Thyroid Education Blog
Welcome to Women’s Health Wednesday! We are taking time each Wednesday to address issues that especially concern women – and today, we are going to talk about the thyroid.
The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate as well as heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development, mood, and bone maintenance.
It’s staggering that almost 1 in 3 people have thyroid disease, the majority of whom are women. However, more than half of those with a thyroid condition don’t know they have it. And to top it off, women are 5 to 8 times more likely to have thyroid disease.
While there are several types of diseases that affect the thyroid gland, the most common is hypothyroidism. Hypothyroid disease is when there is too little thyroid hormone being produced or available to the body.
In the developing world, hypothyroidism is most often due to an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s. An autoimmune disease is when the body begins attacking itself, which results in the destruction of tissue, and in the case of Hashimoto’s, your body destroys your thyroid gland, resulting in an inability to produce sufficient hormones.
Here are some common symptoms of hypothyroid:
- Increased sensitivity to cold.
- Dry skin.
- Weight gain.
- Puffy face.
- Muscle weakness.
- Hair loss.
- Joint pain.
- High cholesterol.
- Menstrual irregularities.
Confusingly, many people find themselves experiencing the symptoms of hypothyroid, but their blood-work keeps coming back within range…. And this is WAY more common than you think.
Here’s an overview of why that can be:
Bloodwork needs to include more than just TSH to get a full picture of thyroid function.
A lot of times, doctors only test TSH in your blood-work, which is a sensitive marker for assessing hyper or hypothyroidism, but it doesn’t give us a complete picture of what’s happening with your thyroid function.
Testing T4 is also a marker they might test, as it does give you a greater idea of thyroid function and its production of T4. T3 is important to test too, especially because it is more metabolically active. Even if your T4 isn’t low, if it’s not getting converted into T3, a person can still suffer from hypothyroid symptoms.
Not only that, these hormones need to be bound to a protein carrier to transport around the body. So the total T4 and T3 measurements aren’t quite the full picture either; we also need to consider free T4 and T3, showing that these forms can be separated from their carriers so they can perform their function at their final destinations in the body.
Additionally, doctors can test for thyroid antibodies, which is important for diagnosing Hashimoto’s specifically to see if the body is actually attacking the thyroid. Unfortunately, the antibodies are often not tested for (because in conventional medicine, this finding doesn’t affect the treatment protocols). However, in functional medicine, they focus on getting to the root cause of the issue, which can be immune dysfunction as opposed to a faulty thyroid gland, and then they know to focus on eliminating the actual cause of the body attacking the thyroid, rather than just trying to aid the thyroid in its function.
“Normal” lab ranges of TSH don’t necessarily mean “healthy” ranges.
The current ranges used today for “normal” TSH levels were taken from a study in the 80’s that may or may not have had normal thyroid levels…. i.e. the normal levels were determined from a population which did not screen for people potentially possessing thyroid issues already. And as we mentioned earlier, there is a large portion of the population walking around with hypothyroidism without even being aware of it. In this sense, the ranges used today are way too broad to give a clear picture of what “healthy” thyroid levels look like. The current range of “normal” TSH that is the standard is 0.5 to 4.5, but many studies performed since that standard was established are very critical of this range. Since the original standard was set, studies have found that 0.5 to 2 or 2.5 is a more reasonable “healthy” range to use.
Want even more information on this dense subject? Chris Kresser has a several great podcasts on this topic, like the one found here. Now, if you’re one of those people experiencing some of these symptoms and are concerned about your thyroid levels, you are armed with more information to ask your doctor about, and can hopefully now understand and interpret the tests they are running a little better.
Keep an eye out for next week’s Women’s Health Wednesday, in which we address PCOS and nutrition!
Note: The information in these blogs is not to serve as a diagnosis or a recommendation for treatment, we simply want to help educate on the topic! If you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms and you feel like something is ‘off’, then please go to your doctor and use this education to get tested properly.