Have you gone to your doctor complaining of feeling cold, not having any energy, feeling depressed, unmotivated or listless? And has your doctor checked your thyroid and told you it’s in the “normal” range? Or have you been told that losing your sex drive or energy is just a “normal part of aging”. I have news for you; your labs likely aren’t normal and those symptoms are not a “normal part of aging”. Even if your thyroid labs come back as “normal” you could still have a thyroid condition because your symptoms do not lie. Labs however, can. And if you’re checking the wrong labs then you are even more in the dark about the reality of your thyroid health.
Every single cell in your body has a receptor for thyroid hormone on it. No cell can actually function without it. The health of our thyroid is critical to our overall health and many women suffer from thyroid dysfunction.
Here are the symptoms to look out for when it comes to the health of your thyroid:
- You feel the cold intensely
- You may not sweat
- Cannot lose weight or you easily gain weight
- Cognition issues such as brain fog, memory issues or difficulty concentrating
- Feeling listless / unmotivated
- You sleep a lot
- Depression or other mood issues
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Infertility or miscarriages
- You have a goiter or neck swelling
- Slow pulse
- High cholesterol
- Increased perspiration
- Feelings of anxiety
- Mood swings
- Feeling wired
- Panic attacks
- Racing heart or palpitations
- Loose stools or diarrhea
- Weight loss without trying
- Muscle weakness
- Bulging eyes
- Goiter in your neck or neck swelling
- Irregular periods
- Hair loss
Why does our thyroid malfunction?
There are many reasons why your thyroid could be malfunctioning including:
- You may not have enough nutrients to either produce thyroid hormone or to convert your inactive T4 thyroid hormone to the active T3 thyroid hormone. Or you might not have enough nutrients to enable thyroid hormone to enter your cells. These nutrients include: iodine, protein (for tyrosine), selenium, zinc, iron, vitamin D, vitamin A, omega 3 fatty acids and B vitamins.
- You may have imbalances in other sex or stress hormones that can impact thyroid hormone. For example, you might be suffering from HPA axis dysfunction, which will do a number on your thyroid.
- Over-exercise or other forms of stress on the body including psychological stress or even parasites. Your body won’t prioritize thyroid hormone and optimal thyroid function when it’s under attack. Our stress response is supposed to be a short-lived fight or flight response, so it shuts down non-vital-for-survival mechanisms in the body. These things include our reproductive system and metabolism. Anything that’s not important for survival in the short-term is essentially turned off so we can focus all our body functions on running away from a predator. However, this is supposed to be a short-lived response and we are supposed to recover and switch back into “rest and digest” state fairly quickly, which would turn back on our reproductive and metabolism pathways. However, in our modern world we often don’t get back into “rest and digest” state very often thus our sex hormones and thyroid take a beating and consequently can malfunction. This is how we evolved. It’s a survival mechanism: body thinks it’s starving or under intense exhaustion so it slows down thyroid and hence, metabolism.
- You could have a pituitary disease.
- You may be eating too many inflammatory foods or have an infection that is causing inflammation in the body, which will disrupts your immune system and impact the health of your thyroid.
- Toxins play a very large role in thyroid health. If you have been overexposed to toxins or have issues with your detoxification pathways this can lead to thyroid issues.
Important blood tests
Your GP often will not test for all the different thyroid labs, and unfortunately this gives you an inaccurate picture of what’s going on. It can even mean that a thyroid condition can be missed. Very often GPs will only test TSH and T4, but that’s not nearly the whole picture. Here’s the labs you need to ask (demand!) your doctor for:
- TSH: TSH stands for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. It is a limiting lab because it only reflects what’s going on between the pituitary gland and the thyroid gland: telling us how much thyroid hormone is being pumped out. However, it doesn’t tell us anything about what’s going on at a cellular level: how much thyroid hormone is actually entering our cells.
