Thyroid is the most misunderstood gland. Over the last 30 years very little has changed in it’s diagnoses and management and yet more and more women are diagnosed with the dysfunction of this gland with very little resolution of symptoms. Why?
What does the thyroid do?
This is the major metabolic gland of the body located in the neck. It affects every cell and it regulates the metabolism of carbohydrate, proteins and fat. So one of the common symptoms of thyroid dysfunction is feeling cold as not much calories are being burnt to create the “heat”! So most physicians are familiar with “feeling cold, generalized fatigue, weight gain and dry skin and dry hair , hoarse voice and in advanced situation decreased hearing.” If only everyone was a text book picture then there would be no problems with diagnosis.
Here are some unusual symptoms often not chalked up to thyroid dysfunction:
- Acne: There can be a resurgence of this especially on the chin. Eczema can also be a manifestation.
- Brain Fog: This is where you know you are not able to focus and remember things as you used to. The reflexes are not very quick. Feeling apathetic and loss of energy which is constant. A feeling of depression, loss of libido.
- Muscle Cramps: This is the feeling like you have worked out without having worked out. They can manifest has neck pain back pain , muscle spasm that do not get relieved by massage.
- Migraine Headaches: This can be a manifestation of the body not having enough of the active thyroid hormone. The migraine’s can be low grade and frequent. Early morning headaches are common and can be chalked up to “sinus allergies”!
- Inability to lose weight or sweat: When you are unable to lose weight no matter what you may have tried. Lack of sweating even when you are very active.
Here is a quick summary of how thyroid gets affected by Dr. Hyman
So how would you know if any of these symptoms are from the thyroid? Traditional testing fails to detect issues. The commonest test done in traditional medicine is TSH and T4, the former is thyroid stimulating hormone coming from the pituitary and the latter is the inactive hormone (tyrosine with 4 iodine molecules) produced by the thyroid gland.
When you are having symptoms it is not only, because the gland is not producing enough it is more because the thyroid hormone is either not activated (T4 to T3 removal of one iodine from T4) or because there is a feedback from other hormones in the body ( like adrenals) that signal the thyroid to not be produced!
So you can see how even though you may have normal thyroid blood test you do not necessarily have normal thyroid function. This is very complex as in today’s’ modern age of stress , processed foods and therefore malnutrition we do not realize these affect multiple functions of the body, and the only way to normalize is to get detailed personalized testing and addressing an individual’s disruption of the hormone functions.
Testing should include: TSH, T3 and T4 both total and free. antibodies to the thyroid. Also levels of selenium, chromium, zinc, omega 3 and iron. Vitamin D and vitamin B and if you have skin issues vitamin A.
Treatment approach should always be to build the health from foundation up addressing lifestyle , diet , activity and nutrient deficiencies. This takes time and detailed approach. Just supplementing hormones in the form of pills does not work for everyone, whether it be levothyroxine, Armour or WP. It is not done by seeing a physician or a holistic practitioner once in 6 months or once a year. Remember any symptom is just a flag that something is not working right. It requires identifying why the thyroid is disrupted then rebuilding from ground up to get it to function again. There are no quick solutions and magic pills!
Feeling normal and being able to do whatever you want should be the expectation. Blood tests only help but are not the golden standard of diagnosis. You and how you feel are!