By Kylie Luo
According to Psychology Today, a predicted 13 million Americans could have undiagnosed thyroid-related conditions. To us, this could present a wide spectrum of issues, ranging from physical abnormalities such as goiters (enlargement of the thyroid gland), to over and underproduction of thyroid-related hormones. A lesser aspect of thyroid disorder is the effect it can have on a person’s mental health.
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland to ‘message’ the thyroid in order to regulate its production of the hormones T3 and T4. These, in turn, stimulate the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain, creating a negative feedback loop. As the hypothalamus is largely in charge of homeostasis as well as emotions, any fluctuations in the hormones that affect it would reflect on not only a person’s physical well being but also their mental condition. Similarly, the pituitary gland controls the function of the adrenal glands via hormones. The adrenal glands release sex hormones creating a sex drive, which also affects mood. Lowered or raised amounts of any of these hormones would become present in a person’s blood chemistry, affecting their emotional homeostasis.
Therefore, an over or underproduction of TSH would lead to hormone imbalance and dysfunction in three major endocrine glands. As the endocrine system regulates body function and mood, any disturbance could have a waterfall of effects. Issues with producing TSH would lead to a disruption in emotional homeostasis, which takes a toll on a person’s mental health by creating an unstable mindset.
Hormone imbalance is commonly associated with mood swings including depressive lows and emotional highs. The issue with this is that most patients present to a clinician as showing signs of mental disorders which are commonly misdiagnosed as depression, bipolar, or anxiety, leaving the thyroid issue and origin of mental unsoundness to persist.
Though the high rate of misdiagnosed thyroid issues is reflected upon in the 13 million undiagnosed, there is a way to bring down that number. Several ways to lower this number would be to more commonly educate people on thyroid disorders and make thyroid/blood testing more common for those who report signs of mental disorder. Blood testing is relatively inexpensive but is capable of performing a variety of tasks, such as detecting the levels of hormones in a person’s blood. This can then be compared to normal levels leading to a proper diagnosis. Not only would this help individuals by providing an accurate diagnosis but it would also mean a better protocol for later cases helping to lower the soaring number of undiagnosed thyroid disorder cases.
What Did You Learn?
1. What is the role of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands? How do they contribute to mental health?
The hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands are all important organs in the endocrine system, functioning to produce hormones and maintain the body’s homeostasis. More specifically, the hypothalamus controls blood temperature and connects the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland, also known as the master gland, releases hormones that stimulate other glands in the endocrine system. One of these glands is the adrenal gland which secretes hormones that control sex drive. All of these glands secrete hormones that affect mood. A steady balance and regulation of these hormones would mean maintained emotional homeostasis while irregularity would lead to fluctuations.
2. How can an imbalance in one hormone lead to a diagnosis of a mental disorder? Why is this misleading?
All hormones in the body connect the endocrine system both directly and indirectly. As explored in the reading, TSH, which is produced in the pituitary gland directly affects the amount of hormones produced by the thyroid gland which affects the function of the hypothalamus. An imbalance in TSH, or any other major hormone in the system, would throw off a person’s mood since the endocrine system is linked directly to the nervous system. Fluctuations can be so extreme to the point where a person’s mental health can be compromised to the point of showing signs of mental disorder. Though the symptoms produced are similar, this is misleading because this oftentimes causes endocrine-related issues to be misdiagnosed, therefore mistreated, as mental disorders.