Hello, Mr. Thyroid

Like many of you, I got Thyroid Disease along with the diabetes (it was one of my free gifts).  I got HYPO-thyroidism, in fact, the kind that makes your gland sluggish and supposedly makes you gain weight.  My doctor gave me pills, which I take every morning a half-hour before breakfast.  But since the diabetes is so much more intense, I doubt I’ve spent more than 45 seconds thinking about my thyroid since diagnosis.  So today is the day!  Hello There, Mr. Thyroid.

Thyroid Why should it be a “he”?  No idea, just is. Don’t start with me!  What’s important is what this funky little gland does, and what it doesn’t do when it breaks down. Since learning that mine doesn’t work right, I’ve kind of pictured it as a little nuisance hanging there uselessly in my neck.

From About.com’s Thyroid Disease 101, I also learned the following:

Your thyroid is a small bowtie or butterfly-shaped gland, located in your neck, wrapped around the windpipe, behind and below the Adam’s Apple area.  Hormones produced by the thyroid gland have an enormous impact on your health, affecting all aspects of your metabolism — from the rate at which your heart beats to how quickly you burn calories.

The thyroid produces several hormones, of which two are key: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones help oxygen get into cells, and make your thyroid the master gland of metabolism.

The thyroid has the only cells in the body capable of absorbing iodine. The thyroid takes in iodine, obtained through food, iodized salt, or supplements, and combines it with the amino acid tyrosine. The thyroid then converts the iodine/tyrosine into the hormones T3 and T4. The “3″ and the “4″ refer to the number of iodine molecules in each thyroid hormone molecule.

When it’s in good condition, of all the hormone produced by your thyroid, 80% will be T4 and 20% T3. These will both be released by the thyroid to travel through the bloodstream. The purpose is to help cells convert oxygen and calories into energy.

… When you are hypothyroid, your thyroid doesn’t produce any or enough thyroid hormones, and the missing hormone is replaced by thyroid hormone replacement drugs. Symptoms are exhaustion, depression, low sex drive, infertility, weight gain, hair loss.

… When your thyroid starts producing too much thyroid hormone and the balancing system doesn’t function properly, then you can become hyperthyroid, and your body goes into overdrive, gets sped up, causing an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and burning more calories more quickly. 

OK, so it’s like a little energy pack that can go into under- or overdrive, I get that.  But it seems so easily treatable with pills that I’m surprised so many people have so much to say about it. (Note that almost one-third of people with Type 1 diabetes have thyroid disease, because — yes, we know, thanks — patients with one kind of autoimmune disease are at high risk of developing another).

To kick my thyroid into gear, they first had me on Synthroid, and later on Levoxyl, which splits in half nicely since I need just a very small dose.  I always had the notion in the back of my mind that if I wanted to lose weight, I could maybe just cheat a little and take a higher dose of my hypothyroid medicine. Kick that puppy into high gear, and I’d be burnin’ calories like there’s no tomorrow, right?

But if it were that easy, why wasn’t everyone using the thyroid meds for weight loss?  My endocrinologist buddy Dr. Bill Quick set me straight on this:

You are correct: taking a higher-than-recommended dose of thyroid hormone will kick your body into high gear. (Technically, it will actually suppress the thyroid gland itself, but the pills contain thyroid hormone, and would mimick your own gland being in hyperdrive.)

But the downside is you will have all the side effects of “overactivity of the thyroid gland”: restlessness, irritability insomnia, hyperglycemia, risk of cardiac issues, and a whole bunch more besides weight loss.

End result? People who have tried to use high-dose thyroid hormone to lose weight end up sick.


So I was right.  The thyroid IS nothing but a little nuisance for many of us, hanging there uselessy in our necks — not even good for stimulating weight loss when we want it to.  Maybe you know more about your thyroid.  I’m just glad I didn’t spend more than a day on it.   


9 Responses

  1. Adam Kaye
    Adam Kaye October 17, 2006 at 10:08 am | | Reply

    Other symptoms of hypothyroidism that are important to keep in mind are cold intolerance (you think it’s cold when everyone else thinks it’s hot) and constipation (since thyroid hormones normally keep your bowels movin’ along). Two more things for you all to keep in mind.

  2. Sarah
    Sarah October 17, 2006 at 10:47 am | | Reply

    I had post-partum thyroiditis, and in my case my thyroid was over-active. I can say from experience that having your thyroid in overdrive SUCKS. I felt constantly breathless. I had heart palpitations that would make me feel like I was going to pass out. I had tremors, I was crabby, and what’s more, I didn’t lose ANY weight. Not fun. My doctor told me that because of my experience with post-partum thyroiditis that my chances of having it eventually putter out are very high, but so far, so good! I’m crossing my fingers on this one too, because I really don’t want another copay!

  3. Chrissie in Belgium
    Chrissie in Belgium October 17, 2006 at 11:38 am | | Reply

    I have also had hypothyroidisme for years. Does anybody know why it is that off and on one must change your amount of medications? The proper medication amount never seems to remain stable – I both have to increase and decrease it from month to month? Why is that?

