Underactive Thyroid Symptoms in Women Include Depression

Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, can affect both men and women; however, women are typically more prone to the condition.

Underactive Thyroid Symptoms in Women: Depression is a Surprising Outcome

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck that weighs less than one ounce. It produces two hormones: triodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).

Thyroid hormones affect metabolism (the way the body uses energy), brain development, body temperature, muscle strength, skin tone, menstrual cycles, cholesterol levels, and weight gain. Simply put, without enough thyroid hormone, many of the body’s functions slow down or don’t function properly at all.

Hypothyroidism affects women more often than men

Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, can affect both men and women; however, women are typically more prone to the condition. The primary underactive thyroid symptoms in women and men alike include: 

  • Fatigue and lack of energy (especially in the morning)
  • Memory loss
  • Cold intolerance
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Dry or itching skin
  • Cracking nails
  • Loss of hair
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight (If you just cannot lose those extra pounds in spite of your best efforts at dieting and exercise, an underactive thyroid might in fact be the missing link!)
  • Low sex drive
  • Constipation
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Chronic infections
  • Depression

The underactive thyroid symptoms in women only include:

  • Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
  • Severe PMS
  • Fertility problems
  • Endometriosis
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Excessive menopausal symptoms

Is a low functioning thyroid gland a contributing factor to your depression?

Thyroid hormones and depression are intricately connected. Here’s why:

  • Christiane Northrup, MD, reports that T3 (the active thyroid hormone) “is actually a bona fide neurotransmitter that regulates the action of serotonin, norepinephrine, and GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is important for quelling anxiety.” She also states that “If you don’t have enough T3, or if its action is blocked, an entire cascade of neurotransmitter abnormalities may ensue and can lead to mood and energy changes, including depression.”[1]
  • Dr. Barry Durant-Peatfield, in his book Your Thyroid and How to Keep It Healthy, states “Brain cells have more T3 receptors than any other tissues, which means that a proper uptake of thyroid hormone is essential for the brain cells to work properly.” He feels that up to one-half of depression cases are due to unrecognized hypothyroidism.

How to tell if you have low thyroid function

To determine if you have an underactive thyroid, follow these three steps:

Step 1. Determine if you have three of more of the common underactive thyroid symptoms in women or men. The more your symptoms match the typical profile of low thyroid function, the greater the likelihood you have hypothyroidism. If you do, in fact, have three or more symptoms above, then conduct the next test:

Step 2. Conduct the Barnes Basal Body Temperature test. Since your thyroid hormone regulates metabolism in the body, your metabolism rate is a good measure of thyroid hormone function. In fact, according to the results of a 2005 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the basal metabolic rate is a much more reliable indicator of thyroid hormone deficiency than blood testing. A doctor named Broda Barnes discovered a quick and easy way to test metabolism: just take your resting body temperature. If your basal body temperature is lower than 97.8 degrees, you should be highly suspicious that thyroid function is a possible cause.

Step 3. Perform laboratory testing. If the first two tests above indicate a possible thyroid disorder, it’s time to get your doctor involved with standard laboratory testing:

Why not just skip the first two steps in this thyroid function test and go directly to the lab tests? Frankly, the standard TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) lab test is often inadequate in detecting what is called “suboptimal thyroid function”. Many people suffer the symptoms of low thyroid but have lab results that put them in the “normal” reference range and thus are declared to have a healthy thyroid function. However, many integrative physicians have found that these patients often benefit greatly and recover completely from many of their chronic symptoms by either starting a thyroid hormone replacement regimen or by addressing the root causes of an under-functioning thyroid – all this in spite of the fact that their lab results indicate no need for the hormone. This is the condition called Subclinical Hypothyroidism which affects thousands of people and is one of the most under diagnosed disorders. So the bottom line is that “suboptimal thyroid functioning” is surprisingly common and could be affecting your mood and causing depressive symptoms.

