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Troubling Symptoms? Could it Be Your Thyroid?

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Some of the most common complaints clients have when they first come to me include the following: fatigue, weight gain or inability to lose weight, hair loss, digestive issues, hormonal issues, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, insomnia, depression, anxiety, worsening allergies and heart palpitations. Amazingly an improperly or poorly performing thyroid is a plausible suspect for every one of these symptoms!?

What is the thyroid? It is a small butterfly shaped gland located at the front of the neck just below your Adam’s apple. It’s an important gland of the immune system. It actually influences many systems of the body, including regulating metabolism: that is, calories burned during normal daily activities.

Testing? Almost 30 million Americans and over 20% of menopausal women have thyroid disease. And that is just the numbers we know about. The ones diagnosed. Of course many people go undiagnosed and undertreated for years. Let me explain why.

The most common screening test for the thyroid is TSH, which is typically included in annual blood tests. Ironically, this isn’t even a thyroid hormone, but a pituitary hormone. TSH stands for Thyroid-Stimulating-Hormone. The pituitary gland, a master gland whose job it is to help regulate the other glands, makes TSH in response to low thyroid hormones. TSH is supposed to stimulate the thyroid gland to make more hormones.

There are many reasons why your pituitary may not put out TSH when your thyroid hormones are low. Therefore, it is important to test the two thyroid hormones directly (and they are rarely tested). They are thyroxine (Free T4) and triiodothyronine (Free T3). By testing the actual hormones, we get a complete picture of what is happening with your thyroid.

What is most important about this information? First of all, most people are not fully tested. Most people think there thyroid has been tested and everything is fine because the TSH is “in the normal range”. As mentioned above, testing just TSH is incomplete. Even when the T3 and T4 are also tested and all are in the normal range, it is still very common to have a poorly functioning thyroid gland.

Why does this happen? These ranges are actually quite broad. In fact, if you looked at normal ranges for various labs and hospitals, you would be surprised to see how much they vary! There are terms like “sluggish thyroid” or “sub-clinical thyroid disorder”, which refer to a situation when all three of these numbers are in the so-called normal ranges, but occur on the edges of the range. And typically, the symptoms listed at the top of this article may show up even when the thyroid is said to be “normal”.

This is important because often in medicine, someone can suffer for years in this “sluggish” territory without treatment, or worse being prescribed various medications to treat the symptoms that an optimally functioning thyroid would cure.

Although there are many physicians that are doing full thyroid testing and addressing or treating sub-clinical levels, many are not.

What else you need to know? I want to avoid too much complexity here, but I think it’s important to understand some additional context. The most common thyroid disease is hypothyroidism, which means too little thyroid hormone. There is also a condition called hyperthyroidism, which means too much thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism, or Grave’s disease, is caused by an auto-immune process. And, the most common cause of hypothyroidism is also auto-immunity, or Hashimoto’s. Auto-immune disease means someone’s own immune system is creating antibodies against it’s own tissues, in this case, the thyroid gland. Over time, this destroys the gland.

Symptoms: Some common low thyroid symptoms include fatigue, weight gain or inability to lose weight, hair loss or thinning, depression, fatigue, constipation and other digestive issues, feeling cold, sugar cravings and other blood sugar issues and rising cholesterol levels.

Symptoms of an over-functioning thyroid gland are insomnia, heart palpitations, unexplained weight loss, increased appetite, anxiety, inner tension or trembling and becoming overheated.

Adding another layer of complexity and making it more challenging to diagnose, it turns out that the symptoms of Hashimoto’s are often a mix of both high and low thyroid symptoms. In next month’s newsletter, I will address Hashimoto’s more thoroughly.

What to do: First of all, determine if you have some of these nagging symptoms and conditions. Often keeping a simple health-log can help give you a more complete picture.

To learn if you have auto-immune antibodies, there are 2 more tests that I highly recommend, but are rarely ordered. Please ask for anti-thyroglobulin antibodies and anti-peroxidase antibodies testing. It’s important because these antibodies can show up and create havoc with your thyroid hormones years before the hormone levels go outside the normal range. And, sometimes diet and lifestyle changes can prevent further damage to the gland.

Also, if you are already being treated with thyroid medication, under-treatment is very common. Often, someone is treated just to get into the very broad normal range, but still find they have symptoms. Those symptoms can often be managed by treating the thyroid fully, in addition to a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle.

With clients, I always advise bringing in copies of all new lab work so we can review the results together. Fact is, if your thyroid isn’t working properly and is guilty of causing uncomfortable and difficult symptoms you want to do everything possible to effectively manage this challenge.

Remember, “normal results” in all areas of lab blood work does not mean optimal, and that is especially true for thyroid tests. To learn more about interpreting lab results in general, see the next article or link here.