much.
The Causes Of Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism
Hypothyroidism may be due to a number of factors, including autoimmune disease, treatment for hyperthyroidism, thyroid surgery, radiation therapy and medications like lithium. Less common causes include congenital disease, pituitary disorder, pregnancy and iodine deficiency.
Hyperthyroidism is most commonly the result of either Graves’ disease, toxic adenoma, Plummer’s disease (toxic multinodular goiter) or thyroiditis. Less common causes are taking too much thyroid hormone medicine, taking large amounts of substances or medicines that contain iodine, having too much thyroid hormone after pregnancy, stress or surgery.
The Symptoms of Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism
Hypothyroidism is like a clock winding down—the heart rate slows, the intestinal tract becomes sluggish and less heat is produced. As a result of an underactive thyroid, you may have the following symptoms:
- Dry skin
- Dry hair
- Brittle nails
- Weight gain
- Muscle cramps
- Decreased menstrual flow
- Swelling in the front of the neck (called the goiter)
Hyperthyroidism is similar to a racing car engine, in which the overactive thyroid results in all body functions speeding up, and an increased metabolism. As a result, you may have the following symptoms:
- Feeling hot
- Problems falling asleep
- Racing thoughts
- Difficulty focusing on one task
- Change in bowel habits, where bowels are looser
- Elevated heart rate and palpitations
- Anxiety, nervousness, or irritability
- Weight loss
- Menstrual problems
What You Can Do To Treat Hypothyroidism
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should see your healthcare professional, who can order tests to see if you have a thyroid condition.
Several treatments for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism exist, and the best approach is dependent on your age, physical condition, and the underlying cause of your condition. Here is a glimpse:
For treating hypothyroidism, you may first want to examine any underlying nutrient deficiencies or food intolerance. For instance, our thyroid gland requires iodine to produce thyroid hormones, and so while a lack of iodine is rarely the cause of hypothyroidism in developed countries, including iodine-rich foods in your diet is a good idea. Many studies have shown a connection between gluten sensitivity and hypothyroidism, as it is thought that the immune system can confuse components of gluten with thyroid tissue, which then causes the immune system to mistakenly attack and damage the thyroid gland. Many studies have also found that a gluten-free diet reduces the number of antithyroid antibodies (15, 16, 17).
An underactive thyroid can make it very hard to lose weight, which is why it is so important to develop healthy eating habits. You should consume foods rich in iodine and cruciferous vegetables as mentioned above as well as plenty of protein.
Standard treatment for hypothyroidism involves an oral medication to restore adequate hormone levels and reverse the signs and symptoms, however more natural methods such as revising your diet is worth thinking about.
Furthermore, exercise is recommended to improve strength and metabolism, as well as to influence how the body responds to hormones like insulin and thyroid. In fact, one study discovered that short bouts of moderate-intensity exercise increased circulating levels of T4 and free T4, which is beneficial.
What You Can Do To Treat Hyperthyroidism
It is very important to consult with your healthcare professional to treat hyperthyroidism as it can be very dangerous left untreated. Medical treatment may be required for thyroid problems so your first step is to contact your medical doctor.
However, it may also be beneficial to examine any underlying nutrient deficiencies or food intolerances. An appropriate, sustainable diet is recommended. This includes foods rich in magnesium, calcium and vitamin D and maybe even a gluten-free diet. For instance, studies have found that low magnesium levels are linked to bone mineral imbalances and increased risk of osteoporosis, which can interrupt thyroid function (9, 10, 11).
It’s also important to consider including regular exercise for bone and muscle strength and reducing chronic stress.
Bottom line: always consult your doctor when it comes to thyroid issues but don’t be afraid to “let food be thy medicine.”