Thyroid problems affect around 27 million people in the United States. It is possible that you can have problems with your thyroid even if your doctor has tested you and the results came out “normal”. Your thyroid is your body’s engine and it decides how fast or slow your internal systems work.
When it is doing its job you feel great. When your thyroid decides it’s time to hit the brakes you feel the weight creeping on, no matter how hard you try to keep it off. You are tired ALL OF THE TIME no matter how much sleep you get. You can’t remember things or think clearly anymore and you think it’s just a part of getting older or busier with life. You’re not able to go to the bathroom regularly possibly and no matter the weather you are always freaking cold.
Possible signs your thyroid is off (hypo):
- morning headaches that wear off as the day progresses
- sensitive to cold weather
- poor circulation in your hands and feet
- muscle cramps
- easily catch colds or viruses and recovering takes longer
- your cuts heal slowly
- you don’t have enough stomach acid affecting digestion
- your skin itches and is dry
- you retain water (edema)
- the outer 1/3 of your eyebrows are either gone or are thinning
You may have one or several of these symptoms all pointing to hypothyroidism and your TSH tested by your doctor can show normal. The thing with the lab ranges in conventional medicine are that they are based on the labs taken in prior years from sick and healthy patients. So all those people who went in for a thyroid test and had “normal” labs but left their doctors office still feeling like crap and for all those who had slightly elevated TSH levels but not high enough for the doctor to decide to put them on medication, your levels are compared to theirs.
So here’s the thing, testing just TSH is not enough. I will explain more in a bit but first let’s look at the way things are supposed to work.
- Your thyroid produces T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothryronine)- only about 7% of what is produced is T3.
- Thyroid hormones travel through the blood stream bound to proteins that take them to your cells.
- Once they are dropped off at your cells where they do their work they are called “free”
- T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone used by the body
- T4 is supposed to be converted in to T3. This mostly happens in the liver but the conversion takes place in other cells like nerve cells and muscle tissue like your heart.
- Your body uses about 60% of the T4 produced. Some of the T4 is changed in to rT3 (reverse T3) making it unusable. Another 20% or so becomes active in the gut by your healthy bacteria. Your thyroid function depends on the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Here is why TSH is not enough to know if your thyroid is working properly. TSH stands for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. It is a hormone released by your pituitary gland (your brain). This should not be the only test looked at to measure a functioning thyroid.
Let’s look at the possible tests that can measure thyroid function.
- TSH as talked about above.
- Total thyroxine (TT4) measures the level bound with proteins and the levels not bound with proteins. This one doesn’t tell you much unless you measure the amount of T3 taken up by the cells or T3 uptake.
- Free Thyroxine Index (FTI) tells you how much thyroid hormone is free or not bound with a protein.
- Free Thyroxine (FT4) measures the amount of active T4 in the blood. This will be low if you are hypothyroid.
- Resin T3 Uptake (T3RU) measures how many proteins are in the blood for binding to the thyroid hormone
- Free Triiodothyroxine (FT3) measures what is not bound to proteins and available for use by the cells.
- Reverse T3 (rT3) measures the amount of inactive T3. More T3 becomes inactive when we are facing stressful situations both emotionally and physically.
- Thyroid Binding Globulin (TGB) measure the amount of proteins in our blood bringing thyroid hormones to the cells.
- Thyroid Antibodies (TPO Ab and TGB Ab) will measure whether or not your immune system has produced antibodies against your thyroid indicating Hashimoto’s or Grave’s Disease.
If you have Hashimoto’s, in addition to the symptoms listed above you may also have the following:
- heart palpitations
- inward trembling
- increased pulse rate even when sedentary
- feeling nervous or emotionally stressed
- night sweats
- trouble gaining weight
Your inability to stay warm, chronic constipation, irregular periods or weight you can’t get rid of- these are signs from your body that something isn’t right. The systems within your body are speaking to you, maybe even yelling at you. When your thyroid slows down, so does everything else. It is not all in your head.
In Hashimoto’s the body attacks and destroys its own thyroid gland. Your immune system is running the show, not your thyroid. It is called Autoimmune Disease. Dr.’s generally don’t test you for it because it doesn’t change how they will care for you. They are going to give you your prescription and monitor the slow decline of your thyroid and adjust your medication accordingly. That is the standard practice. It is what they are taught.