Here are some of the serum lab tests recommended to adequately measure thyroid function for someone who is symptomatic and has low basal temperature:

  • TSH — the high-sensitivity version. The ideal level for TSH is between 1 and 2.0 mIU/L (milli-international units per liter) and may need to be adjusted to slightly less than 1.0 to give adequate relief to hypothyroidism symptoms in some people.
  • Free T4 and Free T3. The normal level of free T4 is between 0.9 and 1.8 ng/dl (nanograms per deciliter). T3 should be between 240 and 450 pg/dl (picograms per deciliter). Remember that conventional physicians often do not perform the free T3 test. However, it is a very important way of assessing overall thyroid function.
  • Thyroid antibodies including thyroid peroxidase antibodies and anti-thyroglobulin antibodies. This test helps determine if there is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. For more difficult cases TRH can be measured (thyroid releasing hormone) using the TRH stimulation test. TRH helps identify hypothyroidism that’s caused by inadequacy of the pituitary gland.

How to Treat Low Thyroid Function

Don’t let low thyroid function zap your energy and cause your depressive symptoms to thrive.  There are several approaches available to treat low thyroid function.

  • Using synthetic (Synthroid) versus natural (Armour thyroid) hormone replacement therapy
  • Optimize adrenal function
  • Optimize the body’s iodine level
  • Increase consumption of the amino acid, tyrosine
  • Take selenium and zinc
  • Detox mercury
  • Correct gluten sensitivity problems
  • Get the best water filtration systems for your home
  • Take a thyroid glandular extract
  • Test for a vitamin D deficiency
  • Utilize omega-3 fatty acid
  • Begin exercising.

If you suffer from suboptimal thyroid function, please tell us about your experience in the comments section below.

[1] Thyroid Disease, Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Originally published in 2013.

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  • I really enjoyed reading this article. I personally have my own struggles with fertility and weight gain, and I have yet to find a doctor to diagnose my problem. This article sheds some insight on what I may need to talk to my doctor about.

  • Hi, I just read your article. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto Encephalitis. I went to a muscle tester who said I need three Thyrosense ; natural thyroid supports. They work well. I also ordered natural descicated thyroid bovine. It says take one a day. Just wondering if that is a good idea. I have high blood pressure that can go over 200 and most likely because of thyroid. I don’t understand really; is this condition a too much thyroid or not enough; or just unstable. They say the thyroid is attacked by the immune system. Your thoughts please.

  • Hi there,
    I was diagnosed with Hashimotos Thyroiditis almost 2 years ago. My thyroid function in tests showed ‘normal’ -( 4.79) because it was under 5. I now have high blood pressure which I’ve never had in my life. I exercise regularly, eat well ( a lot of veg and fruit and almost zero processed food.) In spite of exercise and diet I am carrying about 8/10 kg too much. My doctor tells me I have a normal functioning thyroid but I disagree. The Hashimotos antibodies count has gone up from 540 to 830 and I am due to have another test in 10 days. I am trying to get my doctor to do a more thorough test and ask the lab give me all the readings, anti-bodies count, T3 and T4 but he says lab won’t do all this if thyroid function is normal. I KNOW I am NOT myself – what with BP rising and mood swings, depression, cold, etc. I’ve been taking supplements and that seemed to help the symptoms but looks like they’ve returned. Usually I don’t eat gluten but just had 5 days in Italy and did eat gluten. Could this reaction be a sort of ‘flare-up’?

  • Hi .I have had an under active thyroid for the last 26 years .I have always been overweight about 5 stone .I decided 2 years ago i would diet and change my life .I lost 2 stone and got all the symptoms of an overactive thyroid .I was told i had heart problems because i had a irregular heartbeat .The doctor put me on alot of medication which honestly made me feel absolutely awful.I tried to tell the doctor how i felt but he wouldn’t listen. I decided to stop the medication.Lowered my thyroid intake amd within 3 months felt my old self.I moved to a new doctor.I stopped dieting as i was scared of a repeat but i wanted to lose the next 3 stone so a year later i went back on the diet and lost a stone and again the same thing happened .I went back to the doctor and was told to have a blood test .Both my TSH was high and so was the T4 .The doctor said i needed more thyroine and put my dosage higher even though i could not sleep .On the toilet alot of the day .Couldnt exercise without my pulse rate running high .I was getting at 3 in the morning cleaning which is madness when i work full time .I really Dont know where i go from here.I feel the doctors dont listen.

  • At my wits end had surgeries in the 70 have both glands removed did great for many years Brittany for about 5 or more they started decreasing meds now at the beginning of all of this I was hyper thyroid I take antidepressant meds have been changed a few times but don’t work my brain feel like I’m in a fog all the time coldness weight gain I could go on and on

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