The Link Between Your Thyroid and Mental Health
The thyroid may be a tiny part of the body, but it affects many people in profound ways. In fact, the American Thyroid Association reveals that over 20 million people have some form of thyroid disease.
Most people are familiar with the troubling effects that thyroid disorders have on the body. Yet, unbeknownst to many, it also has severe implications on our mental well-being.
What Role Does the Thyroid Play?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland comprised of two joined lobes located at the neck. It’s responsible for producing different hormones that influence various body functions, such as heart rate, muscle strength, and mood, to name a few.
When the thyroid doesn’t function properly, a person will then develop a disorder that will substantially change the way their body operates. For instance, producing too much thyroid hormone, or thyroxine, causes hyperthyroidism. This thyroid disease can cause rapid heartbeat, sudden weight loss, and tremors. On the other hand, producing too little thyroxine leads to hypothyroidism. A person who has this will experience fatigue, weight gain, and poor memory.
Other thyroid diseases are goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid; thyroid nodules, which is an abnormal lump formed inside the gland; and thyroid cancer, which is the mutation of thyroid cells.
How Does The Thyroid Affect Mental Health?
Due to the drastic physical changes a person with a thyroid disease experiences, one can feel overwhelmed and fail to notice the effects it has on their mental health. As we’ve previously written in ‘What it Means When You Wake up Feeling Depressed for No Reason’, some patients who get checked for depression discover that their thyroid hormone levels are imbalanced. Although the mental health effects of thyroid diseases are lesser-known, the impact is too significant to ignore.
Mental health disorders like anxiety and depression are symptoms of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, respectively. Indeed, a study published in the European Thyroid Journal notes that patients with Graves’ diseases — a form of hypothyroidism — experienced heightened symptoms of anxiety over time. Meanwhile, the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research shared a study that discovered a strong link between depressive patients and hypothyroidism.
Moreover, any form of thyroid disease can also lead to emotional issues because of the hormonal imbalance produced by an unhealthy thyroid. One can experience mood swings, sleeping problems, and loss of interest. Not to mention, the extreme changes that the different diseases have on one’s weight can result in low self-esteem.
How Are Thyroid Diseases Treated?
Thyroid diseases can be treated with proper medication, which in turn eases the negative effects they have on a person’s mental health. Hyperthyroidism and goiter can be managed with antithyroid medications like propylthiouracil or methimazol, while hypothyroidism is usually treated with a thyroid hormone replacement called levothyroxine. However, since thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer are more serious conditions, they require surgical treatment to remove the gland.
Another way to care for the thyroid is by developing new lifestyle habits. Case in point, eating plays a huge role in how the thyroid functions. Parsley Health’s guide to a healthy thyroid recommends food like avocados, oysters, and liver, which all work to promote overall thyroid health. Avocados are rich in monosaturated fats that energize the thyroid, oysters regulate thyroid activity, and liver is rich in thyroid-supportive nutrients.
Another way to help balance the thyroid is to bring balance to the body, as The Huffington Post’s article on yoga sequences for thyroid health reports that this meditative practice helps lower oxidative stress found in hypothyroidism. While sleeping difficulties may be a symptom of thyroid disease, it’s essential for those afflicted to sleep well regularly in order to help the thyroid perform more normally.
Whether a person diagnosed with a thyroid disease is experiencing symptoms of a mental illness or is feeling emotionally distraught, they should consult with their endocrinologist to determine the best treatment plan to boost their overall well-being.