By: Dr. Jin Sung – December, 2013
Most people realize that their thyroid is important for controlling their metabolism and body weight.
But did you know that depression, heart disease, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, PMS (premenstrual syndrome), menopausal symptoms, muscle and joint pains, irritable bowel syndrome, or autoimmune disease could actually indicate a problem with your thyroid?
The classic signs of a sluggish thyroid gland include weight gain, lethargy, poor quality hair and nails, hair loss, dry skin, fatigue, cold hands and feet, and constipation — and these symptoms are relatively well known.
However, some of the conditions you might not associate with your thyroid include:
• High cholesterol
• Irregular menstruation
• Low libido
• Gum disease
• Fluid retention
• Skin conditions such as acne & eczema
• Memory problems
• Poor stamina
And there are, in fact, many more conditions that can be associated with poor thyroid function. Your thyroid plays a part in nearly every physiological process. When it is out of balance, so are you. This is why it is so important to understand how your thyroid gland works and what can cause it to run amok.
The sad fact is, half of all people with hypothyroidism are never diagnosed. And of those who are diagnosed, many are inadequately treated, resulting in partial recovery at best.
Hypothyroidism: The Hidden Epidemic
Hypothyroidism simply means you have a sluggish or underactive thyroid, which is producing less than adequate amounts of thyroid hormone.
“Subclinical” hypothyroidism means you have no obvious symptoms and only slightly abnormal lab tests. I will be discussing these tests much more as we go on since they are a source of great confusion for patients, as well as for many health practitioners.
Thyroid problems have unfortunately become quite common.
The same lifestyle factors contributing to high rates of obesity, cancer and diabetes are wreaking havoc on your thyroid… sugar, processed foods, stress, environmental toxins, and lack of exercise are heavy contributors.
More than 10 percent of the general population in the United States, and 20 percent of women over the age of 60, have subclinical hypothyroidism. But only a small percentage of these people are being treated1.
Why is that?
Much of it has to do with misinterpretation and misunderstanding of lab tests, particularly TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). Most physicians believe that if your TSH value is within the range of “normal,” your thyroid is fine. But more and more physicians are discovering that the TSH value is grossly unreliable for diagnosing hypothyroidism.
And the TSH range for “normal” keeps changing!
In an effort to improve diagnosis of thyroid disease, in 2003 the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) revised the “normal” TSH range as 0.3 to 3.042. The previous range was defined as 0.5 and 5.0, which red-flagged only the most glaring hypothyroidism cases.
How to Know if You are Hypothyroid
Identifying hypothyroidism and its cause is tricky business. Many of the symptoms overlap with other disorders, and many are vague. Physicians often miss a thyroid problem since they rely on just a few traditional tests, so other clues to the problem go undetected.
But you can provide the missing clues!
The more vigilant you can be in assessing your own symptoms and risk factors and presenting the complete picture to your physician in an organized way, the easier it will be for your physician to help you.
Sometimes people with hypothyroidism have significant fatigue or sluggishness, especially in the morning. You may have hoarseness for no apparent reason. Often hypothyroid people are slow to warm up, even in a sauna, and don’t sweat with mild exercise. Low mood and depression are common.
Sluggish bowels and constipation are major clues, especially if you already get adequate water and fiber.
Are the upper outer third of your eyebrows thin or missing? This is sometimes an indication of low thyroid. Chronic recurrent infections are also seen because thyroid function is important for your immune system.
Even though lab tests are not the end-all, be-all for diagnosing a thyroid problem, they are a valuable part of the overall diagnostic process. The key is to look at the whole picture.
New studies suggest a very high incidence of borderline hypothyroidism in Westerners. Many cases are subclinical, and not showing up at all in standard laboratory measurements.
Coexistent subclinical hypothyroidism often triggers or worsens other chronic diseases, such as the autoimmune diseases, so the thyroid should be addressed with any chronic disease.
Many physicians will order only one test — a TSH level. This is a grossly inadequate and relatively meaningless test by itself, as well as a waste of your money. It would be like saying you know your water is pure because it tastes fine.
I recommend the following panel of laboratory tests if you want to get the best picture of what your thyroid is doing:
• TSH — the high-sensitivity version. This is the BEST test. But beware most all of the “normal” ranges are simply dead wrong.
• Free T4 and Free T3.
• Thyroid antibodies, including thyroid peroxidase antibodies and anti-thyroglobulin antibodies. This measure helps determine if your body is attacking your thyroid, overreacting to its own tissues (ie, autoimmune reactions). Physicians nearly always leave this test out.
Your lifestyle choices dictate, to a great degree, how well your thyroid will function. Eliminate junk food, processed food, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and anything with chemical ingredients. Eat whole, unprocessed foods, and choose as many organics as possible.
Gluten and Other Food Sensitivities
Gluten and food sensitivities6 are among the most common causes of thyroid dysfunction because they cause inflammation.
Gluten causes autoimmune responses in many people and can be responsible for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a common autoimmune thyroid condition. Approximately 30 percent of the people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis have an autoimmune reaction to gluten, and it usually goes unrecognized.
How this works is, gluten can cause your gastrointestinal system to malfunction, so foods you eat aren’t completely digested (aka Leaky Gut Syndrome7 ). These food particles can then be absorbed into your bloodstream where your body misidentifies them as antigens — substances that shouldn’t be there — our body then produces antibodies against them.
These antigens are similar to molecules in your thyroid gland. So your body accidentally attacks your thyroid. This is known as an autoimmune reaction or one in which your body actually attacks itself.
A thyroid problem is no different than any other chronic illness — you must address the underlying issues if you hope to correct the problem. The path to wellness may involve a variety of twists and turns before you find what works for you.
But hang in there.
If you approach it from a comprehensive, holistic perspective, you will find in time that all of the little steps you take will ultimately result in your feeling much better than you could have ever imagined.
The information in the article is strictly informational and not meant to diagnosis, treat or cure any disease. Please consult your physician before starting any program.
Dr. Jin Sung is a chiropractic physician who offers a unique, drug-free, and effective approach to the management of chronic health conditions. He utilizes Brain Based Therapy and Functional Medicine approaches to achieve excellent results with his patients. Call 978 688 6999 or visit www.DrJinSung.com