The Link Between Depression and Hypothyroidism

The connection between hypothyroidism and depression is well known, and most psychiatrists will test patients' levels of thyroid hormones before prescribing antidepressant medications, believing that even mild cases of low thyroid function can cause major depression.

What is the Connection?

Both hypothyroidism and depression appear to have a common basis in terms of physiological chemistry.

Specifically, the same portion of red blood cells that takes up the thyroid hormone T3 also takes up the amino acid L-tryptophan, which is critical in depression.

Low levels of L-tryptophan are associated with depression, and low levels of T3 are associated with hypothyroidism, so it is the common starting point on the cellular level that explains why the two conditions often exist together. Because of this, evidence has shown that adding thyroid hormones to a treatment regimen for depression often helps to alleviate the condition, even if a clinical diagnosis of hypothyroidism has not been made.

Another indication of the link between hypothyroidism and depression is the fact that rates of depression are significantly higher among people who are diagnosed with hypothyroidism than they are in the population in general.

There are three types of depression, all of which are more common among people with hypothyroidism:

  • Major depression, the most severe form of the illness, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that seriously interfere with daily life. These symptoms include extreme sadness, loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed, changes in appetite and sleep, and feelings of hopelessness and despair.
  • Dysthymia is a more chronic, low-grade form of depression in which the same general symptoms exist but do not necessarily stop a person from functioning.
  • The third form of depression, bipolar disorder, is characterized by cycling mood swings that include both highs and lows.

Common Symptoms of Hypothyroidism and Depression

Other symptoms of both hypothyroidism and depression are fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and weight gain. Also common among sufferers of both conditions are decreased interest in sex and general aches and pains throughout the body.

If a person is diagnosed with both hypothyroidism and depression, treating the symptoms of hypothyroidism with thyroid hormones will almost always alleviate many of the depressive symptoms as well. In addition to thyroid medication (or natural remedies), following a healthy, nutrient-rich diet that includes iodine-rich foods and high quality protein may also help to improve mood.

Exercise is also crucial to combat the fatigue and weight gain that is often associated with depression, and it can also help to enhance the mood and lift the spirit. If you are experiencing exacerbated depression finding support in the form of counseling can be very helpful. Look for a therapist that resonates with you and allow yourself to get some help and guidance to navigate out of the turbulent waters of depression. Know that the way you feel right now can change… As they say, this shall too pass J

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