Hypothyroidism is a common health condition affecting millions of women that is
frequently overlooked in our health care system. The American Association of
Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) estimates that 10% of Americans – more than the
number of Americans with diabetes and cancer combined – suffer from thyroid
disease. Many of these people are not receiving adequate care for a number of
reasons. The AACE estimates that half of the people with thyroid disease are not
being diagnosed. For those patients properly diagnosed, the standard conventional
treatment is often ineffective. The bottom line is that millions of Americans are
hypothyroid, many hypothyroid patients receive inadequate treatment, and millions
more are hypothyroid and may never even know.
In order to understand the health effects of low thyroid, it is important to know how
the thyroid affects the human body. A healthy thyroid produces hormones that
control a person’s metabolic rate. In essence, the thyroid acts as the body’s gas
pedal. An overactive or hyperthyroid causes the body’s systems to run too hot and
too fast. An underactive or hypothyroid causes the body’s systems to run too cold
and too slow. The effects of low thyroid and low body temperature can be
devastating because for every one degree decrease in body temperature the base
metabolic rate decreases by approximately 6%. It is not uncommon for a person to
have an average temperature that is two to four degrees below normal, this
correlates to a 12%-24% reduction in overall metabolism. No wonder these people
feel tired and depressed and are consistently challenged with their weight.
There are many risk factors and symptoms that point the increased possibility of
low thyroid. Risk factors include: females, age over 30, a family history of low
thyroid or auto immune disease, post-partum depression, infertility, multiple
miscarriages, pms, weakness, problems with skin or hair, lethargy, sensation of
cold, impaired memory or mood, constipation, weight gain or loss, muscle/joint
pain, emotional instability, swelling around eyes, face or legs, nervousness,
depression, heart palpitations, fullness in the throat area or difficulty swallowing,
and many more.
Fatigue is one of the most common reasons for visits to primary care doctors and
successful treatment begins with diagnosis. Therefore, any patient suspecting they
have hypothyroidism should be evaluated by a doctor skilled in this area. In
addition to hypothyroid, there are many other reasons for fatigue. These include:
poor blood sugar regulation, low adrenal function, anemia, nutritional deficiencies
(often B vitamins), heavy metal toxicity, lack of exercise, allergies, inadequate sleep,
clinical depression, and chronic infection.
Diagnosing low thyroid can be difficult using the current medical model. Although
there are numerous lab values that can be used to evaluate thyroid function, many
physicians use only one lab test for diagnosis: thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
Many patients with 8 out of 10 low thyroid symptoms will be told that their thyroid
is not the cause of their symptoms because their TSH level is “normal. ” Doctors
using the TSH test as the sole criterion for detecting and treating the low thyroid
patient are missing a great opportunity to help more sick people. Recently, the
AACE has lowered the acceptable TSH values in order to detect more patients with
Although TSH is the most common method to diagnose low thyroid, having “normal”
TSH levels does not automatically rule out hypothyroidism. In addition to the TSH
test, a more complete thyroid panel should also include free T3, free T4, and
possibly TPO antibodies, and reverse T3. Although these are the best tests to
evaluate thyroid function, these tests are often not performed because they are
more expensive than the common tests and may not be covered by your insurance
companies. When choosing a doctor to treat your possible thyroid problem, ask
your doctor what tests they include in their thyroid panel.
Even with the adjusted lab value and additional thyroid tests, there are problems
with this evaluation model. Lab values are just one factor to consider when
evaluating the patient’s thyroid. Many patients with hypothyroid will respond very
well to thyroid treatment even though their lab tests are considered “normal”. Even
thought lab tests can be helpful in the diagnosis, doctors should focus on treating
the patient instead of treating the lab values.
Another very simple and effective method to detect low thyroid is for the patient to
measure their basal body temperature at home using a mercury thermometer. The
basal temperature is measured by putting the thermometer under the arm for five
minutes before getting out of bed. Men and post-menopausal women should
record their temperatures for a week, menstruating women should start recording
their temperature for a week beginning on day two of their period. Anyone with an
average temperature of less than 97.6 F could be hypothyroid and should consult a
skilled physician for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Once a diagnosis is made, the conventional treatment of hypothyroidism is to
prescribe synthetic thyroid (Synthroid) and retest the TSH level in 4-6 weeks. The
goal of the treatment is to bring the TSH level back into a normal range. This
approach can be effective for some patients, but many patients do not feel better
even after achieving normal TSH lab values.
When choosing a doctor to help with your potential low thyroid, you should ask
whether the doctor uses medications other than Synthroid. Synthroid is the most
commonly prescribed thyroid medication but is not the best solution. Physicians
with experience in successfully treating thyroid disease will also utilize other
alternatives such as natural compounded T3/T4 hormone, Nature-throid, or
Armour thyroid. Natural supplements such as l-tyrosine, iodine, bladderwack (sea
weed), natural progesterone, adrenal and thyroid glandulars can also stimulate
Exposure to toxins can also cause poor thyroid function. Radiation treatments for
an overactive thyroid is one of the most common causes of low thyroid. Heavy
metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and others can also be a primary cause of
hypothyroidism and need to be removed from the body. Lastly, fluoride and
chlorine from chemical exposure compete with the iodine needed for thyroid
hormone metabolism and can cause poor thyroid function.
Many of you reading this article of are suffering needlessly from the symptoms of
undiagnosed or ineffectively treated hypothyroidism. The ideas and suggestions
contained in this article should provide you with a starting point and some direction
for pursuing an effective solution.