The thyroid is an integral part of overall wellness and bodily function. Its influence spans across many areas including weight management, energy level, and even brain function. Because of its great interconnectivity, thyroid dysfunction can cause a wide range of symptoms and may even prompt the development of other conditions.
According to M.D., Psychiatrist Kelly Brogan, thyroid dysfunction is a leading contributor of psychiatric issues developing from physiological factors. The link between psychological symptoms and thyroid dysfunction is strong and without being well-educated on the topic, misdiagnosis and improper treatment will continue.
The Thyroid Effect
The thyroid is responsible for regulating cellular energy and communicating between numerous bodily systems through the use of hormones. These hormones play an important role in neurological function and help keep the brain working at its best. If the thyroid is malfunctioning, or there is an imbalance of thyroid hormone, a variety of mental symptoms and conditions may develop including:
- Bipolar disorder
- Irritability and aggression
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic attacks
- Various phobias
According to Thyroid Federation International, an estimated 300 million people suffer from thyroid dysfunction with about half of that group being unaware of their condition. This means that many may be suffering from mental issues without being aware of the true cause. Specific forms of thyroid dysfunction have been found have close relation to neurological dysfunction and the occurrence of mental symptoms.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder that involves the immune system attacking the body’s own thyroid gland. This causes temporary spikes in thyroid hormone but, ultimately, as the gland is damaged and destroyed, levels remain deficient resulting in hypothyroidism.
The initial spikes in thyroid hormone, caused by the destruction of thyroid tissue, can cause periods of hyperactivity, anxiety, sudden mood swings, and insomnia. As thyroid function decreases, patients may begin exhibiting other issues such as fatigue and depression. Generic symptoms of Hashimoto’s include multiple mental aberrations, irritability, and confusion. These symptoms can easily be misidentified as mental disorders including psychotic depression, paranoia, schizophrenia, and other manias.
Immune function changes during the postpartum period, which frequently results in a hyperthyroid state for multiple months following childbirth. After this temporary acceleration of thyroid function, a reduction of thyroid activity occurs, and hypothyroidism sets in. This fluctuation mirrors Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and is caused by a similar autoimmune assault. If excess thyroid hormone is released due to thyroid tissue damage, new mothers may experience irritability, anxiety, insomnia, and other forms of mental dysfunction. These symptoms can be easily misdiagnosed as mental disorders caused by brain-based chemical imbalances.
Thyroid Induced Depression
Depression affects approximately 19 million adults in America alone. This condition causes multiple mental symptoms such as malaise, sadness, difficulty focusing, and irritability. Physical symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain, and joint pain may also accompany depression. Those with hypothyroidism often exhibit similar symptoms.
A large percentage of bipolar and depressed patients suffer from an undiagnosed thyroid condition. It is common for patients suffering from depression to have decreased levels of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream. Factors such as poor T4 to T3 conversion, inhibited thyroid hormone uptake, and poor thyroid hormone transport across the blood brain barrier may all contribute to reduced neurological function. Unfortunately, these areas of dysfunction are not recognized through standard thyroid tests meaning that many do not get properly diagnosed even though they have a thyroid condition.
Effectively Treating Thyroid Related Mental Dysfunction
The conditions mentioned above exhibit some of the many ways in which thyroid dysfunction can inhibit neurological function resulting in seemingly psychological based symptoms. Unfortunately, it is common for doctors to dismiss the thyroid as a contributing factor to mental dysfunction. Instead of investigating the possibility of thyroidal influence, it’s more likely that doctors will prescribe psychotropic medications that often come with severe side effects. Furthermore, these kinds of drugs typically impede thyroid function, which can further increase symptom severity. In some cases, such drugs may be necessary. However, there is a large percentage of patients that could benefit significantly more from thyroid optimization than prescription psychotropic drugs that risk serious side effects.
Thyroid symptoms that mirror mental disorders may be resolved through optimization of the thyroid. The most common treatment utilized in the medical field is synthetic T4 drugs in the form of Synthroid and Levothyroxine. However, for many patients this is not an effective method for resolving thyroid dysfunction and associated mental symptoms.
T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone and is the primary method in which the thyroid influences bodily activity. If the body is not able to effectively convert T4 into T3, then supplying it with additional T4 is not going to resolve the issue.
What do the Studies Say?
Research has shown that treating depression and bipolar disorder with T3 is equally or more effective than most psychotropic drugs. Furthermore, T3 treatments do not cause the major side effects associated with mental health medications and mood regulators.
A study conducted by Kelly T et al. found that patients with bipolar disorder who did not respond well to an average of 14 different psychotropic medications experienced improvement of their condition when treated with T3. 84% of the test population responded positively with 33% experiencing full remission of their condition.
The largest study regarding the efficacy of different antidepressants on treating depression is the Star*D Report. This study found that 66% of patients experience significant side effects or do not respond positively to antidepressants. Furthermore, more than half of those that do see improvement relapse within a year. Interestingly, the Star*D trial showed that T3 proved to be a successful approach. Data showed it was 50% more effective and caused fewer side effects than typical antidepressants and therapeutic methods when treating psychological issues.
These findings suggest that in many cases, optimizing the thyroid is often an effective method for treating mental disorders, specifically depression and bipolar. Even less aggressive forms of dysfunction such as irritability, malaise, and difficulty thinking clearly may be resolved through proper thyroid care and treatment.
Maintaining Mental Wellness
If you are suffering from fatigue, insomnia, mood swings, or other forms of mental dysfunction, be sure to consider the health of your thyroid. Seek out the help of a doctor who is willing to investigate further and properly assess thyroid function through comprehensive testing including TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, and Thyroid Antibodies (get a sample labslip here). Each of these factors reveal a small but important aspect of thyroid health and together provide a more comprehensive picture of thyroid activity. Protect your mental and physical health by supporting and optimizing your thyroid.
1. When Thyroid Disease Masquerades As Psychiatric Disorder. Hypothyroid Mom. https://hypothyroidmom.com/when-thyroid-disease-masquerades-as-psychiatric-disorder/
2. Thyroid & Mental Health: It’s NOT All In Your Head. Hypothyroid Mom. https://hypothyroidmom.com/thyroid-mental-health-its-not-all-in-your-head/
3. Is Depression Caused By Thyroid Dysfunction? Holtorf Medical Group. https://www.holtorfmed.com/thyroid-dysfunction-as-cause-of-depression/
4. Is it Mental Illness or Hashimoto’s Disease? Holtorf Medical Group. https://www.holtorfmed.com/mental-illness-hashimotos-disease/