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Is it Depression or a Thyroid Issue?
Depression is a big topic and I want you to know that thyroid issues are often missed in favour of a depression or Bi-Polar diagnosis. I am not dismissing depression, but I do want to look at it from a different perspective in the hope that you will understand that there is not just one cause of depression. This knowledge can be used to help you get better treatment, and you can do a lot to help treat yourself. You are not mad, bad or doomed if you have been given a diagnosis of one and you suspect the other.
My interest and passion for demystifying depression and the thyroid connection is three fold. My own depression diagnosis and issues living with Hashimoto’s (an autoimmune thyroid problem), my mum’s lifelong struggle with Bi-Polar disorder (however, I believe thyroid issues were the main cause), and my dad’s experience of depression in his final three years before committing suicide
Let’s start by taking a look at the thyroid itself.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a bowtie type of gland that sits just below the Adam’s apple. It regulates your metabolism and weight. Thyroid hormones are required for almost every physiological process in your body including temperature regulation (hot flashes not menopause related, anyone?)
How it works
The thyroid secretes a hormone called T4 that gets converted into an active thyroid hormone called T3 which is needed for all cells of the body to be metabolically active.
T4 is inactive, while T3 is active. 20% of this important conversion happens at the thyroid gland.
The other 80% happens peripherally. Out of the 80% that happens peripherally, 60% is converted in the liver, 20% is in the healthy gut bacteria, and the other 20% is via healthy adrenal function and stress regulation
TSH confusion – Your GP will probably test for TSH this is not the thyroid hormone. This is the messenger hormone that gets sent to the thyroid gland to tell it to secrete T4.
Just because TSH is normal does not mean your body is secreting enough T4 so usually they will also test for that as well – if those two fall into the normal range (which is huge by the way, you don’t want to be within ‘normal’ range on any test, you want to be in optimal!) – you will be told your fine.
What you often don’t get tested for by your GP is T3 levels and more importantly the free T3 (the active form) not just total T3, which is key! The other test you need to also be aware of especially if aches, muscle pains, low mood and body temperature is swinging to extremes is: TBG. Thyroid binding globulin (TBG) measures the level of protein, known as globulin, that carries thyroid hormones in the blood.If you don’t have enough of these proteins then the hormones won’t get to where they need to go!
Sometimes all of the above are in the normal range (as mine were), but you are still getting symptoms and you know you are just not right! (we all know our own bodies better than anyone right?)
Insist on getting this test – Thyroglobulin antibodies (TgAb). These are produced by your body in response to the presence of thyroglobulin. They are detected in 80% of people with Hashimoto’s and between 50% to 70% of those with Graves’ disease.
Here’s the scary thing, when I went to my doctor to ask for my blood to be re-run after a year of treating Hashimoto’s myself with diet changes, gut healing and supplements (and feeling so much better) the young, new GP didn’t even know what this test was! Fortunately, the doctor was willing to be educated by me and my massive blood test result folder, yet when he asked if he could request this test, he was denied it by the practice manager!
I was fortunate that he was genuinely keen to learn and asked for a photocopy of my result as I was explaining to him which other blood test results linked together, and indicated my correct diagnosis of Hashimotos in conjunction with the specific thyroid tests. But be aware all doctors are different!
Know your stuff or point them here.
I will say that I spoke to another GP in the doctor’s office after this and asked why they refused the test, and was told their policy is that if TSH T4 & T3 are all showing normal then usually everything is fine as these are a good indicator that things are working as they should be. However, usually does not mean always!
My TgAB levels were off the charts high, as were my inflammatory markers. So if you feel like I did, I had every symptom on the list below (except the menstrual issues) and was convinced I was suffering from depression. When you look at the depression symptoms list further down you can see why.
Persevere with your GP or better yet get a full Thyroid test done privately which is what I did along with a comprehensive blood test. It was the best £700 I have ever spent as I could rule out depression and had hope that I could now treat myself with the right protocol.
Signs of Thyroid Issues
- Unexplained weight gain,
- Fatigue and tiredness,
- Low energy,
- Numb or tingling fingers/toes,
- Muscle soreness/back pain,
- Menstrual and fertility problems, PMS,
- Thinning of outer third of eyebrows,
- Dry, flakey skin,
- Poor concentration and memory,
- Poor sleep,
- Temperature intolerance,
- Low mood.
It’s important to note that adrenal dysfunction is often found alongside thyroid disease, and many of the symptoms overlap. This means it is important to look at the thyroid and the adrenals side-by-side. Remember, 20% of the T3 conversion process relies on healthy adrenal function and stress response. Too much stress can cause havoc in your gut and with blood glucose levels, energy and mood swings!
Do you see how it just doesn’t make sense to try to only look at one area or gland in isolation. Your body’s organs, glands and systems never work alone. One huge step you can take to support both the adrenals and the thyroid is by paying attention to your iron levels, magnesium, zinc, selenium and D3. Now let’s look at depression.
Symptoms of Depression
- Low mood, feeling sad, irritable or angry,
- Having less energy to do certain things,
- Losing interest or enjoyment in activities you used to enjoy,
- Eating more/weight gain,
- Disturbed sleep and losing your appetite,
- Reduced concentration,
- Feeling less good about yourself (loss of self-confidence), or
- Feeling guilty or worthless.
When you look at the two lists you can see why a misdiagnosis is common. The food we eat, how much sunlight we get and the toxins and stressors we are exposed to daily affect the adrenal and thyroid glands massively and both of these are ruled by your gut/brain connection and nervous system. Our physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing are not and should never be looked at as separate.
You can help yourself with whichever diagnosis you have or don’t have. The first thing you want to do is to clear out all the dietary and lifestyle sources of stress on the liver and heal your gut. This means goodbye to toxic cleaning products, detergents, make-up, skin-care, air-fresheners and smelly candles.
Ditching the junk food and over-processed foods loaded with additives, sweeteners, vegetables oils, soy, sugar and unrecognisable or unpronounceable ingredients. Farewell to more than the occasional alcohol, caffeine, over the counter medications and anything else the liver has to work extra hard to detox. See you later for trying to be all things to all people and burning the candle at both ends.
Hello to eating slowly, chewing well and relaxing, going to bed early, laughing and playing more! If you have been offered antidepressants but have not been offered thyroid testing, I’d definitely go there first.
I went back with the same symptoms three separate times over three years and believe me I was really struggling to just function by the final visit! First, I was told it was probably a virus, then I was told at 43 it was early menopause, finally I was told it was depression and offered anti-depressants which I politely and firmly declined.
It was only when I chose to play detective myself that I discovered just what was wrong and it’s thanks to that, that I went deeper into functional medicine, holistic nutrition and supplementation, hormones, the gut-brain connection, and mental wellbeing.
If you are already taking thyroxine or similar, it may well help you feel better initially, but, if you continue to leave your diet (gut health) and stress (adrenal function) as it is, you will end up getting the same symptoms coming back because your haven’t sorted the cause of the problem!
About the Author
Name: Vicky Midwood
Professional Title: The Addiction Eliminator
Bio: Vicky started helping busy professionals transform their lives after turning her own around. She uses her vast experience and skills to help other professionals and high achievers find power in language, exercise, thinking about food, and the gut and body to bring about change and restore health.
Social Media Handle: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vicky.midwood/