I’m not usually one to get caught up in celebrity gossip, but the other day, I couldn’t help but notice a headline about a celeb who has been battling a serious thyroid disorder. Thyroid disorders? Autoimmunity? I’m in. Long story short, this woman developed hyperthyroidism after having a baby. Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid disorder, which is also known as Graves’ disease-- a less common thyroid disorder and the opposite of Hashimoto’s (an underactive thyroid disorder responsible for 90% of thyroid disorder cases). This celebrity had gone to doctors who were urging her to have a thyroidectomy, but she was hesitant because of the risk associated with mental health symptoms such as depression.
The link between mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder and the thyroid is often overlooked.
In fact, the thyroid can have a significant impact on your mental health regardless of if you get it removed. Here are some important links between mental health, autoimmunity, and your thyroid.
1. Your Thyroid and Depression
Hypothyroidism has been associated with depression for quite some time now, but researchers can usually only say that there’s a link between the two. There is very little understanding of why they have the relationship they do. A recent study found that individuals who have had their thyroids removed had increased local brain functional connectivity-- a trait indicative of poor mental health and depression. It’s also possible that an underactive thyroid can have the same effect and gives way to lower moods. Other studies have tackled the same topic, however, and found that hormone replacement doesn’t improve depression, suggesting that one does not cause the other. Most likely, there is a common underlying cause that prompts both thyroid disorders and depression.
2. Your Thyroid and Anxiety
Recent studies have also shown that individuals with thyroid conditions have a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders. This makes sense-- the hypothalamus and pituitary gland are responsible for regulating your body’s stress response and your thyroid hormone production. If these glands aren’t performing effectively due to an imbalance, they’re probably not responding to your stress hormones appropriately.
Thyroid autoimmunity, which makes up 90% of underactive thyroid cases, is also linked to anxiety.
When the immune system mistakes the thyroid cells as an intruder and attacks the gland, your thyroid releases too much of its hormone causing you to have a rapid heart rate, excessive sweating, and other symptoms that are telltale signs of anxiety.
3. Your Thyroid and Bipolar Affective Disorder
Individuals with bipolar disorder are 2.55 times more likely to develop a thyroid disorder and have heightened T3 hormone levels. These two separate conditions may seem completely unrelated, but they have one notable commonality that shouldn’t be ignored. Thyroid disorders are usually a result of some sort of autoimmunity, which means that your immune system is attacking your thyroid gland when it shouldn’t. The attacks are not constant, but come and go over time. When your immune system is destroying your thyroid gland, tons of thyroid hormone is released into your body. This often looks like increased metabolic activity, brain function, heart rate, and overall energy. When the immune system takes a breather and lets up on the gland, your thyroid slows down and leaves you with lower levels of energy, fatigue, weight gain, and depression.
The different stages of the immune system’s attack can often mimic the episodes of bipolar disorder.
Your thyroid gland and its hormones are vital when it comes to your well-being, both physically and mentally. These components have undesirable effects on your brain, metabolism, and mood.
On the one hand, it’s incredible to see how complex and intricate our bodies’ systems are. On the other hand, it can be scary when you realize that one tiny imbalance can rock your world.
The important thing is that you find a practitioner who can utilize the best and most recent testing to catch those tiny imbalances before they grow and throw your whole system out of whack. That’s why I use functional medicine in my approach to care. It ensures I don’t miss any sign that points to imbalance, and it helps me uncover the individual needs each patient has so that I can tailor a treatment plan fit specifically for them.