Thyroid Health: The Secret Weapon to Better Overall Health

Better physical health is one of the most common goals people set each year. Find out how your thyroid is in the driver's seat with everything from your metabolism to the speed of your brain, heart, muscles, and liver functions.

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Thyroid Health: The Secret Weapon to Better Overall Health

With the beginning of a new year, there’s no shortage of videos, articles, or social media posts about new goals, resolutions, mantras, words of the year, or other suggestions to kick-start self-improvement. Undoubtedly, these posts are accompanied with suggestions on how to see changes in the new year, with bonus points given for quick results. The tradition of setting a New Year’s resolution is an ancient one. As far back as 2000 B.C.E. the Babylonians were resolving to be better, by doing things like vowing to return borrowed farm equipment in the upcoming year.

Today, not many people need to return farm equipment, but the drive to want more from life is instinctual. It is important, however, before beginning any path of self-improvement to ensure there aren’t hidden factors that would block success before ever beginning.

Roadblocks to Optimal Health

When thinking about improving overall health it’s common to focus on areas such as improved diet, weight management, or maximizing sleep. It is important to note that the human body is fascinating in its interconnectedness. Often times symptoms in one area can relate to functions in another completely different area of the body; take for example, cold feet. Having cold feet might just mean too much time outside in the cold, but it could also point to poor circulation, nerve problems, or a thyroid issue. With January being a month set for individual improvement, it seems only fitting that January is also set aside for thyroid awareness. The thyroid sets the body’s pace.  It produces hormones that affect metabolism, the speed of the brain, heart, muscles, and liver functions.

When your thyroid works correctly, it’s continually making hormones, releasing them and replacing what’s been used. This keeps the body’s metabolism functioning properly and all of its systems in check. If the thyroid is malfunctioning it can affect a bevvy of the body’s systems. Hypothyroidism (where the thyroid doesn’t create and release enough thyroid hormone) is just one way the thyroid can wreak havoc.  Without enough thyroid hormone the body’s metabolism begins to slow down, affecting the entire body. Typical symptoms can include:

  •         Low energy levels
  •         Depression
  •         Weight gain
  •         Muscle weakness or pain
  •         Constipation
  •         Brain Fog
  •         Sensitivity to cold or numbness

While these symptoms might seem more of a nuisance than a medical necessity, untreated hypothyroidism can also increase risk of heart-related issues, such as an enlarged heart, heart disease, or heart failure.


The thyroid doesn’t just underperform with hypothyroidism; it can also overperform – hyperthyroidism. When the thyroid overperforms it creates and releases too much thyroid hormone, which then overstimulates the metabolism, causing it to speed up. While a fast metabolism sounds nice when trying to shed an extra pound or two, it can be quite uncomfortable, causing symptoms such as:

  •         Rapid heartbeat – commonly more than 100 beats per minute
  •         Nervousness, anxiety, and irritability
  •         Hand tremors
  •         Sweating
  •         Increased sensitivity to heat
  •         More frequent bowel movements
  •         Difficulty sleeping
  •         Muscle weakness and fatigue

Just like hypothyroidism, if left untreated it can cause heart problems, brittle bones, eye problems, and skin redness and swelling.

Thyroid Out of Balance? Now What?

The symptoms of an out of balance thyroid can be hard to isolate. Is that insomnia a result of a faulty thyroid or too much screen time before bed? Depression can be a side effect of thyroid disfunction, or it can be completely unrelated. The first tests performed are typically blood tests. The blood tests will measure:

  • TSH – measures thyroid-stimulating hormone
  • T3 and T4 – measure different thyroid hormones
  • TSI – measures thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin
  • Antithyroid antibody test – measures antibodies (markers in the blood).

If more in-depth testing is needed, imaging tests – such as CT scans, ultrasounds, and nuclear medicine tests – can be ordered. Typically, many patients only need blood tests to determine the functionality of their thyroid.

Under the guidance of their doctors, patients can work to balance thyroid levels back out. Medication that boosts thyroid hormone levels is an easy way to treat hypothyroidism. The most common treatment is levothyroxine (Levoxyl, Synthroid, Tirosint, Unithroid, generic levothyroxine), a man-made version of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4). It acts just like the hormone the body’s thyroid gland normally produces. The body converts T4 to the active form, triiodothyronine (T3). Some patients require this supplement as well. The man-made treatment version of T3 is liothyronine (Cytomel).

It is important that blood levels are taken after starting levothyroxine to confirm blood level is in a therapeutic range. With 18 different strengths of levothyroxine, the prescriber has the ability to adjust to the appropriate therapeutic level for each patient. Generally, it is recommended that patients do not switch between products, whether a brand or generic drug, once stabilized, in order to maintain appropriate therapeutic response and keep the blood levels within a narrow therapeutic range.

For hyperthyroidism, radioactive iodine can be introduced, which is absorbed by the thyroid gland, causing the gland to shrink. Anti-thyroid medications include methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil. Patients often start to see improvement within a couple of weeks. Additionally, while thyroid levels are balancing, beta blockers can help with heart palpitations and tremors.

How Does Having a PBM Help?

Benefit providers utilize formularies to provide cost-effective access to medications. In simple terms, a formulary is a list of the generic and brand name prescription drugs a health plan uses as the master list of medications it covers. In order to ensure members have the most cost-effective access to Levoxyl, Tapazole, and other necessary medications, IPM partners with a national Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee for standard formulary management. Additionally, IPM’s Clinical Team will monitor supplemental lists and trends to allow each client the ability to closely manage their drug benefit. With a focus on reducing drug spend and improving clinical outcomes, IPM’s Clinical Team is constantly reviewing formulary options, drug trends, and new-to-market drug lists to meet our clients’ and members’ needs.

This year, whether there is farm equipment to return or a doctor’s appointment to schedule, make time to take care of yourself.