An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroid) is where the thyroid gland produces too many thyroid hormones.
The condition is said to be 10 times more common in women than men and typically starts between 20-40 years of age.
The thyroid may become overactive for a number of reasons. “For example, as a result of an autoimmune condition, called Graves’ disease, where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland,” said Dr Nicky Keay, Sports and Dance Endocrinologist, Honorary Clinical Lecturer at University College London and author of Hormones, Health and Human Potential.
“But, often, if you’re going through a tough time, it’s easy to blame symptoms such as anxiety, sleep problems and even weight loss on stress. Or, if you’re feeling increasingly moody, hot and sweaty, to think these are symptoms of menopause.”
The thyroid may become overactive for a number of reasons. “For example, as a result of an autoimmune condition, called Graves’ disease, where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland,” said Dr Keay.
“Hyperthyroidism may also be caused by thyroid nodules, where excess thyroid hormones are being produced. Other causes may include certain medications (eg: to treat irregular heartbeat), environmental toxins (including smoking) and thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid.
“In some cases, it may just be a temporary condition, caused by inflammation triggered by a viral infection. But, whatever the reason, if you’re worried about any new symptoms, it’s important to get a diagnosis.”
If hyperthyroid isn’t treated, over time, this can lead to more serious health problems including irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues, Graves’ ophthalmopathy (an eye disease that can cause double vision, light sensitivity and eye pain), fertility problems, and also thinning bones and osteoporosis.
“Many people aren’t aware that an overactive thyroid can have an adverse effect on bone health,” said Dr Keay.
“When you have an overactive thyroid, you’re producing an excess of thyroid hormones, including thyroxine (T4). This really revs up the metabolism and speeds up the rate at which bone mineral density is lost. If this happens too fast your body simply can’t keep up with building up new bones. This increases your risk of osteoporosis as your bones become increasingly weak and brittle.
“Obviously, this process doesn’t happen overnight,” said Dr Keay. “If you’re diagnosed with an underactive thyroid, you won’t suddenly get osteoporosis. But, if you leave the condition untreated, you’re putting your bone health at risk.”
“An overactive thyroid causes your whole system to speed up,” said Dr Brewer, Consultant Medical Nutritionist (drsarahbrewer.com).
“Typical symptoms may include nervousness, anxiety and irritability, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, weight loss, sensitivity to heat, palpitations, increased sweating, mood swings, persistent tiredness and weakness, trembling, trouble sleeping, menstrual irregularities, swelling in the neck from an enlarged thyroid gland (goitre).”
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An underactive thyroid diagnosis is made based on your symptoms and blood test results. Your doctor will arrange a blood test to measure thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which controls the production of thyroid hormones, and also levels of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
A low TSH level and high T4 and, or T3 levels indicate you have an overactive thyroid.
Rob Hobson, Consultant Nutritionist at supplement brand Healthspan, advised: “Reduced activity levels and reduction in hormone levels are not good for bone health.
“Absorption of food decreases with age also and it depends on the presence of good levels of stomach acidity (pH) which dissolve mineral salts and release electrolytes such as calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and phosphate for absorption in the small intestine.
“Supplementing with a specifically formulated bone supplement including calcium (1000mg) vitamin D3 (at least 10mcg/400 iu) is important such as Healthspan Osteo Complete which contains calcium, magnesium, vitamin D3, zinc, copper and boron – www.healthspan.co.uk, 240 tablets £18.95.”
“Lifestyle factors are very important if you want to keep your thyroid healthy,” added Dr Keay.
“So, eating a nutritious, balanced diet, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and managing stress levels will help to support thyroid health.
“Also, making diet and lifestyle changes may just stop you from developing a clinical thyroid disorder further down the line.”
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