Is hypothyroidism the problem or the symptom?
If you’re always tired or complain of chronic fatigue, your doctor may suggest lifelong thyroid medication. Thyroid levels are easy to test, and “the solution” is easy to prescribe. Doctors don’t have time to puzzle out clues as to the source of the low thyroid number. They want to help you quickly, and give you some relief.
Thyroid medication will do that for a while…
However, clients on thyroid meds frequently note a return of fatigue and a gradual need for increases in dose. Why is this happening? Is it a clue that the thyroid gland itself may not really be the problem?
Low Thyroid 101
If you’ve been told you have low thyroid, you should ask if it is Primary Hypothyroidism. This means the thyroid is actually incapable of producing T4 hormone. There are varying reasons for this, including destruction of the gland from advanced auto-immune Hashimoto’s, or the thyroid has been removed or irradiated.
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, (TSH) is released from the pituitary upon instructions from the hypothalamus’ Thyroid Releasing Hormone (TRH). If you have Primary Hypothyroidism, your TSH levels would be quite elevated, above 15 or more, as the pituitary keeps signaling in vain for more hormone. I’ve seen TSH as high as 325 in a client unaware they had a thyroid problem. I sent them immediately to their doctor’s office and called to make sure they were actually there.
The optimal range for TSH may be as narrow as 1 – 2 although lab ranges are usually .5 to 4.5.
What if your (unmedicated) TSH is less than 10?
I see many people in my clinic already on thyroid meds,who don’t have Hashimoto’s, or who have only low levels of Hashimoto’s antibodies and whose TSH is less than 10. These people do not have Primary Hypothyroidism, in my opinion.
What you have is symptoms, an imperfect blood test, and no explanation for it.
Before I suggest some of the causes of an imperfect blood test, let’s review what blood tests should be run….
- TSH, Total T4 and FTI (Free Thyroxine Index) are the minimum tests most doctors will run
- For better information, you also need FREE T4 and FREE T3. These tests measure the amount of T4 and T3 actually available, unbound to other proteins or toxins. Total T4 does not tell this, nor does TSH.
- Thyroid Antibodies. I am always amazed when antibodies are not being monitored or have never been tested. If you have an auto-immune disorder, you should know it. Since doctors have no “cure” for Hashimoto’s (or any other AI illness), they don’t really care to track it. But you do! Are your antibodies slightly elevated, extremely elevated? Trending up or down? Is a gluten free or Autoimmune Paleo diet helping?
- Reverse T3 (RT3) can be useful if you know how to interpret it…. Here’s a great article on RT3 from Stop The Thyroid Madness (listen to our podcast here for even more!).
Other Causes of Hypothyroidism
Assuming you still have a thyroid and haven’t had chronic, severe Hashimoto’s destroying the thyroid, where else should you look?
The most common reason the thyroid is not reaching lab ranges is that the adrenals are fatigued. If the adrenals are fatigued, your body will prevent the thyroid from burning you out further.
Think of the thyroid as the accelerator pedal in your car: you step on the gas to get going. The adrenals are the engine of the car. If your engine is burnt out, you’re not leaving the driveway no matter how much you press on the gas. The body will shunt off T4 to RT3 and not let you use it.
The opposite is also true. High cortisol can also cause the thyroid to slow down to protect your engine from burn-out. Please read my articles on adrenals and listen to my adrenal podcasts (here’s one) for more on adrenal care and recovery. Here’s our top-selling adrenal support supplement too.
Poor Conversion of T4 to T3
The thyroid makes and stores T4 – a hormone with 4 units of iodine. When active hormone is needed, we cleave off an iodine and create T3. (We can also create some T3 directly). Vitamin A, Selenium, Zinc, Iodine and Iron are all needed here. As well as Progesterone.
Selenium is found in fish, meats, mushrooms and is abundant in Brazil Nuts. But selenium is used extensively in the body as part of the detoxification of mercury and other toxins. If you have (or had) old silver fillings, your selenium may be going to detox mercury first, and convert T4 to T3 later. Supplement with a maximum of 200 mg. daily or eat a daily handful of Brazil Nuts.
Stressful events take their toll on the Pituitary and Hypothalamus as well as our Limbic System. When the Pituitary and Hypothalamus are fatigued, they can’t play their role in managing the thyroid. Supplements known as Adaptogens prevent the Pituitary from getting exhausted and may help it “screen” out toxic levels of stress. Adaptogens are meant to be be taken long-term, as they are neither stimulants nor sedatives.
Gotu Kola and certain Ginsengs are well-known adaptogens, but the product that works best for me and my clients is this one. Adaptogen – R3 has unusual ingredients that help balance the effects of stress on the endocrine system.
There are many benefits from reducing stress…. the adrenals are not overworked; better sleep restores us; nutrients are not used up in crisis management; and the crippling effects of anxiety and depression are reduced. (Here are the herbs I recommend for anxiety and sleep).
Estrogen dominance causes the liver to produce high levels of “thyroid binding globulin”, which binds thyroid hormone, decreasing the amount of thyroid hormone that can be utilized by the cells. I frequently see improper ratios of estrogen to progesterone in men as well as women. Toxins such as BPA and pesticides cause us to retain estrogen, lowering the ratio of progesterone to estrogen. Bringing these two into balance may require the use of Bio-Identical Progesterone as well as committing to a lower-toxin lifestyle.
Medications blocking the thyroid
In brief, stains, beta-blockers and steroids can cause hormone dysregulation.
Too much as well as too little iodine can cause thyroid problems, but there is controversy on this topic in the natural health community. We get iodine naturally in seafood and seaweeds. If you’re not eating ocean fish (lake and river fish don’t count) or having a bit of Nori now and then, you may be iodine deficient. This product is an excellent balanced source of iodine, iodide and other thyroid minerals.
As in the analogy of the engine and the accelerator pedal of the car, those of us with chronic illness may struggle with hypothyroidism as one of the body’s healing mechanisms. If we’re not well, we’re supposed to be resting and recovering.
There are statistically significant links between Hashimoto’s Disease and Celiac Disease. In addition, non-celiac gluten sensitivity may play a role in hypothyroidism. Another reason to stick with gluten free foods or the Paleo Diet! I’ve had many clients see improvement in antibodies on a gluten-free diet. My DVD will help explain this.
Overwork and undersleep
I find this product from Systemic Formulas to be extremely helpful when the body and thyroid are fatigued. I sell Gf – Thyroid in my online store along with Ga – Adrenal. I’ve used these products for decades. Get some sleep, rest, play and sun!