Why a "normal" thyroid can still cause depression

May 06, 2014
Volume 11    |   Issue 18

If you're depressed, you may want your doctor to do more than treat your depression — you may want to have your thyroid gland treated as well. We've known for years that there's an association between depression and both an overactive and an underactive thyroid. Now, a study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) has found that even a normal thyroid can cause depression.

We know that an over- or underactive thyroid can affect metabolism. But even when thyroid function is within the range that most doctors consider "normal," it can still affect mental health. In order to determine the range of thyroid activity that influenced mental health, researchers measured levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH tells the body when the thyroid gland needs to release more hormones. When TSH levels are low, the thyroid is active and producing lots of hormones.

In the study, researchers looked at a group of 1,503 participants with an average age of 70. They evaluated both TSH levels and depression symptoms. The participants initially showed no depression symptoms and participated in follow-up evaluations for eight years in order to measure the development and progression of any symptoms as well as their TSH levels.

Participants with the lowest levels of TSH, indicating that they had high levels of thyroid activity, were more likely to show signs of depression, even when TSH levels were within the "normal" range. According to study author Marco Medici, MD, "These results provide insight into the powerful effects thyroid activity can have on emotions and mental health. This information could influence the process of diagnosing and treating depression, as well as treatments for individuals with thyroid conditions."

The integrative doctors I know evaluate thyroid function both by symptoms and blood tests. The tests alone don't give them accurate enough information. So if you're depressed, ask your doctor to evaluate your thyroid both through blood tests and an evaluation of your symptoms. If your thyroid is a little high or a little low and you're depressed, suggest your doctor treat it. If it's normal, continue focusing on treatment for your depression.

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Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, February 24, 2014.

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