A recent headline caught my attention about a celebrity who’s battling a serious thyroid disorder, and her story shines a light on the explosion of thyroid autoimmunity and complications associated with it. In her case, she developed hyperthyroidism after having a baby. This type of thyroid disorder stems from an overactive thyroid condition called Graves’ disease. However, the most common thyroid autoimmunity, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, results in low thyroid activity (and is responsible for over 90% of low thyroid cases). The celebrity was being coaxed by doctors to have her thyroid removed, but she was concerned about the risk of mental health symptoms, such as depression, after a thyroidectomy.
Her concerns are warranted, and these often overlooked symptoms of a dysfunctional thyroid are more prevalent than most people know.
Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even bipolar disorder have been connected to thyroid autoimmunity.
Moreover, it does not take removing the thyroid gland to create a major mental health imbalance; even minor thyroid dysfunction can mean problems for your mood. Don’t miss the connection between your thyroid and mental health.
1. Thyroid and Depression
Low thyroid has long been linked to depression, but researchers have struggled to explain why. A recent study found that patients who had recently undergone thyroid removal surgery had increased local brain functional connectivity, which is related to poor mental quality and depression. It is possible that low thyroid also affects many patients’ brain functional connectivity, resulting in a low mood. However, some studies have found that simply replacing thyroid hormone does not improve depression, and this is likely because one does not cause the other. Instead, there may be a common underlying cause of both thyroid disorders and depression that is left unchecked.
2. Thyroid and Anxiety
Recent research has linked an increased risk of anxiety to thyroid disorders. This is not surprising given that the hypothalamus and pituitary glands are responsible for regulating both the body’s stress response and thyroid production. If the hypothalamus and pituitary are out of whack due to a thyroid imbalance, they may not be signaling or responding to stress hormones properly. Another correlation exists between the high rate of thyroid autoimmunity (over 90% of low thyroid cases) and anxiety. When the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, too much thyroid hormone is released, upregulating the metabolism and leading to a rapid heart rate, excessive sweating, and other symptoms often linked to anxiety.
3. Thyroid and Bipolar Affective Disorder
Those with bipolar disorder are 2.55 times more likely to have thyroid disorders and elevated T3 hormone levels. These conditions may seem unrelated, but consider this commonality: Most thyroid disorders are autoimmune in nature, meaning that the immune system launches attacks against the thyroid gland. These attacks ebb and flow, but when the thyroid gland is actively being destroyed, plenty of thyroid hormone is pumped into the body, resulting in increased metabolic activity, brain function, heart rate, and energy. Then, when the damage slows down, the thyroid becomes sluggish. Low thyroid function is linked to low energy, depression, fatigue, and weight gain. These phases may mirror the highs and lows of bipolar disorder.
The bottom line is that your thyroid gland and thyroid hormones have a direct and continuous effect on the brain, metabolism, and mood. The more we consider the intricate web of systems throughout the body and how they affect each other, the better we can diagnose and help patients who are suffering. This is why we take a comprehensive functional medicine approach to care, prompting the use of cutting-edge laboratory testing and individualized therapies so that we don’t miss the signs pointing towards the best path for healing.