Hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease – when the thyroid goes into hyperdrive.

Hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease (an autoimmune disease) are not nearly as common as hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (also an autoimmune disease). Autoimmune disease is defined as a disease in which the body produces antibodies that attack its own tissues, leading to the deterioration and in some cases to the destruction of such tissue.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • weakness
  • sweating
  • weight loss
  • nervousness
  • loose stools
  • heat intolerance
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • racing heartbeat
  • warm, thin, moist skin
  • stare
  • tremors
  • diffuse enlargement of thyroid
  • non-painful goiter
  • increased blood levels of thyroid hormones T3 and T4 resulting in overactive metabolic state
  • speeding up of all body processes

Physical signs include:

  • smooth, diffuse, non-tender goiter in neck
  • a racing pulse
  • loud heart sounds
  • protrusion of eyes
  • fluid retention
  • hair may be thin or fall out in patches or all over scalp
  • nails may separate prematurely from nail bed

One of the biggest risks of hyperthyroidism is malabsorption of nutrients, which occurs due to increased digestion and number of bowel movements. Our health is based not just on what we ingest but also by what we digest and excrete. If your digestive system is running too fast, your body does not have the opportunity to absorb sufficient nutrients and can result in a long list of health issues. I will address this next week.

The autoimmune disorder Graves’ Disease accounts for approximately 85% of all cases of hyperthyroidism. The common denominator is the presence of antibodies against receptors in the thyroid for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). Twenty-five to thirty percent of people with Graves’ Disease also experience Graves’ opthalmopathy (protrusion of one or both eyes).

Women are eight times more likely to develop Graves Disease than men and it typically begins between ages 20-40. The classic patient is a young, adult female complaining of nervousness, irritability, sweating, palpitations, insomnia, tremors, frequent bowel movements and unexplained weight loss.

So what causes hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease?

  • Stress is the biggest factor. Yes, our favourite frenemy, stress. You can check my series on stress and cortisol levels starting here for more details.
  • Most common precipitating event is an actual or threatened separation from an individual upon whom the patient is dependent. The onset of Graves Disease often follows an emotional shock as such divorce, death or difficult separation.
  • Next common cause is toxic nodular goiter, which is when a hyper-functioning nodule develops in a long-standing goiter and produces too much thyroid hormone. This is usually seen in the over-55 crowd.
  • Early stage Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is also a possible cause. You can find my series on hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis starting here.
  • Genetics is a common cause. People with a certain genetic marker are more prone to developing Graves’ Disease. If one identical twin develops Graves’ Disease, the other twin has a 50% chance of developing it, whereas a fraternal twin only has a 9% chance.
  • Smoking is known to raise the risk and severity of Graves’ Disease opthalmopathy.
  • Iodine supplementation through consumption of iodized salt where there is already sufficient iodine in the soil, potassium iodide, iodine supplements, some medications and imaging contrast agents can trigger Graves’ Disease and toxic multinodular goiter.

The pituitary, parathyroid and sex glands all work together so problems with the thyroid may result in problems with these other areas.

Hyperthyroidism has been associated with Parkinson’s Disease. While there is not much scientific data to support this, in many cases when hyperthyroidism is treated, Parkinson’s improves drastically.

Next week we’ll discuss what foods help to improve hyperthyroidism. Until then, I wish you a fabulous week.

Sandy O’Shea, CNP
Holistic Nutritionist

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