If you ask the average person what the various systems in the body are, they will likely know about the circulatory system, the skeletal system, the digestive system. The endocrine system would probably be the last system you’d remember, if at all. Everyone knows what the heart and brain do, but do you know what the thyroid or adrenal gland does?
The thyroid gland, located in the front of the neck, just below the “Adam’s apple.” It controls how sensitive your body is to other hormones, regulates the production of proteins, and regulates how your body uses energy. These functions seem vague, but the thyroid does so much, it’s hard to sum up in a single blog post.
Thyroid dysfunction comes in three “flavors:” hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and thyroid cancer.
Hypothyroidism can simply be thought of as “not enough thyroid,” and can have severe repercussions on many different bodily functions, which can easily cause secondary disabilities. For instance, one of the most well-known symptoms of hypothyroidism is obesity, which can cause a whole host of cardiovascular and even orthopedic problems.
Hyperthyroidism, also referred to as “Graves disease” can be thought of as “too much thyroid.” While you can take synthetic thyroid substitutes to improve hypothyroidism, often the only treatment for hyperthyroidism is to flood the thyroid with radioactive iodine, which induces hypothyroidism. Thyroid cancer can also lead to the removal of the thyroid, and will also lead to hypothyroidism. So, in the long run, most people with thyroid problems will end up with hypothyroidism.
Many veterans have difficulty getting their thyroid-related disability service-connected. However, there are many chemicals that can cause hypothyroidism, including solvents (including TCE/trichloroethylene), radiation, lead, ammonium perchlorate (rocket/missile propellant), perfluoroalkyl acid (AFFF Foam), pesticides, chlorine dioxide (water disinfectant), heavy metals, benzopyrene (in JP-4 and other exhausts), dioxins (TCDD, in agent orange and burn pits), coal smoke, and wood preservatives (burn pits.)
Hypothyroidism can be secondary to several different disorders, most notably any disorder that disrupts the regulation of iodine in the body and also pituitary gland problems. Some medications such as lithium, amiodarone (Cordarone), and carbamazepine have been shown to induce thyroid problems. Other classes of drugs that have been suspected in affecting thyroid disease are antidepressants, drugs used to treat multiple sclerosis, hepatitis, and some drugs used in chemotherapy.
Surprisingly, veterans with PTSD are up to EIGHT times more likely to suffer from thyroid dysfunction. I’ve written before on how the immune system and the neurological system are inextricably linked, and immune problems that can be related to thyroid function, like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, or even Gulf War Syndrome, may all be different expressions of the same underlying immune problems or processes.