The thyroid is a gland in the neck responsible for making and releasing hormones necessary for normal cell function throughout the body. This gland is dependent upon a sufficient supply of dietary iodine. It cannot function properly without it. If you live far from the ocean, don’t consume a lot of seafood or kelp and don’t use iodized table salt, you are at risk for iodine deficiency and a malfunction of your thyroid gland. Although milk, yogurt and cheese are also good sources of iodine, ask your physician if a dietary iodine supplement would be a good idea for you. Recommended daily intake for this mineral is 150 micrograms for adults, 220 to 250 micrograms for pregnant women and 250 to 290 micrograms for breastfeeding females.
The thyroid produces several hormones, but this article will concentrate on the two most likely to be involved with symptoms of depression. These are triiodothyronine, called T3, and thyroxin or T4. The pituitary gland in the brain is the master gland. It’s like the boss, telling the other organs what to do. It monitors blood levels of both T3 and T4 and signals the thyroid to make more or less hormone, whichever is necessary to maintain correct blood levels. When the thyroid makes too much hormone, the condition is called hyperthyroidism. When it makes too little, it’s called hypothyroidism. Both of these conditions can be caused by the malfunction of the pituitary, the thyroid or both.
About 12 percent of the population will have a thyroid problem at some point in their lifetime. Women are at a higher risk than men. About 60 percent of people with a thyroid hormone problem don’t even know they have it. The symptoms of hypothyroidism, which include lack of energy, weight gain, difficulty in thinking and lack of motivation, also happen to be symptoms of depression. It would be very easy to mistake one for the other. That’s why doctors do screening blood tests. Symptoms of depression paired with low thyroid hormone levels would indicate that the problem is more likely in your thyroid or pituitary and not related to a brain neurotransmitter imbalance.
If you’re being treated with lithium, a common drug used to regulate mood in people with bipolar disorder, you’re at a higher risk for hyperthyroidism. These symptoms can include mood swings, anxiety, depression, insomnia and irritability, which also happen to be symptoms of bipolar disorder itself. Here is where we start to see just how complicated things can get. Is it true depression, or is it something else, such as a thyroid malfunction?
It’s absolutely possible that what seems like depression is actually a misdiagnosed or unrecognized thyroid condition.
What is Depression?
True clinical depression is due to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters enable the brain cells to communicate with each other through spaces between the cells called synapses. Two of them, dopamine and serotonin, are thought to be related to symptoms of depression when brain levels of these are low. Certain drugs called SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, help to increase serotonin brain levels by keeping more of the serotonin available to the brain cells in the synapses. These drugs are typically quite effective at relieving symptoms of clinical depression. True depression shouldn’t be confused with ordinary and temporary feelings of sadness. Everyone feels blue sometimes. The blues are transient and clear up on their own. Sometimes, just talking to a friend is enough to chase away the blues. True depression persists for long periods of time. No one has to live with clinical depression. Help in the form of medication and special therapy is available. SSRIs work miracles for many people who try them.
Some people who think they have a thyroid problem try to treat it themselves with dietary supplements of thyroid preparations containing the dried thyroid glands of animals, usually pigs. While it’s true that pigs do produce some of the same thyroid hormones that humans do, the ratios of T3 to T4 are vastly different. It would be very easy to take too much or too little of these preparations. Careful blood studies are needed to determine just how much thyroid hormone to prescribe. It’s not a do-it-yourself project. Always consult with a physician. Let him or her determine the best treatment for any possible thyroid or depression problem.
If you’re concerned about depression and your thyroid gland, we can help. Our number is 205-352-9141. When you call, a trained member of our professional staff will assist you, answer your questions and set up an appointment with one of our physicians for a consultation. We look forward to your call.