Depression and underactive thyroid

Posted by Melissa Callaghan on

 Depression and Underactive Thyroid


Usually when we think of depression we think of the brain.  We are now starting to understand about the connections between depression and gut health, however, there are other parts of the body that can be involved in the process of depression too.

The thyroid gland

Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormone, meaning that the production of hormones is underactive. This is a condition that a very large number of people have and I see a lot of patients with hypothyroidism as well as hashimotos which is the autoimmune underactive thyroid. It is more common in women than men, however, I am seeing quite a few more men now with the same problem.

In a lot of cases that I see, patients have been told that their thyroid levels are fine but they tell me that they just don’t feel quite right. The thyroid affects more than you think. It affects your energy, metabolism, weight gain or loss, body temperature, growth, immune function, and brain performance (concentration, memory, foggy brain and more). When the thyroid gland is not functioning effectively then all of these areas are affected.  Majority of the time depression is also involved.  Patients have either had depression in the past or are currently on antidepressants.

The connection between thyroid and depression has been assumed for many years and now there is new scientific research emerging that shows it may actually be the thyroid that needs to be improved and is the contributor to depression rather than depression being a solitary condition.  As a Naturopath I look at each patient holistically and work through all systems of the body. Gut health is a major area that I work in as well as liver and both of these areas are also involved in depression.  

Often is the case that underactive thyroid is not diagnosed yet you still feel things are not quite right. The blood tests come back within range or some people aren’t tested at all, as they don’t fit the profile for testing to be covered under the medicare system.  (One of the reasons I am happy not to be under medicare, as I can request any test I feel is necessary without those government restrictions).  

When all of these signs and symptoms are present and the initial testing is ‘normal’ It may be the case that it is what we call in functional medicine as subclinical hypothyroidism. This still needs to be treated with the correct treatment plan to help your body catch up to efficient production of thyroid hormones.  It could also be that there actually are enough hormones being produced but there is an issue with conversion of inactive hormones into active hormones (the ones you need) this is often connected to liver disorders such as fatty liver.

So what then is the connection between underactive thyroid and depression?

To begin with, when your thyroid gland is underactive you just don’t feel well and this can make you feel depressed. In addition to this when your thyroid gland is underactive some of the signs and symptoms mimic those of depression, such as, fatigue, irritability, weight gain, sleep problems. Once again when it is subclinical hypothyroidism your blood tests will appear normal, however, when it comes to functional medicine as a Naturopath we may not always see these results as optimal levels and this is the reason that you still don’t feel quite right.

There is also evidence coming through scientific research papers that thyroid hormones have a modulating impact in the brain serotonin system by increasing receptor sensitivity. Therefore when there is a problem with thyroid hormone function this can impact on depression through reduction in serotonin levels attaching to receptors.

The production of thyroid hormones requires nutrients and when these nutrients are deficient then production of hormones can be a bit difficult, it’s like trying to drive a car without petrol, you just aren’t going to get anywhere.  When the hormone levels become low then many of the internal organs and systems begin to slow down as there just isn’t enough fuel to keep them running. This is when the signs and symptoms begin to appear and some of the most common ones I hear are difficulty concentrating and mood impairment including depression as well as fatigue and weight gain.

The connection between thyroid disorders and the development of depression is becoming more and more understood as more evidence comes in through scientific research.  Both excess and insufficient thyorid hormones can cause changes in mood and mental clarity including depression. This is generally reversible with the right treatment plan and according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, “The diagnosis of subclinical or clinical hypothyroidism must be considered in every patient with depression”.

If you are feeling that you are not quite right then book a consult with me and I can help you get back on track.

Keep in mind this is also a problem with children as well as adults.  Alot of children are on the backfoot when they are born as mum already had underactive thyroid during pregnancy. America has now introduced screening as part of all newborn screening programs due to 1 in every 1500-3000 newborns have hypothyroidism.  As children get older underactive thyroid may go undetected as classic red flags are not connected to thyroid such as constipation, and fatigue.


Who am I?

I am a Bachelor qualified Naturopath who specialises in improving metabolic processes in the body. Major areas for improvement include gut, thyroid, kidney, skin and liver health. Conditions such as hypothyroidism, fatty liver, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, & irritable bowel conditions. I help my patients by giving them symptomatic relief while working on repairing the underlying causes of metabolic stress and waste accumulation. Patients experience amazing results which are seen in their blood tests with improved thyroid markers, cholesterol, and liver markers.  As well as lower blood pressure and see relief from improved gastrointestinal symptoms like the ones that mean you need to know where every single toilet is before you leave the house.

Melissa Callaghan BHSc, BTeach


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