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Are Thyroid Disorders on the Rise?

Monday 18 May 2020
Thyroid Disorders

Table of Contents


I. Thyroid overview 

a. What’s causing all these thyroid problems?

II. Pesticides 

III. Pollution

IV. Iodine deficiency

V. Fluoride and tap water

VI. Treatment


Thyroid overview

Tens of millions of people have thyroid issues in the United States. Over half of these cases are undiagnosed. There are around 27 million people in the states with thyroid problems, but that number appears small in comparison to the 200 million cases of thyroid disorders worldwide. These staggering numbers are troubling, and doctors are trying to get to the bottom of this emerging thyroid disorder epidemic. 

The thyroid is a small gland, but essential in metabolic functions of the body. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck. This gland is responsible for producing and regulating hormones that control the metabolic rate of muscle and digestive function, brain development, bone maintenance, and heart rate. If hormone production is not treated with drugs like Synthroid (levothyroxine), then several functions of the body may be negatively affected. [1] 

a 3D model of a human heart

The two most common disorders of the thyroid include: 

Hyperthyroidism: This condition results in an overproduction of thyroid hormones. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include nervousness, muscle weakness, tremors, sleep problems, and weight loss. Graves’ disease is a leading cause of hyperthyroidism. Nodules or growths on the thyroid may also occur with this condition. 

Hypothyroidism: This condition occurs when the thyroid is not producing enough of its hormones. Symptoms of hypothyroidism can include fatigue, heavy menstrual periods, dry skin and hair, and weight gain. Hypothyroidism can be accompanied by a swelling of the thyroid gland, which is known as a goiter. Hashimoto’s disease is a leading cause of hypothyroidism. [2]  

a. What’s causing all these thyroid problems?

The exact cause of thyroid problems is unknown, but several risk factors can lead to the development of thyroid issues. Many scientists believe that the rise in world pollution, among other examples, plays as large a role in thyroid disease as genetics. The thyroid is sensitive to the environment in which you live, so a multitude of things can play into the health of your metabolic functions. Read on to learn more about the possible reasons behind the uptick in thyroid cases around the world. [1] 

Pesticides

New studies have linked the use of farm-grade pesticides with a rise in thyroid disorders in women. Millions of people around the world make a living off farming the land, so these studies could help many people finally diagnose certain health conditions. The link between pesticide exposure and thyroid problems appears prevalently in women married to licensed pesticide applicators. The University of Nebraska Medical Center studied over 16,500 women living in Iowa and North Carolina who were married to men who used restricted pesticides for their occupation in the 1990s.

a tractor on a wheat field 

Of those 16,500 women, 12.5 percent of the women reported having thyroid disease. Hypothyroidism was present in 7 percent, and 2 percent had overactive thyroids (hyperthyroidism). The risk of hypothyroidism increased significantly if the pesticide was a fungus killer. It is not clear why pesticides cause such a high rate of thyroid problems, but it is vital to remain aware of new correlations between pesticides and thyroid problems. [3]  

Pollution

We are exposed to thousands of chemicals in the air every day. The World Health Organization says that air pollution causes 2.7 million deaths annually. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) also cites that there has not been “clean” air in the United States for close to 25 years. 

The top sources of outdoor pollution include:

  • Solid waste disposal 
  • Aerial spraying of farms
  • Forest fires
  • Transportation (cars, buses, trucks)
  • Chemical dumps

The thyroid plays a significant role in the body and is incredibly susceptible to influences such as environmental toxins. Fumes from the environment can negatively impair the thyroid and lead to diseases that can impact everyday life. [4]

trash strewn on a beach 

Iodine deficiency

Over 30 percent of the world’s population is at risk for iodine deficiency. Iodine is absorbed by the thyroid to spur on hormone production, so a lack of iodine can throw off the delicate balance of the thyroid gland.  Many countries, including the United States, have put iodine in regular table salt to ensure that the average person is receiving this mineral in their diet. But sometimes salt is not enough. Pregnant women often take iodine supplements, but everyone should be aware of the signs of low iodine levels. Low iodine levels can cause symptoms such as unexpected weight gain, fatigue and weakness, hair loss, and changes in heart rate. 

Some Americans may rely on fast food for their everyday meals, but people must eat mindfully so their thyroid functions correctly. Some natural sources of iodine can include yogurt, tuna, shrimp, seaweed, eggs, and dried prunes. If you think you have an iodine deficiency, it is best to contact your doctor to check your iodine levels. [5] 

Fluoride and tap water

Fluoride is the 13th most abundant chemical element in the world. Fluoride is present in rocks, soil, water, and the air. Beginning in the 1940s, many nations started fluoridating its water supplies to improve the dental health of its citizens. Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, and the USA fluoridate more than 50 percent of their water supply. Several countries have stopped the fluoridation of their water because of concerns regarding the effectiveness and safety of fluoride.

The thyroid is one of the most fluoride-sensitive glands in the body. It has been found that fluoride increases the concentration of the thyroid-stimulating hormone in the body and decreases other thyroid hormones (T3, T4). This reaction can lead to hypothyroidism. Fluoride also interferes with iodine transport within the body. 

The benefit of fluoride is heavily contested, but not all people exposed to this element will experience thyroid problems. Many environmental factors and genetic predispositions affect a person’s likelihood of developing health complications.[6]

a sink with the water turned on 

Treatment

The causes listed above may have an impact on your thyroid health, but there are several treatments available once thyroid disease is diagnosed. Medications are typically the first line of treatment for hyper and hypothyroidism. The goal of thyroid treatments is to restore normal hormone levels.

Synthroid (levothyroxine) is a common medication used to replace hormones in the system. On the flip side, anti-thyroid medications are used to treat an overactive thyroid. These medications can gradually reduce symptoms of hyperthyroidism and prevent the thyroid from producing too many hormones. Surgery to remove thyroid nodules or the whole thyroid gland may also be necessary in severe cases. 

As discussed above, thyroid problems are incredibly prevalent all around the world, and we need to examine our diet and environment to limit the risk of thyroid disease. As more research emerges, we will continue to learn more about the various factors that can trigger problems with the thyroid gland. [7]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.