The following is adapted from The Search for the Perfect Protein.
There’s a common link behind health issues like weight gain, fatigue, thinning hair, dry skin, and regular constipation that many of us suffer from, and it’s often overlooked.
If you deal with these symptoms, you may be thyroid hormone deficient. Estimates tell us that at least 60% of the U.S. population may suffer with this condition, and yet, many people go undiagnosed because the “normal” range for thyroid is inaccurate.
When doctors run a test called TSH to check a patient’s level of thyroid stimulating hormone, the normal range for most labs is 0.5 to 4.5. If the patient is in that range, most doctors will move on and chalk the symptoms up to something else.
Disgruntled patients come to my practice and tell me doctors said they’re tired because they’re getting older, they’re depressed, or it’s just the change of life setting in. Many will stop looking for solutions because their doctor “told them so, and he knows best.”
In this article, I’ll share what you need to know about thyroid hormone deficiency.
There’s a bell curve when it comes to determining the thyroid hormone levels of patients. The “normal levels” do not come from a population that is screened for health—feeble eighty-year-olds with cancer and seventeen-year-old top athletes are included in the “normal” range. You can see the huge flaw here, can’t you?
This test is not an accurate reflection of the optimum thyroid level in a patient.
Here’s an excerpt from the ZRT Laboratory blog discussing this issue:
“The real question that needs to be answered is: where does the “normal” standard come from? Reference ranges do not always reflect a normal healthy population with bodies that are free of medications. Most laboratories establish their reference ranges based on a large population of people where detailed information on health status, stage of life (premenopausal vs. postmenopausal), hormone levels, and medications used is unknown. Therefore, those factors are not taken into account. Couple this with differences in lifestyles, physiology, dietary habits, and genetic heredity, and it’s even more difficult to define—let alone find—a normal population.”
Now you know why what many doctors consider “normal” is a faulty measuring stick. But if you suspect you’re struggling with low thyroid, what should you do about it?
I’m glad you asked. Let’s dive into that next.
When I schedule a talk at the local library or health food store with the title “I Saw My Doctor Because I Think I Have Low Thyroid, But He Won’t Treat Me Because My TSH is Normal,” we get a standing-room-only crowd (you can understand why now).
After the talk, people realize that they most likely do have low thyroid, and need to seek out a nutritionally-oriented MD who can measure all of the thyroid hormones, determine the optimum levels for them as an individual, and administer the correct treatment.
People are relieved when they finally get their thyroid hormone to its ideal levels for their body—they are no longer feeling sluggish, cold, gaining weight, or stuck in a pattern of foggy, slow thinking. When we measure tyrosine and iodine levels in the blood of thyroid patients, we often discover that both are also low. (Tyrosine is an amino acid that the body makes into thyroid hormone when it is combined with iodine.)
When these levels are low, we work to rebuild their tyrosine and iodine levels. Some patients may need thyroid hormone in the meantime, but in quite a few cases, once their levels of tyrosine and iodine are back to normal, along with their magnesium, selenium, and vitamin C, their body starts to make thyroid hormone on its own again.
When the patient was deficient in these critical nutrients, the thyroid could not produce what was required. However, once they were present, normal function was restored, and they could then wean off prescription thyroid therapy.
Jennifer’s story perfectly encapsulates the frustrating journey many low thyroids sufferers take before getting the treatment they need. Jennifer came to us after seeing her family practitioner because she kept gaining weight, was having trouble getting through her workday, and was so tired that she could barely function most days.
She told her doctor that low thyroid runs in her family, and that both her mom and sister were on treatment. The doctor ordered a thyroid stimulating hormone test, and when the results came back, she fell just inside the “normal” range at 4.4. The doctor said he could not prescribe me thyroid medication because I was in the normal range.
Jennifer pleaded with him, but he said if the Board of Medicine ever found out, he might get in trouble. In her frustration, Jennifer began looking around and found my practice.
We tested her, and her TSH was 4.4, but her Free T3 (the active hormone) was 2.1, with the normal range being 2-4.5. Her Free T4 was 0.9, with normal being 0.9-4.5.
She was clearly on the very low end of “normal” values, so I started her on Naturethroid, which contains animal thyroid gland and the active hormones that she needed.
We gradually increased her dose until her hands and body were nice and warm, she had no cold sensitivity, and she had better energy with no afternoon lull.
After a couple of months, she resumed exercising and lost eight pounds. During initial testing, we discovered that she had low tyrosine and iodine, so we also put her on supplemental amino acids and iodine in addition to the Naturethroid.
Repeat blood testing revealed normal levels of TSH, Free T3, Free T4, tyrosine and iodine. After six months, I began to wean her off the prescription. As Jennifer’s story shows, the body can often heal itself when given the right nutrition to do so.
For more advice on combating physical and cognitive decline, you can find The Search for the Perfect Protein on Amazon.
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Dr. David Minkoff is board certified in pediatrics and served as codirector of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Palomar Medical Center in San Diego, California. With his wife, Sue, he cofounded LifeWorks Wellness Center in 1997, and in 2000, he cofounded BodyHealth, a nutrition company that offers a unique range of dietary supplements to the public and medical practitioners. A forty-two-time IRONMAN finisher, Dr. Minkoff is passionate about fitness and continues to train on a regular basis. He and his wife reside in Clearwater, Florida.
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