Thyroid Problems- Thoroughness Is Key to Restoring Healthy Function
It used to be a longstanding joke between my husband and I that my backside, nose, fingers, and feet were extremely cold. I would ask for the warmest wool socks as gifts in vain efforts to be warmed.
Now, many Canadian winters later, with thyroid support and a better understanding of my immune system, those days of frozen body parts are long gone. I am warm, and I wear regular socks! Living in Winnipeg, Manitoba with arctic temperatures in the winter, I am very grateful!
Now let’s be clear. I had my thyroid function assessed many times, but was never told that it was a problem because my blood hormone tests were within the reference range (aka normal). However, in the reference range doesn’t always mean “healthy and optimal”. My hormone levels were at low ends of the range, and nothing further was investigated. It took a Naturopathic and functional approach to evaluating thyroid labs to determine the root of my health problems and coldness.
Many people have poorly or sluggishly functioning thyroid glands and aren’t aware. The American Thyroid Association states that while approximately 20 million Citizens have some form of thyroid disease, up to 60% are not aware. They may feel that something is off, including feeling tired, low motivation, pain, or inability to lose weight. The culprit could very well be a thyroid issue. For more information here’s a good list of symptoms
The thyroid gland is in charge of metabolism- which means “all of the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life” (Source: news-medical.net) – that’s pretty important! It boils down to calorie burning, muscle building, rate of digestion and elimination of waste, body temperature, and it is an important part of the body’s hormonal system. The thyroid can create a well balanced body or a very sluggish, ineffective one.
The thyroid produces two hormones called Thyroxine and Tri-iodothyronine, also referred to as T3 and T4 respectively.
When the body does a poor job of making and using these hormones, a message is sent to the brain (the pituitary gland), which produces a hormone called Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH) in larger amounts. This stimulates more hormonal production. If all is well, low amounts of TSH are made and the thyroid continues to do its job with light stimulation. This is called a negative feedback loop.
A level of TSH that is too high means the body and thyroid need help to make more hormones, while a TSH that is way too low means that the thyroid is overworking. This can occur for a number of reasons, which is a whole other article, but includes autoimmunity, viral infections, poor absorption of nutrients, poor diet, stress, etc.
A vital element in correcting thyroid function is thorough testing. In my professional experience, thyroid testing is not done thoroughly- usually only TSH or TSH and T4 hormone are tested. The measurement of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is a useful screening tool for some thyroid problems, but not all. Sometimes the TSH is “normal”, but it is not optimal. The ranges for optimal and normal TSH are different! It is essential to also evaluate the production thyroid hormone (T4) and the body’s ability to convert free T4 to the more active hormone, free T3 (ie both hormones), and antibodies against the thyroid. Without this information, many problems with the thyroid are missed.
In my personal case, my immune system was already dealing with the auto-immune disease Lupus but was also attacking my thyroid, resulting in the production of anti-thyroid antibodies, which were binding to my thyroid gland making it less effective. This phenomenon, called Auto-immune Thyroiditis (or Hashimoto’s Disease), is common in the general population. The immune system frequently undergoes changes and begins to attack the thyroid. Most individuals don’t know if their bodies are attacking their thyroid gland unless the specific tests are performed. The development of auto-immune thyroid disease can lead to an overfunction or an underfunction of the thyroid gland. It is commonly triggered by viral illnesses, bacterial infections, and nutrient deficiencies.
Stress can negatively impact the thyroid by getting in the way of the conversion of T4 to T3 hormones. Under any kind of acute or prolonged stress, the body may begin to make a hormone that does nothing but is mistaken for T3, because it looks almost identical, and it fits into receptors that use T3. Ultimately, this creates a blocking effect, as T3 can’t bind to receptors or do its job. The hormone is called Reverse T3. When Reverse T3 is elevated, it signifies a non thyroid based problem at the root, but thyroid hormone cannot do its job properly. It is helpful to have reverse T3 tested when stress, inflammation, infections or organ malfunction is present. It is possible to help lower reverse T3 production naturally, but addressing the root cause is the most important strategy.
A healthy thyroid is a key to good health. When optimal health is the goal, evaluating the thyroid function thoroughly can shed light on the true diagnosis of thyroid dysfunction or a problem impacting the thyroid. Each patient is individual and deserves an efficient personalized treatment plan which may include nutritional changes, vitamins, minerals, stress management techniques, immune support and education. Find out if your symptoms are due to thyroid dysfunction!