At age 35, Michael Rosen accidentally uncovered why the last 14 years of his life had gradually morphed him beyond recognition...
But prior to his discovery, he'd resigned himself to a life of poor health his severe decline in health. Swollen fingers and eyelids, watery eyes, pale and rough skin, wiry hair, a croaky voice, slow and slurred speech, thighs feeling heavy when trying to run, and muted emotional reactions all became the norm for him.
In the beginning, as his symptoms crept up on him one by one, Rosen hardly noticed... "Who goes to the doctor for fuzzy hair? Who goes to the doctor for puffy eyelids?"
Eventually, Rosen's body slowed to the point that it was just barely keeping him alive. When he went to the doctor, he was initially misdiagnosed with a kidney disease. But finally, one doctor got it right...
It turns out, Rosen had hypothyroidism.
Fortunately, after his diagnosis, he was treated and gradually got his life back.
Today, Rosen frames his life in three chapters: before, during, and after his illness. Rosen had to rediscover who he was after accommodating his illness for 14 years. Turning down opportunities and thinking that he just couldn't do certain things anymore had robbed him of his sense of self.
And Rosen traversed this harrowing journey all because of a tiny little gland called the thyroid that wasn't doing its job...
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ that weighs about one ounce, wraps around your windpipe, and sits in your neck, just below your voice box.
You probably don't give much thought to your thyroid because it plays a behind-the-scenes – yet vital – role in your general wellness...
Your thyroid makes and sends out a steady stream of hormones that helps your body breakdown food and use it for energy.
These hormones deliver chemical messages that regulate the amount of energy you use to keep your heart working, your muscular and digestive systems functioning, your brain working and developing, and your bones healthy.
Your thyroid also impacts your mood... If it's not working properly, it can be an underlying cause of anxiety or depression.
If your thyroid doesn't make enough hormones, you experience hypothyroidism (hypo means low). And if your thyroid makes too many hormones, you experience hyperthyroidism (hyper means high).
And when it comes to endocrine system dysfunction – the body's system of hormone-releasing glands – thyroid disorders are very common... Second only to diabetes.
A 2019 Johns Hopkins University study suggests that one in four adults aged 65 and older has some form of thyroid dysfunction, when factoring both treated and untreated instances.
Of the study's 5,392 participants, around 24% had hypothyroidism and 1% had hyperthyroidism. And among those with a condition, only around 71% and 10%, respectively, had been treated for their disorder.
But many don't even realize they have a thyroid problem...
According to the American Thyroid Association, about 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, but as many as 60% of these folks are unaware of their condition.
That's because thyroid problems have symptoms that overlap with dozens of other diseases. And it takes connecting a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms together to indicate a potential thyroid problem.
For instance, a quick check on "fatigue" as a symptom pulls up more than 25 different causes. Your fatigue could be caused by any number of things, from cancer, to stress, to overeating.
Here's a look at some of the most common symptoms of thyroid dysfunction...
- Increased sensitivity to heat or cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Depressed mood
- Muscle weakness or pain
- High cholesterol
- Brittle nails
- Weight loss
- Excessive hunger
- Panic attacks
- Puffy eyes or bulging eyes
- Fast or abnormal heart rate
Unfortunately, it's the commonness of these symptoms that often leads doctors to miss the diagnosis of thyroid problems. And thyroid dysfunction can look like many different little problems that are actually all symptoms of a single, pervasive disorder.
Now, we know that as we age the chances of having thyroid issues increases. And with that comes a host of problems – for instance, your metabolism might break down medications too fast (hyperthyroidism) or too slowly (hypothyroidism).
So what can you do to take care of your thyroid before you start having problems? It turns out, most of the foods that we already recommend for your overall health and wellness are great for thyroid health.
For the most part, eating foods high in iodine, selenium, zinc, iron, and copper helps your thyroid...
Iodine – High-iodine foods include cod, tuna, shrimp, seaweed (including kelp), dairy products, bread, cereals, and table salt.
It's important to note, however, that too much iodine can cause hyperthyroidism because your thyroid uses iodine to make it's hormones. Adults need about 150 micrograms (mcg) of iodine per day, so you'll want to make sure to consume those foods in moderation.
Selenium – You can find selenium in Brazil nuts, oysters, cashews, lobster, shrimp, and sunflower seeds.
Zinc – Zinc is plentiful in oysters, lobster, cashews, pine nuts, pecans, beef, and lamb.
Iron – Red meat, poultry, seafood, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils, and spinach are all good sources of iron.
Copper – Get your copper from beans, nuts, seeds, turnip greens, mustard greens, and asparagus.
Finally, there are two additional foods to eat in careful moderation... soy and kelp.
Soy affects the absorption of any thyroid hormone pills you might be taking. In fact, if you have even minor thyroid issues, doctors advise you to avoid too much soy. Try only having soy products a few times a week instead of every day.
Kelp has one of the highest amounts of iodine. One serving of food like seaweed and kelp noodles has about a full day's worth of iodine. Again, that's around 150 mcg per day, according to the National Institutes Health.
Just be sure to eat in moderation. Also, avoid kelp supplements... Those can have up to 500 mcg per pill, a dangerously high level. Too much iodine can cause thyroid inflammation, hyperthyroidism, or even thyroid cancer.
Taking care of your thyroid now will help guard against problems in the future.
And if you have any of the symptoms mentioned above and can't pinpoint why, make sure to get your thyroid checked. This can be done through a simple blood test called a thyroid stimulating hormone test to measure your thyroid's function. Take the time to find a specialist, too – an endocrinologist. They can better evaluate your symptoms and get you on medication if necessary.
What We're Interneting...
- Watch author Michael Rosen's interview with the Thyroid Trust and read one of his poems about his diagnosis here.
- Something different: She fights health insurers for fun... and wins.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 11, 2022