What is thyroid?

Ever wonder what controls many of your body's primary functions such as your breathing, heart rate, digestion, and body temperature? You have likely heard of the thyroid gland, but do you understand what it is or what it does? You may not give it a second thought unless something goes wrong. 

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, just above your collarbone. It's one of the endocrine glands, which make hormones. Thyroid hormones control the speed of several activities within your body. These include how quickly you burn calories and how fast your heart is beating. All these actions impact your body's metabolism.

Your thyroid is responsible for secreting two hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is secreted from the pituitary gland and stimulates the thyroid's production and release of T3 and T4.

The pituitary gland is crucial for healthy thyroid function. The thyroid hormones act on virtually every cell in the body, exerting numerous effects that influence metabolisms, such as protein, carbohydrate, and fat metabolism, bone metabolism, protein synthesis, and neuronal connections.

These body systems accelerate as thyroid hormone levels rise. But problems occur if the thyroid makes too much hormone or insufficient amounts. Thyroid trouble can cause various seemingly unrelated issues, including extreme changes to your weight, digestion, energy, or mood. Learn how to recognize signs of thyroid disease, which means it is possible to get treatment if necessary.

See: Foods good for thyroid health

Thyroid problems

Almost 1 in 20 Americans ages 12 and older have an under-active thyroid or hypothyroidism. When thyroid glands do not produce enough hormones, many body processes and functions slow down. A smaller number of people - 1 in 100 - has an over-active thyroid, known as hyperthyroidism. Their thyroids release too much hormone.

Thyroid disorders can be tough to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other problems. Hypothyroidism can be quite subtle. When a thyroid disorder is suspected, possibly due to a weight change or tiredness, blood tests can confirm the diagnosis and discover its cause.

Thyroid problems are most likely to occur in women or people over age 60. Having a family history of thyroid disorders also increases the risk. Thyroid problems are often due to autoimmune disorders, in which the immune system erroneously attacks and destroys the body's cells. For instance, an autoimmune disorder called Graves' disease can cause the thyroid to be over-active, while one known as Hashimoto's disease can produce the thyroid under-active.

Thyroid problems include:

Hyperthyroidism - if your thyroid gland creates more thyroid hormones in the body's needs.

Hypothyroidism - if your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormones.

Goiter - enlargement of the thyroid gland

Thyroid cancer

Thyroiditis - swelling of the thyroid gland

Thyroid nodules - lumps in the thyroid gland

To diagnose thyroid ailments, doctors use a health history, physical examination, and thyroid tests. They sometimes also use a biopsy. Treatment depends upon the issue but may contain medications, radioiodine treatment, or thyroid surgery.

Patients with under-active thyroids may be treated with artificial thyroid hormones. Over-active thyroids are often treated with drugs that reduce hormone levels.

During pregnancy, thyroid hormones may influence the health of both the mother and the growing baby. Thyroid hormone levels sometimes have to be carefully monitored and corrected, even when pregnant mothers never had thyroid problems before. After pregnancy, some women have abnormal levels of thyroid hormone for a year or longer.

The thyroid gland also may be affected by cancer. Thyroid cancer usually has no symptoms. It is sometimes first noticed as a lump in the throat --although such lumps are more likely to be harmless nodules.

Thyroid nodules are common, whereas thyroid cancer is sporadic. A physician can determine whether a nodule is cancerous by removing and analyzing a small piece of it. If it shows signs of cancer, the nodule or even the whole thyroid will be eliminated. If you see symptoms of a thyroid disorder, talk to a health professional. Your provider can help you determine if additional testing or treatment is necessary according to your own family history, symptoms, and medical examination.


See: Diet Plan for Person With Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid & sexual health

Generally speaking, sex drive slowly decreases as we age. Initial research by the 1950s by Dr. Alfred Kinsey found that a man's sexual peak was age 18, while a woman's sexual peak tended to be in her mid-20s, together with the downward slope from there. Finally, at age 60, men typically had a higher sex drive than women.

We now know a lot more about what affects sex drive. Even though a couple of physiological mechanisms affect your libido, your thyroid function plays a significant role in regulating sex drive up and down. Thyroid issues are widespread: 10 percent of women have a thyroid-related health problem, and by age 50, women are ten times more likely to have a thyroid-related health issue than men. That means you can chalk up your changes in the sexual drive to aging, or you may learn about your thyroid health and ways to help maintain passion and love in your life.

Although sex drive tends to diminish with age, thyroid disorder, which affects T3 and T4 levels, can happen at any age. A lesser level of these hormones is categorized as hypothyroidism, whereas greater than normal levels are considered hyperthyroidism.

Both hypo- and hyperthyroidism are linked to sexual dysfunction in people: erectile dysfunction for men and painful sexual intercourse for women. Both genders can experience other issues, too, such as low libido. In recent years, we have also developed a better comprehension of hypothyroidism's effects on female fertility and reproduction. For instance, hypothyroidism can decrease testosterone and estrogen levels in women of reproductive age. 1 A low estrogen level is proven to result in debilitating sex because of lack of vaginal lubrication, and low testosterone may affect sexual desire and gratification, and they could both affect a woman's ability to conceive.

