May 25 to 31, as most of you would know, is International Thyroid Awareness Week. I'm posting this because through my experiences with the disease, I know how important it is that the symptoms are recognized and treated as early as possible.
I started feeling unwell when I was in my early twenties. I didn't know then that I was suffering from hyperthyroidism - a condition when your body produces an excess of the thyroid hormone. I was nervous, irritable and imsoniac. My hands were trembling and I was always feeling hot. I ate like a horse but was losing weight and my heart was beating at an alarming rate. I felt like a time-bomb and my colleagues thought I was volatile and quarrelsome.
A visit from Mom ended with her dragging me to a clinic for a medical check-up. Mom was a nurse and she recognized the symptoms immediately. As usual, she was always right. I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism.
To bring my thyroid hormone levels under control, I was treated with a high dosage of carbimazole tablets which would inevitably lead to hypothyroidism - the complete opposite of hyperthyroidism.
As expected, I developed hypothyroidism - my face puffed up with the weight gain and my lush hair was falling out and I felt like a zombie - weak, lethargic, intolerant to cold and depressed. My life was on a 'slow-forward'. I also suffered memory and appetite loss and muscular weakness. My wedding was just a few months away and no matter what I ate, my weight escalated. In a desperate attempt to lose weight, I resorted to drinking some kind of slimming tea that nearly cost me my kidneys.
The medication gradually tapered and I was back to my normal self but not for long. My hyperthyroidism returned and it was back to the whole cycle all over again - hyper and then hypo and hyper again..... It was all very frustrating and I totally hated living my life like a pendulum that was swinging in opposite extremes.
The last straw was when I suffered 3 miscarriages. I then decided to have part of my thyroid gland surgically removed and 20 years and 2 boys later, I've achieved 'Euthyroid' status (the state of having normal thyroid gland function). I've never felt better except for my intolerance to cold.
Although my symptoms are now under control, I have a legacy of stretch marks (due to my weight fluctuations), a scarred neck (the surgery) and a right eye that's slightly bigger than the left (exophthalmos - an abnormal protrusion of the eyeball from the eye socket/orbit, which can be associated with Graves' thyroidtoxicosis disease).
Here are some interesting facts I learned about the disease.
Foods that depress thyroid activity are broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach, turnips, soy, beans, and mustard greens. These foods should be included in the diet for hyperthyroid conditions and avoided for people with hypothyroidism.
Studies have suggested a link between Germans and hypothyroidism due to their high intake of sauerkraut (finely shredded fermented cabbage). Cabbage may also act as a goitrogen. It blocks organification in thyroid cells, thus inhibiting the production of the thyroid hormones (thyroxine and triiodothyronine). The result is an increased secretion of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) due to low thyroid hormone levels. This increase in TSH results in an enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter). Salad lovers, beware!
Some experts have suggested that autoimmune thyroid disease develops as a result of iodine overconsumption. Both the U.S. and Japan have high levels of iodine consumption and of autoimmune thyroid disease. Japanese people consume iodine because of their traditional diet that is rich in seafood and seaweed and Americans do because salt is iodinated and the food industry uses iodine as a machine wash.
You might want to go easy on the sushi if you have an overactive thyroid.
I wish I had known these facts earlier.