Thyroid Awareness Month:

5 common myths about hypothyroidism

WAUSAU, Wis. – Nearly five out of 100 Americans 12+ years of age have hypothyroidism, though the disease is most common in women over the age of 60, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid gland, which means that the gland responsible for regulating metabolism doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones to keep the body running normally. In most patients, it is a permanent condition that requires lifelong treatment in the form of daily thyroid hormone replacement medication.

“People feel that because they’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, they should always experience symptoms such as fatigue and weight gain, but that is not the case,” says Nicole Stodola, Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner at Aspirus Endocrinology Clinic. “Many of the symptoms people feel on a daily basis can be attributed to other unrelated issues. When hypothyroidism is treated properly, people can live well and feel well.”

To mark Thyroid Awareness Month, here are 5 common myths about hypothyroidism, debunked with help from the American Thyroid Association.

Myth #1: Everyone with hypothyroidism has fatigue – Although fatigue is one of the early signs of hypothyroidism, once thyroid hormone is properly replaced and levels return to normal, the fatigue should resolve. If fatigue is ongoing, you may want to investigate other possible causes such as stress, poor sleep, nutrition, exercise, and other chronic medical conditions.

Myth #2: It’s impossible to lose weight with hypothyroidism – The truth is, weight loss is difficult for many patients with and without thyroid disease. Metabolism starts to slow in your late 30s and early 40s, and can make it harder to lose weight. It’s easy to point to one particular problem and blame weight gain on that one diagnosis. In reality, weight gain is a sensitive topic and is typically caused by several factors. If thyroid hormone is adequately replaced, the hypothyroidism is most likely not a contributing factor.

Myth #3: More thyroid hormone is better – A lot of patients believe that more thyroid hormone means more energy and weight loss. In reality, taking too much thyroid hormone can be harmful and lead to symptoms such as increased appetite, insomnia, shakiness, and heart palpitations. If patients take too much thyroid hormone for an extended period of time, it can also lead to osteoporosis and heart disease. It’s important to find the right dose for what your body needs.

Myth #4: You can manage hypothyroidism with diet – Healthy diet and exercise are important for all patients and can alleviate some medical conditions but, that is simply not the case with hypothyroidism. There is no evidence to support diets such as gluten free diets, anti-inflammatory diets, and iodine-rich diets to treat hypothyroidism. The most common form of hypothyroidism in the United States is Hashimotos, which is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland which unfortunately is not reversible with dietary changes. Although diet alone cannot improve thyroid function, eating a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet and exercising regularly can help improve your overall health which can lead to improvements in symptoms such as fatigue and weight gain.

Myth #5: Natural thyroid hormone is better – There are several thyroid hormone medications that are advertised as being “natural” and are available by prescription, such as desiccated, or dried, thyroid extract from pigs or cows. These medications are not completely purified and can contain other hormones and proteins that do not typically exist in the body outside of thyroid tissue. They also contain chemical stabilizers and binders to hold the pills together, so they are not completely natural as they are often advertised. In fact, they can result in too much of the thyroid hormone T3, which can cause symptoms such as heart palpitations, anxiety, tremors, and insomnia. Over an extended period of time, it can also lead to chronic health conditions such as osteoporosis and heart failure. This is why most endocrinologists suggest a T4 therapy with daily levothyroxine/Synthroid as first line treatment for hypothyroidism.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms typically associated with hypothyroidism, talk to your primary care provider. Find a provider at find-a-provider.

For more health content, visit the Aspirus Media Center.

January 11, 2023