WHEN FINE IS NOT FINE
It’s a conversation I’ve had countless times. “I just can’t figure out what’s going on with my health. My doctor can’t find anything wrong, so he says it’s all in my head.” Among my many questions, I inquire, “Have you had your thyroid checked?” The reply is typically, “Oh yes, he did blood work and my thyroid is fine.” The person across from me struggles to get out of bed in the morning, can’t lose weight, has thinning hair, has developed mild depression and her cholesterol is going up, but she swears her thyroid is fine because her doctor said so. I gently break the news that based on her symptoms, her thyroid is most definitely not fine.
The sad truth is that most doctors are missing the signs and symptoms of subclinical hypothyroidism. Some look strictly at their patient’s lab results because they no longer have the time to really listen and ask questions. As a result, many of the tell-tale signs of hypothyroidism go unnoticed, overlooked, or treated with medications, such as antidepressants, laxatives, or statin drugs.
Another reason why many cases of hypothyroidism are going undiagnosed is because most doctors do not order a full thyroid panel for their patients, and they are often using outdated reference ranges. So if the lab says your thyroid is fine based on inaccurate ranges, your doctor may send you on your way, untreated. Some patients continue to search for answers, but far too many give up because their doctor told them it was “all in your head.”
WHAT HYPOTHYROIDISM LOOKS LIKE
Because thyroid hormones affect every cell in the human body, an imbalance can literally affect every aspect of your life. The most common symptoms are low energy and difficulty losing weight. This is because the thyroid’s primary role is to control the energy of your cells. If your cells are operating more slowly, you will feel sluggish and your metabolism will slow down. With everything in your body slowing down, you may see your cholesterol start to go up. You may also experience bouts of mild depression and brain fog as blood flow and glucose transportation to the brain becomes impaired. Cold hands and feet are also a common occurrence for those with hypothyroidism, which makes sense if you think about the fact that the blood has farther to go to reach our extremities, and without proper thyroid function, it lacks the energy to get there.
With your energy level lacking, your food will move through your digestive tract more slowly, leading to constipation. Hair on the front of the hairline and eyebrows may start to fall out, and the skin can become quite dry as well. Hypothyroidism can also lead to symptoms that look like ADD in children and infertility for many women. It is important to have the thyroid thoroughly evaluated by a professional who takes the time to look at your symptoms and not just your labs.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
It is estimated that 2 million people are currently being treated for hypothyroidism and another 2 million are undiagnosed. Based on my experience, I would estimate that number is actually much higher. The dramatic increase in hypothyroidism over the past few decades has been caused by a variety of factors. The primary reason is the presence of toxins and heavy metals in our environment. You see, our thyroid is not just an energy producing machine. It is also a filter designed to grab the iodine in your blood stream. As our blood passes through the thyroid, the toxins in your blood stream can damage its tissue over time. Some of the most precarious are the halide compounds, which include chlorine (found in tap water and swimming pools), fluoride (found in our tap water, toothpaste and dental products), and bromine (added to flour based foods, such as bread). These halides compete with iodine receptor sites and contribute to iodine deficiency. Without iodine, your body can’t make thyroid hormones.
Hormones do not function or dysfunction alone. When one is out of balance, there are likely others contributing to the imbalance. High stress hormones, blood sugar, and estrogen can all contribute to reduced thyroid function. This means that for many people, thyroid medication is not the best approach. By making diet and lifestyle changes and balancing other hormones, often times the thyroid balances itself. It is important to work with someone who understands the entire system of hormones and is not too quick to just prescribe a thyroid medication without further investigation.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you recognize several of these symptoms in yourself, it is important that you get a complete lab report. Without proper testing, it is difficult to know exactly what is going on with your thyroid. Ask your doctor for the following tests: Free T4, Free T3, TSH, and Thyroid Antibodies. With that report, you can better pinpoint the health of your thyroid gland.
There are also several things you can do to support thyroid health. Cleansing the body and removing toxins from the diet as much as possible by switching to an organic diet is an important first step. Taking a good, quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement that includes iodine often gives the thyroid the nutrients it needs to start functioning better right away. Lifestyle factors, such as reducing stress and eating balanced meals and snacks to maintain blood sugar balance are also important goals for anyone who wants optimal thyroid function.
The important thing to remember is that it is NOT all in your head. The symptoms of hypothyroidism are real, and they can dramatically affect your health and your quality of life if not addressed by a knowledgeable health care provider. Start right away in making healthy choices to protect your thyroid for a long, healthy life.