  4. Jo
    Jo October 17, 2006 at 4:25 pm | | Reply

    My Type II is probably a result of my earlier thyroid condition; as they are all part of the same system. I had my killed off and take meds twice daily, I’m on Armour Thyroid. My diabetes showed up 4 years later. Both conditions can crop up before or after with each other. About.com is the best support area on the web for thyroid patients.

  5. Scott K. Johnson
    Scott K. Johnson October 17, 2006 at 6:55 pm | | Reply

    Great article Amy!

    And it’s a “he” because it looks like a bowtie. That’s my vote anyway.

    I too take thyroid medication to treat low thyroid levels. It joined the party late, but showed up nevertheless.

    I once ran out of my pills, and didn’t refill them right away – because I had missed days here and there and didn’t feel any different. This was back before I knew that missing a day or two here and there didn’t disrupt things too bad (but still should be avoided).

    I had my lab tests done, and EVERYTHING was out of whack. Cholesterol, A1C’s, thyroid, all of it. It was then that I got the education (short & sweet) that the thyroid levels play games with so many different things.

    The doc basically threw the labs out and had me do them again after I had been back on my meds for a while.

    And for the record, no, I don’t remember just how different my A1C was once I was “regulated”.

    Oh, and Chrissie, my levels have been known to fluctuate too – not sure what that’s all about…probably something else out of whack that is impacting my thyroid levels!! :-)

  6. Adam Kaye
    Adam Kaye October 18, 2006 at 10:53 am | | Reply

    Chrissie in Belgium:
    A little medical school talk here, but hopefully it will make sense:
    The main disorder most Type 1 diabetics face in terms of their thyroid is called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It is essentially an inflammation of the thyroid gland. This brings up two issues.
    The first, in answer to your question, is that it represents an inflammation of the thyroid gland, so in reality the cells aren’t completely destroyed (as B-cells in Type I DM are), but simply lose function. Therefore, they are sometimes able to secrete thyroid hormone after they have stopped, essentially meaning that you can go into periods of remission. Therefore, it is important to continually get Thyroid function tests to assess the level of function of your thyroid, and this may involve bumping up or toning down your dose of thyroid-hormone-replacement.
    The second issue, which goes hand in hand with the first, is that, because this is an inflammatory process, initially the thyroid cells will be overstimulated to secrete thyroid hormone. So sometimes, the FIRST symptom of Hashimoto’s is actually HYPERthyroidism. Symptoms are pretty much the exact opposite of hypothyroidism, as Amy explained in her post. The only symptom I would add would be heat intolerance. If you’re constantly opening windows when your partner/spouse/significant other is closing them, you may be hyperthyroid. After this initial phase of hyperthyroidism, your thyroid peters out, and you become HYPOthyroid. Please don’t take any of this as true medical advice, seek guidance from your provider if you have any symptoms, but I thought it might help to clear up some confusion about hyper vs. hypothyroidism.

  7. Cisco
    Cisco October 19, 2006 at 10:24 am | | Reply

    My mom has been on a dyalisis a number of years now. She has periods of time when she has uncontrollable cough(like the past two months). It mainly happens when she lies down. But it can get so bad that she develops pains in her stomach area.

    Could this be a symptom of her thyroid problems? I’m going to see about finding an endocrinologist who specializes in the thyroid gland. Lately she has had anemia(two times had to have some ‘new’ blood), i wonder if they are related? The doctors don’t seem to think so but then again they don’t really know what’s wrong. It’s just a bunch of tests(for her cough) with no results.

    Cough syrups are a joke. From all the mexican remedies she tried , Corriander seeds boiled into a tea worked the best. It’s awful but it has helped her cough a little. I won’t even mention the other nasty things she tried. (Picture onion, ginger, cinnamon sticks and a few other ingrediants that don’t belong together)

  8. Kate
    Kate October 24, 2006 at 12:11 pm | | Reply

    I was diagnosed with Hashimotos in 1995. Even after medication my thyroid continued to grow eventually getting to the point that it was under my breast bone and distorting my wind pipe. I never felt well even on the medication. Always tired, sluggish, etc. with occasional bouts of hyperthyroidism such as heart issues etc. I never did fell well until I had my thyroid removed in 2002. I have been fine for the last four years. I have lots of energy and am able to lost weight with exercise and a little self discipline regarding snacking. I am hoping this will keep the possibility of type II diabetes at bay for a while, but I am conviced without surgery that I would have never been able to regulate my thyroid levels. The tests simply aren’t good enough or fast enough to allow you to change your dosage on almost a daily basis which you would need to do to have the correct level of thyroid hormones in you system.

  9. Michele Cermak
    Michele Cermak January 4, 2007 at 12:12 pm | | Reply

    Has anyone tried Byetta for weight loss I do not have a thyroid and take .125 of Levoxyl a day I have not be able to lose weight for 10 years help

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