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Thyroid and the Brain

Another study has confirmed the relationship between thyroid function and mood. In this study, reported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 2/3 of 65 patients diagnosed with depression from Bipolar Disorder have “sub-optimal” thyroid levels. These patients with low-normal thyroid levels took an average of 4 months longer to respond to their depression medications. You can read about this study and a lot more interesting information on Dr. Daniel Amen’s website. Dr. Amen is a physician who is in the forefront of innovative brain research and therapy.

Two things interest me about this study.

One is that medicine is weirdly compartmentalized these days. There are Thyroid Specialists who will not look at the adrenal, the ovaries or the other endocrine glands, much less the digestion, immune system or other intimately-connected body systems. As I’ve said in a previous post, the body is actually a Metabolic Matrix, all the parts connected and working in harmony. So OF COURSE the thyroid and the brain are connected. Anyone who has taken Paxil and their metabolism goes through the floor (and weight through the roof!) knows that. Thyroid hormone is made from an amino acid (protein) called L-tyrosine, and this is the same protein that makes the neurotransmitters Dopamine and Norrepinephrine. When one is compromised, the others are as well.

The second interesting thing is that this study acknowledges the subtle ways that thyroid function can be compromised. This is not about Hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or other thyroid diseases. These people were within the normal laboratory limits for thyroid function. They were just a little off, yet it had a profound effect on their mental health and recovery. The relationship of suboptimal thyroid function to mood disorders is all over the standard medical literature (see below). Yet, in most situations a psychiatrist wouldn’t pay attention to the thyroid, or refer to an endocrinologist who would call this “normal”, since it didn’t qualify as a disease.

I have found low-dose thyroid support to be very helpful in depressed patients, both for energy, mood, and metabolism. More on that in a future post.

A new study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health reports that as many as two out of every three patients with bipolar depression may have suboptimal thyroid hormone levels. These slight imbalances, though still within the “normal range,” appear to make these patients much more resistant to standard drug treatments with anti-depressants.

Researchers measured thyroid hormone levels in 65 patients diagnosed in the depressive phase of bipolar disorder. For the next 50 months, they tracked their recovery after treatment with mood-stabilizing drug therapies, including lithium carbonate and various antidepressant medications.

While it’s already well known that both overt and subclinical thyroid dysfunction are strongly linked with depression, the effect of more subtle thyroid imbalances has not yet been thoroughly studied. The study found that patients with low normal levels of free thyroxine (T4) index or high normal levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels were much less responsive to various drug treatments for depression. On average, these patients took nearly one year to respond to drug therapy – at least four months longer than patients who had an optimal thyroid profile.

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One Response to “Thyroid and the Brain”

  1. on 15 Nov 2007 at 1:28 pm Neil

    This is fascinating, especially as I have the low TSH levels and I’m bipolar. Also, my (non-biological)mother has Hashimoto’s disease and has been on Synthroid for about 20 years. Now I’m eager for your next post to learn about low-dose thyroid support, and your personal experience with Parkinson’s Disease. Your book is great, I have a copy.

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