Katie is in her late thirties, has two children, and a demanding but rewarding career in advertising.
Lately, Katie has been feeling fatigued and moody, her hair has been noticeably thinning, and she can’t seem to lose those pesky 20 pounds she put on after having her second child…three years ago.
Based on her own research and intuition, Katie suspects she may have a thyroid condition and books an appointment with her family doctor for testing.
Katie’s doctor orders the gold-standard in thyroid tests: the TSH test…but, despite Katie’s symptoms the test comes back “within normal range.”
Her doctor tells her that her thyroid is fine and perhaps she’s just under too much stress and offers her antidepressants.
Katie, who is normally energetic, healthy, and fit is left feeling confused and depressed about her situation. If it isn’t her thyroid, what is it?
Katie is a fictitious character, but I see desperate “Katies” in my functional medicine practice every single day, and guess what?
They are right. They DO have a thyroid condition known as: hypothyroidism or low-thyroid, where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.
The problem is: most healthcare practioners aren’t running the right thyroid tests leaving millions of women undiagnosed with this often debilitating condition.
In today’s post I’ll share with you exactly which tests to ask for, and what causes low thyroid in the first place.
But first, let’s take a quick look at the little-known symptoms of hypothyroidism
- Dry skin
- High cholesterol
- Thinning or coarse hair
- Inability to focus
- Low libido
- Sluggishness in the morning
- Sensitivity to cold
- Cold hands and feet
- Muscle pain
- Fluid retention
- Thinning eyebrows
Patients may have one of several of these symptoms so it’s worth looking into.
The Thyroid Tests Your Doctor is Missing
If you’ve been in to have your thyroid checked, your doctor probably ran the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test —the gold standard in thyroid diagnosis.
The thing is, TSH is only one player in the symphony of hormones that make up thyroid function.
So your TSH levels could be within “normal” range, while other thyroid hormones are running amuck. It’s also important to note that “normal” TSH levels may not be optimal levels, which can still lead to hypothyroid symptoms.
So, which thyroid tests should you ask for?
As a functional medicine doctor, if I suspect a patient is suffering from thyroid issues I order 6 different thyroid panels:
- TSH: though not the end-all-be-all test, it does provide valuable information on how the thyroid and pituitary gland that governs the thyroid are communicating.
- Free T3: T3 and T4 are your body’s main thyroid hormones. T3 is the more active form of thyroid hormone that affects your metabolism and energy. Low levels can indicate hypothyroidism.
- Free T4: T4 is more of a storage hormone, thus the majority of T4 is converted to active T3 for metabolic functions and energy. Low levels may mean hypothyroidism.
- Reverse T3: Reverse T3 is also converted from T4 and helps slow down metabolism. High RT3 levels can indicate hypothyroidism.
- TPO antibodies: This test is to check for autoimmune disease of the thyroid known as Hashimoto’s.
- And thyroglobulin antibodies: This second autoimmune panel tests for Hashimoto’s disease.
Six test may seem like overkill, but due to the complex nature of thyroid hormones, accompanied by the increase prevalence of Hashimoto’s Disease, these six panels are the only way to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
And you must insist on all six tests!
If you aren’t getting the care you need with your current healthcare provider, find a functional medicine doctor who specializes in thyroid conditions to help you.
This is no time to play the part of the “good patient”, you must advocate for yourself if you want real answers to your real health concerns.
But what causes hypothyroidism in the first place?
According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have thyroid disease, with up to 60% of them unaware of it.
Myself and other experts believe that number is actually much higher—and after what you’ve just learned about misdiagnosis I’m sure you can see why.
What’s more, women are up to 8 times more likely to suffer than men, your risk of hypothyroidism goes up after pregnancy, and women with low thyroid function are four times more likely to have children with autism.
This is a serious problem and it’s important that we know what causes it so we can learn how to prevent it; for ourselves and our children.
Beyond radiation, genetics, and birth defects, here is what we know about causal factors behind hypothyroidism:
- Food sensitivities: everyone will have variations here, but gluten always comes up as it fuels inflammation. In addition, I recommend patients avoid raw cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cabbage (cooked is fine), and soy.
- Heavy metals: mercury is a big one here as its found in pesticides, dental materials, and fish.
- Tap water containing fluoride and chlorine: both these chemicals have been linked to thyroid problems.
- Stress: too much negative stress can cause an imbalance in thyroid hormones.
- Nutrient deficiencies: it’s been proven those with low vitamin D levels are more likely to develop Hashimoto’s. A lack of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, b vitamins, selenium, and zinc also play a role in thyroid health.
- Endocrine-disrupting toxins: these commonly come from pesticides and plastics.
Can you fix your thyroid naturally?
Sometimes. This is something that my patients and I work on every day, using detoxification, nutrition, and supplementation.
And in our next post I will explain how this process works.
Until then, if you suspect you have a low thyroid (even though your tests have come back normal), jot down those thyroid tests I mentioned above and insist your doctor run them.
And if he or she won’t, find a functional medicine MD who will. Again, you must be your own best advocate here, if not you will continue suffering needlessly.
And life is too short to be running on empty…especially with something so treatable.