- Free T4: This is your inactive thyroid hormone that gets converted into your active T3 thyroid hormone. You must test free not total because total is bound to proteins in the blood and they are not a true reflection of your metabolically active T4 thyroid hormone, which is the only one able to convert to free T3. Many doctors only test total T4, so be sure to clarify you want free
- Free T3: This is your active thyroid hormone. Again you must test your free T3 not total T3 to get an accurate reading of what’s metabolically available.
- Reverse T3: This is an inactive form of thyroid hormone. It attaches to the receptors where otherwise your active free T3 thyroid hormone would attach. Stress on the body will increase your Reverse T3, be that stress heavy metals, over-exercise, starvation diets, emotional stress, parasites, infections or food sensitivities. So you can have “normal” looking TSH, free T4 and free T3 but high Reverse T3, and if you don’t test for this Reverse T3, but yet you have lots of hypothyroid symptoms, this might be the missing piece of the puzzle.
- TPO antibodies: TPO antibodies tell us whether or not your immune system is attacking your thyroid gland leading to hashimotos thyroiditis. All your other labs can look “normal” but you can still have hashimotos thyroiditis. That’s why it’s important to test your TPO antibodies if you have hypothyroid symptoms. Even before you present with symptoms you might show high antibodies, which can tell you you’re going down the path of this autoimmune disease (and there’s a lot you can do about that!).
The moral of the story is to never, ever ignore your symptoms. If you have symptoms, yet your doctor is telling you your labs are “normal”, press further. Symptoms never lie.
“Normal” vs. optimal lab ranges
Conventional medicine hasn’t quite caught up with the science yet. These lab ranges are very different to the functional “optimal” lab ranges. Additionally, conventional lab ranges are based on an unhealthy population. What’s more, what might be “normal” for one person isn’t necessarily “normal” for you. This is one of the reasons many people who have a thyroid disorder go undiagnosed: lab ranges are lagging behind the times. For example, on Canadian lab reports TSH “normal” range spans up to 5.6 mIU/L yet functional health practitioners, such as myself, consider anything above about 2 mIU/L to be potentially sub-clinical hypothyroidism. In fact, some say most people feel best at a TSH of 1! So you can see how these numbers are completely out of line with each other.
What you can do if you suspect you have a thyroid condition
There’s a lot you can do from a diet and lifestyle perspective if you suspect you have a thyroid condition. Here are my top tips:
- Heal your gut. This is especially true for those suffering from hashimotos thyroiditis because hashimotos is an autoimmune condition. Upwards of 70% of your immune system is located in your gut and so if your gut isn’t in tip-top shape then your immune system will bare the brunt. This can lead to a condition known as leaky gut, which can contribute to autoimmune disease. So how do you take care of your gut? My post about leaky gut tells you how.
- Consume the nutrients needed for optimal thyroid function including: iodine, protein (for tyrosine), selenium, zinc, iron, vitamin D vitamin A, omega 3 fatty acids, glutathione and B vitamins. You made need certain supplements but you should work with a practitioner who can pick and choose the right ones for your particular thyroid condition.
- Avoid gluten and dairy as these are pro-inflammatory foods. Gluten plays a huge role in thyroid conditions, especially hashimotos.
- Avoid other inflammatory foods that might be causing you issue such as corn, eggs, nightshades and soy (it's best to work with a health practitioner to do an elimination diet to see if any of these foods cause you issue).
- Eliminate toxic foods such as alcohol, processed foods, white sugar, GMOs, processed meats, hydrogenated fats, margarine, caffeine and artificial sweeteners.
- Avoid toxic exposure and support your body’s detoxification pathways. This includes buying a water filter, using toxin-free skincare (my favourite is AnneMarie Gianni – no affiliation), and using more natural cleaning products at home.
- Deal with any bacterial, yeast or parasitic overgrowth such as two very common ones: candida and SIBO.
- Relieve stress: this is mandatory! You can’t heal your body until you’ve reduced your stress. If you’re stressed out then all your hormones will suffer, including your thyroid hormones.
I hope this gave you some good insight into thyroid health. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. You can also get in touch with me to book a free 15 minute consultation so we can go over your thyroid labs together. I’d love to help you get to the bottom of your symptoms!