If you are experiencing unexplained weight gain (especially if you are exercising regularly), feeling cold, having a low libido or ejaculation issues, and your facial hair growth has slowed considerably, your first thought may be low testosterone. Low T can be one explanation for these symptoms, but if your testosterone levels are good, you may want to have your thyroid hormone levels checked. Low thyroid hormone production among males is not as common as it is in women, however, hypothyroidism in men may be underdiagnosed and could be the reason for your health challenges. thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3)
What causes hypothyroidism?
While an overactive thyroid can cause hair loss, heart palpitations, and weight loss, a deficiency of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 (triiodothyronine and thyroxine, respectively) can be behind some very uncomfortable and life-altering symptoms. Reasons for the development of hypothyroidism are as follows, beginning with the most common ones.
- Autoimmune disease. The immune system in some people mistakes the thyroid gland cells as intruders and attacks them. This can result in autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or atrophic thyroiditis.
- Thyroid surgery. If the entire thyroid is removed, then hypothyroidism occurs. People who have had part of their thyroid removed do not always become hypothyroid.
- Individuals who have had radiation for their thyroid or in the head or neck region may lose part or all of their thyroid function.
- Inflammation of the thyroid can occur because of a viral infection or autoimmune attack.
- Some medicines can alter how the thyroid gland makes hormones. These drugs include amiodarone, lithium, interferon alpha, and interleukin-2. Hypothyroidism is most likely to occur in individuals who have a genetic tendency to autoimmune thyroid conditions.
- Too much or too little iodine can alter thyroid hormone production, since the gland needs iodine to make the hormones. Excess iodine can cause or worsen hypothyroidism.
- Pituitary gland damage. The pituitary gland tells the thyroid how much hormone to produce. Therefore, damage to the pituitary (from radiation, surgery, tumor) may cause the thyroid to stop making enough hormone.
People who have an autoimmune disorder such as type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, Addison’s disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or pernicious anemia also are more prone to develop hypothyroidism.
Identifying hypothyroidism in men
If you are experiencing any of the common signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism listed below, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
Cold sensitivity. You may remember when President Jimmy Carter urged Americans to put on a sweater and turn down the thermostat in the winter to conserve energy. If your thyroid is not producing enough hormones, then you are probably cold sensitive. Heat is a byproduct of metabolism, and if your metabolism has slowed, then you’re not producing much heat. In addition, your body temperature likely is lower than 98.6 degrees.
Weight gain. This is usually the first and classic sign of hypothyroidism. When your metabolism slows down, then you can gain weight more easily. The more severe the level of hypothyroidism, the more pounds you can pack on.
Dry skin. Reduced blood flow and a reduction in the turnover of skin cells are behind the extra dry and itchy skin associated with hypothyroidism. When thyroid hormones are compromised, it causes problems with skin cell replacement and growth. Using moisturizer can help but not eliminate the problem.
Low sex drive. Although low testosterone is usually blamed for low libido, that’s not usually the case in men with hypothyroidism. The lack of sex drive, erectile dysfunction, premature or delayed ejaculation, or other sex-related challenges are usually related to low energy, compromised brain function, and feeling lousy overall, all of which translate into a reduced or lack of interest in sex.
Depressed mood. Research has shown that people who are hypothyroid are more likely to have depressive symptoms as well as anxiety. A slowed metabolism also can result in loss of ambition, forgetfulness, and other cognitive issues.
Constipation. Hypothyroidism is associated with slowed gut contractions that help move stool through your intestinal tract. The reduced gut motility causes your body to reabsorb water from stool, which results in constipation.
Muscle cramps. Men with low thyroid hormone levels are prone to experiencing muscle cramps, muscle pain, and muscle weakness. Elevated levels of the enzyme creatine kinase typically occur in the presence of strenuous exercise, muscle injury, or drinking too much alcohol.
Difficulty growing facial hair. Men with hypothyroidism are prone to trouble growing a beard or other facial hair as well as hair loss, coarse hair, and brittle nails. These signs are caused by a slow turnover of cells, and limited access to nutrients because of reduced blood flow.
In addition to these signs and symptoms, men who have a parent with a thyroid condition—especially their mother—are more likely to develop an autoimmune condition, such as Hashimoto’s disease.
Ittermann T et al. Diagnosed thyroid disorders area associated with depression and anxiety. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2015 Sep; 50(9): 1417-25