One of my pet subjects is anything and everything to do with thyroid health – having suffered from an underactive thyroid myself – I know how incredibly debilitating it can be to live with a thyroid that isn’t functioning well, and I have enormous empathy for anyone who has a problem in this area.
Some of the common symptoms of an underactive thyroid are weight gain that is difficult to lose, fatigue, depression, intolerance to temperatures – hot or cold – puffy face and eyelids, dry skin and hair loss. Too often these symptoms are put down to “stress” or the person being “lazy” – of needing to “eat less and exercise more” – but nothing could be further from the truth.
In my experience thyroid conditions are not dealt with well by the medical establishment. The Gold Standard for diagnosing thyroid conditions is the TSH test – a blood test which measures Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. It is a measure of the signal that the master glands – the hypothalamus via the pituitary – are sending to the thyroid to encourage it to make more thyroid hormone. A higher result means that the signal is getting stronger due to inadequate levels of thyroid hormone, and TSH is being produced in higher amounts to “stimulate” the thyroid to increase production. A high TSH result is considered to equal an underactive thyroid. In Australia the range is commonly 0.5 – 4.0 (or 5.0) and anything within that range is considered normal. Hypothyroidism is only diagnosed or investigated further, when the TSH is above that range.
However there are other conditions that can lead to a poorly functioning thyroid gland that are not measured by this test, and unfortunately if the TSH test is “normal” you can have every thyroid symptom under the sun and your doctor is very unlikely to do further testing for thyroid antibodies or something called Reverse T3. Because of this many, many people are getting a misdiagnosis – they are being given antidepressant medication, told to eat less and exercise more to lose weight, and told that they are tired due to their “stressful” lives.
This is one area that really makes me angry, as I have had hundreds of patients who show signs of hypothyroidism, and I have to fight with their doctor to order antibody tests (a test that shows whether you have an auto-immune condition where your own body is attacking your thyroid gland) because their TSH is normal. To not test further when someone is showing clear symptoms of a thyroid condition, is totally negligent in my opinion. Take these two recent results for example:
This test may be a little hard to read, but you will notice that the TSH is 2.01 with a range of 0.50 – 5.00; considered normal. This is within range and the doctor of this patient had never run thyroid antibody tests, even though she presented with many hypothyroid symptoms. You will notice the antibodies in the second section show a level of greater than 1300 when the normal range is less than 60 – less than 60!!!! This patient has quite a severe auto-immune condition known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and even with this extremely high result, her doctor didn’t even mention the result or discuss it with the patient…
In this second result it is very similar situation to the above patient, whereby the TSH is within the normal range, yet the antibodies are absolutely through the roof! In this case, the patient had to argue with the doctor to get the tests ordered, the doctor thought they were unnecessary becasue the TSH is normal, but what I have learnt is that the TSH is not necessarily an accurate reflection of thyroid status. Thank goodness we pushed for this test, because as you can see, this patient has an out of control autoimmune condition that is destroying her thyroid function. When this result came back, the patient’s doctor said that there was nothing that can be done, all she could do is wait until the TSH went up enough to warrant replacement hormone of Thyroxine.
Am I allowed to say WTF??? What the doctor is saying is: “We have no clue how to treat this autoimmune condition, and we will just wait until your thyroid gland is completely destroyed and not working at all, and then we know what to do because we have a drug for that.” Negligent, negligent, NEGLIGENT!
In natural medicine, fortunately we do know how to treat autoimmune conditions, we do know how to lower antibodies, how to modulate the immune system, how to support the thyroid gland to function again – we have many tools at our disposal to assist in the healing of these conditions.
The big lesson out of this for me, is how important it is to do further testing if you have hypothyroid symptoms, even if the TSH is normal. I have seen too many results like this, to believe that the TSH test is definitive for measuring thyroid function.
I have so much to say about this subject, that I am currently writing a book about it! Stay tuned because it will be out next year!