Is Your Thyroid Making You Depressed?

The thyroid gland and the hormones it produces are critical to your body's proper function. Low thyroid can lead to weight gain, feeling cold all the time, and being fatigued; high thyroid can lead to anxiety, trouble sleeping and rapid heartbeat. The American Thyroid Association notes that 12 percent of Americans will develop a thyroid disorder at some point during their lives, and about 20 million people currently suffer from a thyroid-related disorder.

One of the symptoms of hypothyroidism, or producing too little thyroid hormone, is depression. If you are suffering from extreme fatigue, lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed, changes in your eating or sleeping habits or other signs of clinical depression, your mental well-being may be in trouble due to issues with your thyroid. 

What makes the thyroid underproduce hormones?

The thyroid is a tiny gland that sits at the base of your neck and is regulated by the pituitary gland in your brain. The pituitary gland detects when the levels of thyroid hormone in your bloodstream fall, and it makes thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to encourage the thyroid to make two different hormones.

These two hormones, called T3 and T4, are made by the thyroid using iodine and are ideally secreted into the blood at a steady, consistent pace. One of the major reasons why the thyroid may not work at an optimal pace is because it does not have enough iodine from the diet to function properly. The addition of iodine, which is found in sea vegetables like kelp, cranberries, strawberries, beans, potatoes and some dairy products, can help improve thyroid hormone production.

In other cases, an inflammation or an autoimmune disease that impacts the thyroid can be to blame for low thyroid hormone production. 

What symptoms do hypothyroidism and depression have in common?

The lack of sufficient T3 and T4 thyroid hormone can lead to the body slowing down:

  • Metabolism slows down so you experience weight gain.
  • Cells burn less energy so you feel colder.
  • You have less overall energy so you feel fatigued and take less interest in activities that you previously enjoyed.
  • Your brain is slowed down so you forget things and have trouble concentrating.

These mimic some of the symptoms of depression, especially the fatigue, loss of interest and trouble concentrating.

What should you do if you suspect you need thyroid treatment?

Some doctors are quick to diagnose depression and recommend an antidepressant medication, but before you do that, make sure you have your thyroid hormone levels checked. A proper test should measure TSH as well as T3 and T4. You may also want to check your adrenal gland function, as the thyroid and adrenal glands are very much dependent on each other.

Treatments can include supplementation with natural or synthetic thyroid hormone. Eating a low-sugar, high-protein diet and getting regular exercise can also help the body increase its production of thyroid hormone. Talk to your doctor for more information on detecting hypothyroidism and depression, as well as thyroid treatments that could help you.