Is Your Thyroid Causing Your Depression?
Over 18 million adults will experience depression this year. It’s even the leading cause of disability for those between the ages of 15 and 44. Figuring out the cause of that depression can be extremely helpful in finding hopeful solutions.
Many people know the connections between depression and abuse, trauma, major events, or substance abuse, but not everyone realizes that depression can be related to seemingly unrelated health problems – one of which being hypothyroidism.
Around 60% of people with thyroid problems don’t even know they have a thyroid problem. This could pose issues for people struggling with depression who “tough it out” on their own or seek traditional depression treatments. They’re missing mandatory thyroid treatment simply because they don’t know they need it.
Let’s change that story.
What Does the Thyroid Do?
Your thyroid is a small gland in your neck that produces and releases two main hormones:
- Triiodothyronine (T3)
- Thyroxine (T4)
These hormones, AKA chemical messengers, are responsible for body temperature, heart rate, and metabolism regulation. In other words, they’re a big deal.
To understand how these thyroid hormones work, think of them like children. They need their mother – a hormone called TSH produced by the pituitary gland (often called the “master” gland) – to tell them what to do. When the pituitary gland sends a TSH signal to T3 and T4, it’s time for them to step into action and do their jobs.
Like children, sometimes they behave. Sometimes they don’t.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
When your body isn’t getting enough hormones from your thyroid gland, your pituitary gland steps in. It sends more thyroid-stimulation hormone (TSH) to your thyroid to encourage it along.
If you have hypothyroidism (also called low thyroid or underactive thyroid), your thyroid isn’t paying enough attention to that TSH, so your T3 and T4 hormones are too low and stay that way. The result? Sluggish organs…improperly working body systems…and perhaps depression.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Cold sensitivity
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Muscle weakness, pain, or stiffness
- Irregular periods
- Poor memory
- Puffy face
- High cholesterol
Below you will find a video from a woman describing her journey through hypothyroidism: her initial symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. This personal account can give you a clearer picture of how hypothyroidism affects lives.
The Thyroid/Depression Connection
Why does hypothyroidism leave you depressed?
Well, it’s not surprising that a hormone-related gland can lead to depression. Think about all the women who have depressive symptoms right before their menstrual cycles. Our mental health is greatly impacted by hormones.
That being said, researchers are still working to find the exact reasons why hypothyroidism leaves you depressed. One review stated, “the relationship between thyroid function and depression remains poorly defined.”
We may not fully know the cause, but we do fully know the link is there. And that link is the key to finding hope and healing.
Symptoms of Thyroid-Related Depression
There are a few hallmark symptoms of depression that just about anybody can experience no matter the cause of their depression. These include:
- Low/sad mood
- Weight changes
- Low libido
- Brain fog
But depression from hypothyroidism may have some extra symptoms that can clue you in, like the hallmark sensitivity to cold, dry hair/hair loss, constipation, slow heartbeat, or hoarseness.
Very serious symptoms like thoughts or plans of suicide are typically associated with depression not related to the thyroid, but certainly do not count them out. Everybody is different and responds differently to their mental health struggles.
Getting Diagnosed with Hypothyroidism
If you are dealing with symptoms of depression, it is always a great idea to get your thyroid checked early on. Why? Because it is a fairly easily treated cause of depression.
Your doctor will order a blood test to learn your levels of TSH and T4. If your TSH is high and your T4 is low, you probably have hypothyroidism. The high TSH shows that your pituitary gland is really trying to pump up your T3 and T4. The low T4 shows it has been unsuccessful.
Make sure to let your doctor know if you are taking any medications or supplements, as some can alter the results and give you misinformation.
Pro tip: It can take a while for hypothyroidism to start showing any symptoms, so even if depression is the only clue, you should still get that thyroid checked soon!
6 Ways to Treat Thyroid-Related Depression
When your depression is directly connected to a thyroid issue, the treatment is fairly straightforward.
Below, you will find 6 ways to treat thyroid-related depression. The first way, thyroid medication, is a game-changer. The others are ways to boost thyroid health and support the medication you are receiving for more holistic healing.
As always, you should talk with your doctor before starting any supplement to boost your thyroid and/or mental health.
