I was approached by Thyroid Advisor and asked if I’d be interested in publishing a guest post on thyroid health on the blog. I don’t usually accept guest posts (outside of my Zen Tip Tuesday series) but as the topic was about Thyroid Health and I myself have Hypothyroidism, I accepted based on the article being geared to midlifers and thyroid health as we age. Knowledge is power after all. I hope you enjoy the read!
[This is a guest post from Thyroid Advisor]
Growing old is not something we can avoid.
As the years go on, our bodies begin to change. These changes go beyond wrinkles and fine lines on our skin. Old age affects the way our organs, tissues, joints, and other structures in our bodies, function.
Have you ever wondered how age affects thyroid health? Is your thyroid at risk of various problems as you’re getting older?
In this article, we explore these questions and their answers.
Does age matter for the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a powerful gland that participates in many body functions. At the same time, however, it is also quite delicate and easily affected by various factors – age being one of them.
In fact, age is one of the most significant risk factors for a wide range of diseases and health conditions. Evidence confirms that thyroid diseases predominantly affect women who are 5 to 20 times more likely to develop them than men and that the chances of being diagnosed with a thyroid condition, increases with age as well.[i]
In particular, postmenopausal and elderly women have a higher chance of having a thyroid disorder than their younger counterparts.
One of the reasons for this, is that as we age, the thyroid epithelium cells, the cells that are responsible for creation of thyroid hormones, undergoes a degenerative process, leading to fewer cells. At the same time, the size of the thyroid follicles decreases while the amount of lymphoid tissue and fibrous connective tissues increases.
Basically, over time, your thyroid gland reduces its size. As a result, thyroid hormone synthesis and production decreases as well, leading to fewer thyroid hormones in the body such as T3 and T4[ii]. This is often diagnosed as hypothyroidism.
Aging and hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is a common thyroid condition indicated by an underactive thyroid gland, i.e., the thyroid does not produce adequate amounts of hormones T3 and T4.
Various studies have concluded that aging affects the thyroid in a manner that exhibits a negative impact on its function and increases the risk of hypothyroidism.
For example, Leng and Razvi found that both overt hypothyroidism and minor elevations of TSH levels are quite common in older patients. Evidence in their research showed that TSH levels tend to be increased in women that are older than 45. It’s noteworthy to mention that this same effect was not observed in men.
This study revealed that thyroid function changes with age and these alterations are more pronounced at both ends of a person’s lifespan. However, exactly how age impacted participant’s thyroid in this study, was unclear.
Furthermore, it is not known whether these changes are just a part of a normal and healthy aging process or a biomarker of some underlying disease.
The problem with diagnosing hypothyroidism in older patients is that the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism are likely to be misattributed to some co-morbid condition or considered a manifestation of the aging process.
Basically, in many cases, a hypothyroid woman experiences symptom of hypothyroidism, but the condition is still overlooked due to the fact those manifestations are attributed to something else, such as low/high blood pressure. Managing symptoms of hypothyroidism requires proper treatment, which is why women should see their doctor regularly and have blood tests done to check their thyroid hormone levels.
As a reminder, these are the most evident symptoms of hypothyroidism:
- Dry skin
- General edema
- Hair loss
- Higher blood cholesterol levels
- Hoarse voice
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Muscle aches and stiffness
- Muscle cramps
- Weakened memory and concentration
- Weight gain
Hypothyroidism can contribute to insulin resistance, hypertension (high blood pressure), adverse lipid profile and thus increase the risk of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and overall mortality.
While thyroid tests are less frequently requested[iii], doctors still recommend having blood tests done to determine a patient’s thyroid hormone levels when experiencing these symptoms. Of course, treatment of hypothyroidism in older patients depends on age, co-morbidity status, overall health, and other parameters[iv].
Aging and hyperthyroidism
While hypothyroidism is more likely, hyperthyroidism is another thyroid condition that could develop as well. Just like hypothyroidism, everyone can develop Hyperthyroidism, but the risk is higher for women – especially if you’re between 40 to 60 years old[v].
This condition is indicated by excessive production of thyroid hormones.
Evidence shows that hyperthyroidism in the elderly is a serious clinical condition linked with significant morbidity and excess mortality. Similarly to its counterpart, hyperthyroidism in aging patients may be difficult to diagnose due to the confusing effects of acute or chronic illnesses and drugs on the interpretation of thyroid function tests.
Treatment of hyperthyroidism is individualized[vi]. Bearing in mind that the condition isn’t easy to diagnose as you age, it’s practical to see your doctor regularly and request thyroid hormone tests, especially when other risk factors for hyperthyroidism are also present.
The most common causes of hyperthyroidism in the older age are toxic multinodular goiter in the areas with low iodine intake and Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition.
Symptoms are quite similar to some other conditions, and it’s relatively easy to assume they’re a part of the aging process or that they’re a manifestation of some other health problem.
The most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism are the following:
- Fine and brittle hair
- Heart palpitations
- Heat intolerance
- Impaired concentration
- Increased sweating
- Weight loss
Inform your doctor about all the symptoms you experience in order to get an accurate diagnosis and to receive adequate treatment that would prevent unwanted scenarios.
Keeping your thyroid healthy
As we have discussed throughout this article, age is a major risk factor for thyroid problems. However, just because you’re getting older, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to develop hypo or hyperthyroidism.
It’s entirely possible to minimise the risk of these health problems by keeping your thyroid healthy. Here are some important tips you need to follow for healthy and strong thyroid gland:
- Keep your weight in a healthy range – Overweight and obese women are at a higher risk of many health problems, and thyroid conditions are no exception. One way to keep your thyroid healthy is to slim down if you’re overweight or to maintain weight within a healthy range, if you’re already slim.
- Be mindful of Iodine – Iodine is the most important nutrient for your thyroid. Although developed countries are less likely to have iodine deficiencies than developing parts of the world, you should still make sure you’re consuming adequate amounts.
- Ditch unhealthy foods – Instead of foods with little to no nutritional value, you may want to opt for foods that are abundant in vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that your thyroid needs to function properly.
- Manage stress – Stress has a major negative impact on the thyroid, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.[vii] In order to protect your thyroid, make sure you manage stress properly.
- Manage underlying health problem and keep hormones in balance – If you have some underlying health problem, it’s important to manage them properly by following your doctor’s recommendations. This may help you manage symptoms of thyroid disease too, as the unmanaged underlying disease could aggravate signs and symptoms you’re experiencing.
Our thyroids, as other parts of our body, changes as we age.
Evidence confirms that the thyroid changes physically during the aging process. Old age, especially for woman, are major risk factors for thyroid diseases.
Unfortunately, as we age, these conditions are more difficult to diagnose as other health problems may be the cause of your symptoms as well.
Regular visits to the doctor’s office may help you manage or prevent thyroid problems.
Of course, we must not forget the importance of a healthy lifestyle in keeping your thyroid and body strong.
About Thyroid Advisor
Thyroid Advisor is an online resource that focuses on the relationship of the thyroid with other body functions and natural supplements to improve the health and function of the thyroid. Articles written by the Thyroid Advisor team are carefully reviewed and edited by qualified medical practitioners, experts, and thyroid patient advocates to ensure the most accurate, up to date, information is given to the readers. Resources and research papers from peer-reviewed scientific journals and research papers can be found at the bottom of each published article. The information in Thyroid Advisor’s articles are not intended as medical advice and cannot replace your doctor. Contact a health care professional for all individual health concerns.