What they are not usually taught is that you can manage your symptoms very well nutritionally because when you have Hashimoto’s you can do things to calm your immunes system the heck down.
Around one in five people suffer from an autoimmune disease and it is estimated that around 30 million of those are women. The most common autoimmune diseases are thyroid related. That is around 7% or the U.S. population.
If you suspect you may have Hashimoto’s you can ask your doctor to test your antibodies. If he or she won’t do it, find a doctor who will. It may take some leg work depending on where you live but you can find one.
The test can show up as negative if your not having a flare up because your immune system can swing. If this happens, ask to have it tested again in a month or two.
Your thyroid can go from over active to under active from week to week or month to month. It can be because of a trigger such as a stressful event or even for no reason at all. Every time thyroid tissue is damaged the hormones stored there are released in to the blood stream causing a flood of hormone which will speed things up making you feel hyperthyroid.
Having this happen along with being gluten intolerant (you probably are), having celiac disease or being diagnosed with pernicious anemia is a sure fire sign you have autoimmunity.
If you have Hashimoto’s then there is a good chance some of your thyroid has been destroyed so you will probably have to take your medication for the rest of your life. I lived with hyperthyroidism for ten years before being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s so I am one of those people.
Everyone is different so how your body decides to react will not be the same as someone else.
Most cases of hypothyroidism are also Hashimoto’s cases. The reason for this is not clear but it is clear what you can do to help prevent further flare ups.
Like I said earlier, there is a good chance you are gluten intolerant. Every time you consume gluten you are causing an immune response in the body. The gluten molecules are very close in molecular structure to those of the thyroid gland. So close that your immune system has trouble knowing which one is which.
How in the world does this happen?
If you have an Autoimmune disease you have increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut. Around 80% of Americans are genetically susceptible to gluten intolerance where gluten will damage the intestinal tract causing little openings where the undigested gluten can reach the blood stream. Some of us have the ability to repair that damage better than others. If you are one of those who can’t repair the damage as well then you end up with an autoimmune disease.
When your immune system defines gluten as the enemy, your time with bread is over. Every time you consume anything with gluten in it, your immune system is on high alert. You will be inflamed and your thyroid tissue is attacked. This inflammation can show up in a variety of ways like achy joints, rashes, respiratory issues etc. Again, it is all depending on how your body wants to react. Everyone is different.
Gluten isn’t the only big player in Hashimoto’s but it is a pretty big one. Some other things you will need to look at are:
- blood sugar imbalances
- your stress level- lifestyle is huge for managing this and any autoimmune disease
- vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- how toxic your environment is- your liver plays a role in converting thyroid hormones which it can’t do if it is over burdened with toxins and sugar
- whether or not you are on birth control pills or your hormone production in general
- besides gluten, what does your diet look like
- are you making enough stomach acid
- do you take or do you need probiotics
If any one of the above is out of balance you have work to do. Getting these things in balance is key to managing autoimmune disease.
Managing your blood sugar is important for more than just thyroid function. Most of us have too much sugar in our diets which affect our thyroid and other hormones including those that manage stress such as cortisol.
Cortisol is a key player in your stress management too. Do you take time for yourself? Do you exercise to manage stress? Do you do yoga or meditate?
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies play a role in how well your body can do the things it needs to do for good health. If you are not digesting your food because of low stomach acid or eating the Standard American Diet you are deficient in not only vitamins and minerals but in nourishment in general.
We live in a toxic world. Your liver must be the one to clean up all the crap we take in through what we breathe, eat and put on our body.
Birth control pills create too much estrogen in the body which makes your pituitary (brain) tired and creates too many proteins for your thyroid hormones to bind to. This means you won’t have enough thyroid hormone floating through the blood to do its job.
Remember that some 20% of thyroid hormone becomes active in the gut in the presence of healthy bacteria there. If your gut flora is out of balance which is the case for many people, then you will have less active hormone to work with. You will also have the possibility of digestive issues of all kinds.
You may be one of the 27 million Americans with thyroid problems but you don’t have to be one who is suffering through it. Or maybe you know someone who has hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s and they don’t know what to do.
Share this article with someone you care about. There is help out there and there is someone who genuinely cares that can help them.