1. Take Thyroid Medication
Hypothyroidism is most often treated through medication. You can take a synthetic version of your thyroid hormones in a pill, which brings your levels back up to where they need to be.
Getting the dose just right can take a bit of time. If you start having trouble sleeping, or experience palpitations or any sort of shakiness, you may be getting too high of a dose. Your doctor can adjust you throughout the next few months to find a good balance.
Some natural practitioners recommend avoiding the synthetic thyroid hormones and getting real thyroid hormones from a pig’s thyroid glands. You can explore this option, but the American Thyroid Association cautions:
“Since pills made from animal thyroid are not purified, they contain hormones and proteins that never exist in the body outside of the thyroid gland. While desiccated thyroid contains both T4 and T3, the balance of T4 and T3 in animals is not the same as in humans, so the hormones in animal thyroid pills aren’t necessarily “natural” for the human body.”
While thyroid medication will be your No. 1 treatment plan, you may also be able to benefit from the following thyroid health boosters.
2. Get More Zinc
Zinc deficiency is connected to both hypothyroidism and depression. So right off the bat, it’s a great nutrient to have checked. If you need some extra zinc, you can get it through a high-quality supplement or through these foods:
- Meat and seafood
- Hemp seeds
- Shiitake mushrooms
3. Try Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is an adoptogenic herb often used to help with anxiety, but studies have shown it may also help stimulate thyroid activity. One recent study gave test subjects 600 mg of ashwagandha daily, and others a placebo. After eight weeks, the Ashwagandha improved TSH, T3, and T4 “significantly compared to placebo.”
Simply take ashwagandha daily in the form of a supplement.
4. Consume Enough Iodine
One of the causes of hypothyroidism is an iodine deficiency…because iodine is actually used to make your thyroid hormones. Most people in the United States and Canada do not have to worry about iodine deficiency thanks to the inclusion of iodine in salt, but nearly 1/3 of the world’s population is still at risk.
However, pregnancy can lower iodine levels, as can a handful of other health conditions. Getting your levels checked is important.
A multivitamin with a small dose of iodine and the occasional use of iodized salt, dairy, or seaweed/sea vegetables (like nori or arame) can help make sure iodine isn’t the cause of your thyroid issues or depression.
5. Add Selenium
As a micronutrient, very little selenium is found in or needed by the body. But the thyroid actually has the most selenium per tissue gram than anywhere else. In terms of thyroid health, this micronutrient may play a more macro role.
“Maintaining a physiological concentration of selenium is a prerequisite to prevent thyroid disease and preserve overall health,” according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
The best way to get enough selenium is to take a multi-vitamin or choose a thyroid-support supplement that includes the appropriate dosage. Nuts, seafood, and shiitake mushrooms are other great sources.
6. Avoid Goitrogens
Let’s finish off with something to avoid: goitrogens (think of the world “goiter,” an enlarged thyroid). A goitrogen is a substance that can actually block the proper production of thyroid hormones. Anyone with hypothyroidism should avoid them.
Goitrogens can be found in:
- Soy (like tofu and edamame)
- Cruciferous veggies (like broccoli and kale)
Obviously, cruciferous vegetables are very good for you in many other ways, so a great way to include them back into your diet is to avoid eating them raw or lightly cooked. Cook them very well – at least 30 minutes – on occasion.
But What About Antidepressants?
Interestingly, antidepressants did not fall into our list of ways to treat thyroid-related depression. That’s because studies have shown that thyroid medication actually works better than antidepressants in these cases.
Through thyroid-replacement hormones, you are treating the root cause of your depression, instead of just the depressive symptoms.
That being said, each case is different. You should always listen to the advice of a trusted doctor.
Finding Hope with Hypothyroidism Treatment
Not everyone with depression will have such a clear cause in the form of a medical condition like hypothyroidism. But some definitely do. That is why it is important to visit your doctor when you start experiencing depression symptoms instead of “toughing it out.” You may have a pretty straightforward solution available to you.
Medication, supplementation, and a good diet can set you on the course to wellbeing.
If you are currently experiencing depression and need immediate help, call the National Helpline at 1-800-622-HELP (4357).