Thyroid disorder is not a condition exclusive to women. Though more common in women, cases of thyroid dysfunction among men are on the rise. Many primary care doctors may be quick to dismiss symptoms of thyroid dysfunction in men because they so closely fit other conditions more commonly diagnosed in men. Although, thyroid problems are largely underdiagnosed in the population at large because the symptoms are vastly similar to the classic signs of aging or a stressful life.
If you have been experiencing low energy, dry skin or muscle mass loss, you may need to seek assessment of your thyroid function.
How Does the Thyroid Work?
The thyroid gland is responsible for secreting a number of hormones that regulate growth, development, body temperature and metabolism. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4) are the primary hormones that impact the function of the thyroid gland.
TSH is produced and released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland in the brain. This signal alerts the thyroid gland to release the thyroid hormones, T3 and T4. T3 and T4 are highly involved in the amount of energy your body uses to perform basic functions while at rest (also known as your basal metabolic rate), such as breathing and temperature regulation.
What is Thyroid Dysfunction?
The root cause of thyroid dysfunction can vary from person to person because a working thyroid is highly dependent on a delicate feedback loop. The primary cause of thyroid disorder is a disruption to TSH, T3 and T4.
TSH regulates production of T3 and T4. The majority of thyroid hormone produced is T4, which is mostly converted to T3 in the liver to carry out necessary functions throughout the body. When levels of T3 and T4 are high in the bloodstream, TSH production and release is suppressed. Low levels of T3 may be the result of poor T4 production or issues converting T4 to T3 due to outside influences (like poor nutrition, stress and toxins). If just one of these three hormones fails in production or release, the other two may be affected.
Ideal function of the thyroid influences the production and release of other important hormones. For example, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) can be affected when thyroid function is impaired. Low levels of SHGB and testosterone can affect fertility in men.
Nutritional deficiencies can also cause thyroid problems, such as an iodine deficiency. Low iodine is commonly observed in developing countries where soil quality is poor. In the U.S., table salt is iodized significantly reducing thyroid disorders related to low iodine.
Symptoms of Thyroid Disorders in Men
The thyroid influences the metabolism of nearly every cell in the body, making the symptoms difficult to pinpoint. For men, symptoms include feeling sluggish, loss of muscle mass, balding or erectile dysfunction. These same symptoms are also often affiliated with low testosterone in men—another reason thyroid issues are frequently missed in men. Undiagnosed cases of thyroid disorder can be dangerous. Without treatment, the condition can develop into more serious disease, including, heart disease or fibromyalgia.
The most commonly reported symptoms of thyroid disorder in men:
- High cholesterol
- Foggy thinking
- Low confidence/self-esteem
- Decrease in sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Balding/hair loss
- Inability to cope with stress
- Low energy and fatigue
- Decreased testosterone levels
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Men
An underactive thyroid gland is characterized by low production of thyroid hormone. The condition is known as hypothyroidism. Eighty percent of cases of thyroid disorder are diagnosed as hypothyroidism caused by an autoimmune disease. Lab testing often reveals elevated levels of TSH when hypothyroidism is diagnosed. However, some patients suffer from subclinical hypothyroidism—a form of underactive thyroid disorder that affects approximately 8 percent of patients. Subclinical hypothyroidism presents with only slightly elevated levels of TSH, but normal levels of T3 and T4.
Stress and nutrient deficiencies can affect TSH levels. For example, high levels of cortisol and low levels of the micronutrient, selenium, can suppress TSH. If your physician only tests for high TSH levels to make a diagnosis—the most common indicator of hypothyroidism—the disorder may be missed.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism in men
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism in Men
Overproduction of the T4 thyroid hormone is known as hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid gland. Much like symptoms of hypothyroidism, the symptoms of an overactive thyroid gland may be easily overlooked. Hyperthyroidism is often the result of thyroid nodules, overconsumption of iodine, and high doses of synthetic thyroid hormone.
Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism in men:
- Muscle Weakness
- Heart Palpitations
- Osteoporosis (in severe cases)
- Trembling Hands
- Hair Loss
- Weight Loss
- Heat Intolerance
- Increased Bowel Movements
Treatments for Thyroid Problems in Men
Most thyroid hormone imbalances are treated with a form of hormone therapy: the synthetic version of T4, known as levothyroxine. This drug is more well-known by its brand names, such as Synthroid, Levoxyl, and Tirosint. Many patients express dissatisfaction with this treatment option, however the issue is generally not the therapy, but the preceding laboratory testing. Prescriptions for synthetic hormones to treat thyroid disorders are often inaccurate or ineffective because the lab testing to reach a diagnosis and treatment plan was limited. The test only assessed TSH levels rather than all the hormones involved in thyroid disorder: TSH, T3, T4, reverse, T3, and cortisol.
The practitioners of the BodyLogicMD network use comprehensive lab testing to assess all of the thyroid hormones, plus reverse T3 and cortisol. This gives your practitioner an accurate picture of what is going on inside the body. The lab results will help your doctor develop the best treatment plan for your unique needs.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is one of the preferred approaches for men with thyroid issues because unlike synthetic hormones, bioidentical hormones are designed to be structurally identical to the hormones made by the human body. This exact replication ensures that the replacement hormones ideally fit on cell receptors so that function is optimized. Optimal function means symptoms could disappear when the systems of your body function as nature intended.