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When your thyroid functions properly, your health blossoms. But you have to know what to do if it falters or it becomes too active.
Otherwise, serious illness can complicate your life.
Ironically, as you age and become a senior citizen, it may benefit your health to have your thyroid slow down a bit.
Research shows that an active thyroid in older people can lead to depression. And just because a blood test seems to show that your thyroid is operating normally, your thyroid can still malfunction and leave you vulnerable to emotional turmoil.
A study at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, shows that if you are in your late 70s or in your 80s, a very active thyroid that, according to blood tests, is still at the upper limit of what is considered normal can increase your risk of diminished emotional well-being.
“We found that older individuals with thyroid activity at the high end of the normal range had a substantially increased risk of developing depression over the course of an eight-year period compared to individuals who had less thyroid activity within the normal range,” says researcher Marco Medici. “This suggests that people with even minor changes in thyroid function may experience similar mental health effects as those with overt thyroid disorders, including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.”
The research looked at health data from about 1,500 people with an average age of 70. At the beginning of the research, the scientists measured their TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels and then periodically evaluated their emotional health with a detailed questionnaire.
When the 8-year study started, no one in the research had symptoms of depression. But as the research wore on, the scientists found that people with more active thyroids endured more incidences of depression.
“These results provide insight into the powerful effects thyroid activity can have on emotions and mental health,” Medici says. “This information could influence the process of diagnosing and treating depression, as well as treatments for individuals with thyroid conditions.”
Your thyroid and your heart
If you’re overweight and you have diabetes, a poorly operating thyroid means trouble for your heart. Research at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) College of Osteopathic Medicine shows that for a growing number of people, a low level of thyroid hormone in your heart can impair the function of the cardiac muscle and possibly lead to heart failure.
In lab tests, the NYIT scientists found that the administration of low doses of the thyroid hormone T3, stopped heart disease in the presence of diabetes.
“This treatment prevented the abnormal changes in gene expression, tissue pathology, and heart function,” says researcher A. Martin Gerdes.
Other studies have shown that high blood pressure and heart attacks are linked to lower thyroid hormone in the heart muscle and can increase the risk of serious heart complications.
“The clinical implications are profound and far-reaching because it suggests that the heart disease associated with diabetes may be easily preventable,” says Gerdes. “And importantly, the dose we gave of T3 hormone did not significantly change the serum (blood) thyroid hormone levels but it was enough to make all the difference in the heart tissue.”
Your thyroid level is usually determined with a blood test. But the NYIT study showed that the level of thyroid in heart cells doesn’t always reflect what a blood tests shows. In other words, while your blood test for thyroid function can look fine, you can still be suffering from heart problems caused by a lack of thyroid hormone in cardiac tissue.
Gerdes points out that when blood leaves the heart’s chambers and mixes with the rest of the circulating blood it is severely diluted as it mingles with the body’s entire supply of plasma (It’s about a 20 fold dilution.) That dilution can keep thyroid hormone from reaching the heart’s tissues. Consequently, his studies have shown that low-dose thyroid hormone replacement can effectively and safely protect diabetics from heart disease.
“A low thyroid condition can cause heart failure by itself,” he says. “The fundamental question we should be asking about patients with heart failure is: how much is due to the diagnosed disease and how much is due to low thyroid levels in the heart? There clearly needs to be more awareness with regard to research examining the impact of low thyroid hormone levels in the heart and the role this condition plays in acceleration of heart failure.”
Gerdes is still doing experiments to further understand precise methods to track low thyroid hormone levels in the heart muscle. But he has come up with a dependable way to use thyroid hormone to protect your heart.
“There’s so much fear of overtreatment (with hormones) and inducing arrhythmias that physicians in general completely avoid treating heart patients with thyroid hormones,” Gerdes says. “But we have established a clear treatment and monitoring program in this study that is safe and can be used in people.”