Anxious? Depressed? Have you had your thyroid checked? While those questions don’t really seem to fit together, thyroid dysfunction can actually accompany or mimic various psychiatric disorders including anxiety, depression, loss of interest, slow mental processing, paranoia, and, in extreme cases, schizophrenia and dementia.
Many people suffer with these symptoms daily and are sent on their way with a prescription for an anti-depressant. However, this could make those symptoms worse. One of the most common drugs given to patients for bipolar is Lithium. Lithium, in pharmacologic dosage, affects the flow of sodium in the body which affects mania. The drug is prescribed for episodes of manic depression which include symptoms such as aggression, hyperactivity, poor judgment, and more. The problem is that common side effects of pharmacologic dose Lithium are thyroid problems! The side effects include goiters, hypothyroidism, and autoimmune thyroiditis. If your thyroid is the problem already, this is just going to make it worse. However, Lithium in supplement doses (extremely lower than pharmacologic dosage) can be extremely beneficial to the brain. So beware of high doses of Lithium!
Numerous studies have been conducted on this topic. One study states that there was a high rate of autoimmune thyroiditis in a group of bipolar patients.1 However, other studies are showing that thyroid conditions don’t cause/mimic just bipolar (as if that isn’t bad enough), but it can also be associated with other mental disorders. Another study suggests that a thyroid condition may be linked to ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) stating that, “Despite being within the normal range, high TSH concentrations are associated with a low cognitive function and high TSH and low free T4 with ADHD symptoms in healthy preschoolers.”2
These little, seemingly-insignificant glands in our necks do a lot more than many people are aware of. The thyroid gland produces two hormones known as thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones play a role in many of the bodily functions including regulating the body temperature, metabolism, and cognitive function. So if you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, make sure you go back and have your thyroid checked. There are a few tests that you should ask your doctor to run and push for them if your doctor is reluctant. Most doctors only use the TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) test to diagnose a thyroid condition and this is almost always unreliable. The tests you should ask for are:
- FT3 or Free T3 (the active thyroid hormone)
- FT4 or Free T4 (the inactive thyroid hormone)
- RT3 or Reverse T3 (the blocking thyroid hormone)
- SHBG or Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin (especially for women) (tests the amount of estrogen and thyroid in the liver)
- TSH or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone
If you think you may have been misdiagnosed or if you have never been tested for these levels, go ask your doctor to do them. However, don’t just stop your current medication! Wait until your labs have come back and you are able to pair with a doctor that will help you make the transition to the right treatment.
1.Kupka, R.W., Nolen, W.A., Post, R.M., McElroy, S.L., Altshuler, L.L., Denicoff, K.D., Frye, M.A., Keck, P.E. Jr, Leverich, G.S., Rush, A.J., Suppes, T., Pollio, C., Drexhage, H.A. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11958781
2. Alvarez-Pedrerol, M. Ribas-Fito, N., Torrent, M., Julvez, J., Ferrer, C., Sunyer, J. http://www.proyectoinma.org/media/upload/pdf/_elvarez-pedrerol-clinendocrinol2007_editora_9_2_1.pdf