Thyroid dysfunction and sex drive: It isn't among the most well-researched topics, but findings will help you recognize how prevalent sexual issues concerning thyroid dysfunction are.

- Males: In a study that looked at hyper- or hypothyroidism in 71 men, 56 of these (79%) had erectile dysfunction problems ranging from moderate to severe. In a different study, the most common sexual dysfunction symptoms related to hyper- or hypothyroidism were erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, low sexual desire, and delayed ejaculation. This study demonstrated that when treatments were used to normalize thyroid hormones that the sexual issues were solved.

- Females: Research suggests about 46% of women who have thyroid disease (hyper, hypo, Hashimoto's) experience sexual dysfunction; 68% of girls who have nodular goiter may also experience these difficulties. In these females, the most frequent problems reported were the lack of arousal, lubrication, desire, orgasm, and satisfaction. 

See: Vitamins & Supplements For Thyroid Health

Other factors affecting sex health

Though thyroid problems affect sex drive, other issues can negatively or positively affect libido, either alone or in conjunction with thyroid difficulties.

Medical conditions - such as stress, depression, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and sleep apnea all play a part in influencing hormone levels, energy levels, ability or desire to move around, and finally, stimulation. It's no surprise as soon as your body isn't in the hormonal balance that you may not be in the mood.

Pregnancy is a time when stimulation can be enhanced. A pregnant woman has a larger quantity of blood and additional blood circulation around her vulva. After pregnancy, nursing, fatigue, or changes in perceived body image can dampen sexual drive. Besides, this is another time when hormones play a role.

Diet can influence how you feel about yourself. A diet that contains fatty, processed foods and added sugars can lead to weight gain that will not have you feeling hot between the sheets. On the other hand, a diet that supports the suitable hormone balance (estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, thyroid hormones) may play an essential role in encouraging a healthy libido. Eat loads of nutrient-dense veggies and fruits (be cautious of the sugar content) to get necessary minerals and vitamins. Additionally, including healthy fats in your diet can offer the precursors that produce sex hormones, which will also boost your libido, such as the Mediterranean Diet.

Lifestyle habits - such as no exercise, lack of sleep can make you too tired for sex. Too much exercise or too much sleep can also have the same effect. Just the right balance of exercise, sleep, and mental state can be good for your sexual health. Work schedules or caring for elderly parents or children at home can improve your feelings of exhaustion and lower your sexual desire, also. It's important to get the energy and time in your hectic schedule to get proper sleep and exercise to get you in the mood.

Prescription drugs - especially anti-depressants, may lower sex drive. For instance, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, and tricyclic anti-depressants are proven to have significant sexual side effects that range from decreased genital sensations to an inability to achieve orgasm to erectile dysfunction.

Life events, good and bad, can alter your libido. Positive events may positively influence your libido for days or even weeks; whereas, negative events can cause enough bad stress to impact your libido.

See: How to increase libido naturally

Thyroid health support

Supporting your thyroid health

Along with analyzing your thyroid levels to understand your standing, you need to think about other diet and lifestyle habits, so this vital gland will maintain optimum function.

- Healthy Diet. The healthful fats from fish, nuts, and olive oil, an assortment of veggies, some whole grains, and legumes, and moderate red wine consumption support whole-body health, reduce inflammation and supply essential vitamins and minerals (including iodine) to maintain optimal thyroid function and hormone balance. If your diet isn't too balanced, then think about supporting it with supplements that have magnesium, selenium, iron, copper, B vitamins, and vitamins A, E, and C.

- Avoid environmental toxins. Exposure to heavy metals, industrial chemicals, plastics, and pesticides may overtax your entire body, such as your thyroid gland. Though everyone has a different tolerance, the best practice is to prevent and eliminate contact with these toxins as soon as you're able to. If you feel that may have been exposed to excessive levels of heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, or lead), then consider a heavy metal test.

- Practice yoga to lower stress. Anxiety can be a significant element in impacting your thyroid function. Practicing yoga or participating in other relaxing activities, such as meditative stretching or low-intensity exercise, can help lower anxiety levels. Identify what is causing your stress and incorporate healthy habits to minimize it.

See: Thyroid Program

Summary

The thyroid gland affects virtually every organ in the body. Thyroid imbalance is more common than you may think. Watch where your levels stand by easily testing four biomarkers associated with thyroid function. A personalized wellness program complete with diet, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations can help you manage common thyroid issues.

See: Functional Medicine for Hypothyroidism

References

1. Carani C, Isidori A, Granata A, et al. Multicenter study on the prevalence of sexual symptoms in male hypo- and hyperthyroid patients. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2005;90(12):6472-6479.

2. Saran S, Gupta B, Philip R, et al. Effect of hypothyroidism on female reproductive hormones. Indian J Endocrinol Metab 2016;20(1):108-113.

3. Krassas G, Tziomalos K, Papadopoulou F, et al. Erectile dysfunction in patients with hyper- and hypothyroidism: how common and should we treat? J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2008;93(5):1815-1819.

4. Pasquali D, Maiorino M, Renzullo A, et al. Female sexual dysfunction in women with thyroid disorders. J Endocrinol Invest 2013;36(9):729-733.

See: Ayurvedic Herbs for Hypothyroidism

Get a Consultation
(650) 539-4545
Get more information via email