Despite advances in our understanding of thyroid disease, there remain numerous myths and misunderstandings that stand in the way of the proper diagnosis and treatment of hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland). Being aware of them, and learning more about common mistakes to avoid, can help you be a more active participant in your care plan and feel your best.
Here, thyroid experts separate fact from fiction.
Myth: Thyroid disease is easy to treat
Fact: For the lucky ones, thyroid disease is easily remedied with thyroid hormone. But for some people, blood tests don’t match how you feel. While your TSH may appear normal, you may have symptoms of hypothyroidism. Determining the dosage and type of treatment then, can be difficult and should be done under close supervision of a knowledge of an endocrinologist familiar with different thyroid preparations.
Myth: Your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels are fine if they are in the normal range
Fact: A “normal” TSH depends on the reference range your doctor is using, your age, and your TSH results in relation to other thyroid function tests.
Myth: Only Older People Get Hypothyroidism
Fact: Hypothyroidism is most common after age 60, but the condition can strike at any age. “Although the incidence of hypothyroidism increases with advancing age, younger men and women can develop hypothyroidism at any given time,” says Ruchi Gaba, MBBS, an endocrinologist and assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “Young women can especially develop hypothyroidism during pregnancy and in the post-partum period.”
Myth: Gluten sensitivity can trigger thyroid disease
Fact: “Graves’ disease and thyroid cancer are not going to get better by staying away from gluten,” says Dr. Nasr. “If someone has a family history of Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism—because that’s the strongest factor—it likely won’t make a difference.”
However, Dr. Nasr says celiac disease is common in people with autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s and Graves’. If you’re someone who has both a thyroid condition and a gluten sensitivity, it makes sense to remove gluten from your diet—just don’t expect your thyroid to improve because of your diet restrictions. “The antibodies from the thyroid do not come down and become normal on a gluten-free diet,” says Dr. Fink. “We don’t treat based on an antibody level. If your antibody level and thyroid condition is positive, it’s positive.”
Myth: It’s Impossible to Lose Weight With Hypothyroidism
Fact: The truth is that losing weight can be hard for anyone — especially during your late 30s and early 40s, when metabolism slows and pounds can pile on. If your thyroid hormone dosage is appropriate, you should not have a tougher time shedding weight. Part of this myth, Bischoff says, lies in the fact that weight gain is a sensitive topic. “It can be helpful for people to point to something and say this is the reason [I can’t lose weight],” she says. “But if you’re adequately placed on thyroid hormone, you’re on the same playing field.”
Myth: If you eat any soy-based products, your thyroid won’t function properly
Fact: Soy does have an affect on the thyroid, but hypothyroid tofu lovers don’t need to totally abstain from soy-based foods to maintain healthy hormone levels.
Dr. Fink says soy, when eaten often, can decrease absorption of the prescribed thyroid hormones hypothyroid patients need. “In general, I tell patients with hypothyroidism they don’t need to completely avoid these things, but overdosing on them could create an issue,” she says.
So, what does the doc recommend for soy eaters? “People can have their thyroid medicine in the morning and have tofu for dinner a few times a week and be totally fine,” Dr. Fink says.
Myth: Only women get thyroid disease.
Fact: Both males and females of any age can develop a thyroid condition.
Myth: More Thyroid Hormone Is Better
Fact: If thyroid hormone helps treat hypothyroidism, some may think that more means better. “There’s a myth that extra thyroid hormone gives you extra energy and makes you lose weight,” Bischoff says. It’s important to find the right dosage for your thyroid hormone medication to give your body just what it needs. “Not having enough can make you gain weight and not have enough energy,” Bischoff explains. But taking too much of the medication can also cause side effects, such as increased appetite, insomnia, shakiness, and heart palpitations. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these problems. He or she may adjust your thyroid medication dosage to address the side effect.