Tired, sluggish and gaining weight: could it be your thyroid?
Are you feeling tired, and gaining weight despite eating well? Perhaps you have noticed increased hair loss? You may have hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid), where the thyroid gland is not making enough thyroid hormone, or your thyroid hormones are not working as they should, and your metabolism slows down.
You may have had your thyroid tested by your doctor, and been told “it is fine”. It may be that it is, or perhaps not. Just because your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) is within range, does not mean that your thyroid is happy! It can be a little more complicated than TSH being within range…
What are the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism?
- low energy and fatigue
- weight gain for no obvious reason
- decreased appetite
- increased sensitivity to the cold, cold hands and feet
- hair loss (scalp and sometimes eyebrows – especially the outer third)
- dry skin and hair
- aging skin
- poor concentration
- poor memory
- lowered libido
- muscle weakness, especially of the arms and legs
- slow heart rate
- slow, weak pulse
- elevated cholesterol
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- fluid retention
- goitre (enlarged thyroid)(this is not always present)
How do my thyroid hormones work?
When the cells in your body need more thyroid hormone, they send a message to your pituitary gland to produce TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which does exactly that – it stimulates the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones. Our main thyroid hormones are called T4 and T3 (they contain 4 and 3 atoms of iodine each). The thyroid gland produces mainly T4 (and a little T3 and reverseT3). T4 then circulates in the body and is converted to T3, our active thyroid hormone which is used by our cells. Certain minerals are needed for the conversion of T4 to T3, which occurs mainly in the liver. A lack of the right nutrients or some heavy metals can stop this conversion from happening correctly. If the body has too much T4, this is converted to reverse T3 (rT3). rT3 stops T3 from entering cells, so you can see that if the body cannot convert T4 to T3, the excess T4 will be converted to rT3, which may then block what T3 is being made from getting to the cells. The cells then keep telling the pituitary that they need more thyroid hormone. The pituitary then keeps pumping out TSH, and the poor thyroid gland becomes exhausted and underactive.
So, what can stop my thyroid hormones from working properly?
- stress (physical or emotional)
- nutritional deficiencies
- heavy metal toxicity (especially lead, cadmium and mercury)
- an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- oestrogen dominance
There are other factors, but these are the most common.
Autoimmunity – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This occurs when the immune system becomes confused and attacks and damages thyroid cells, causing inflammation and hypothyroidism. It is most common in women, but can occur in men and children, and tends to run in families. Hashimoto’s develops slowly, can be asymptomatic for years, and If detected early, progression to irreversible hypothyroidism can be avoided
My Doctor says my TSH is normal, so my thyroid is fine, right? No! Not necessarily.
The TSH upper limit in medical tests is typically 4. However, naturopathically this is considered too high. Generally if you have a reading of over 2 or 2.5, that is a sign that your thyroid is a little sluggish. It is best to take action then than to wait until it is utterly worn out, and TSH is over 4.
You can have Hashimoto’s with elevated antibodies, but a totally normal TSH reading. I have a friend who is a fellow naturopath who has Hashimoto’s, and she has never had an out of range TSH reading.
Recommended blood tests:
- TSH, T3, T4, rT3
- thyroid antibodies (TPO Ab and Tg Ab)
Unfortunately Medicare will not cover the costs of any thyroid tests other than TSH, unless TSH is out of range, so many doctors refuse to request these tests unless you pay for them.
Hair tissue mineral analysis may be used to assess levels of minerals that are important for thyroid hormone function, as well as to detect the presence of heavy metals which may be affecting thyroid function.
Doctors prescribe thyroxine (T4). If you do not feel better on this, it indicates there is a problem with the conversion of T4 to T3. In some cases they will also prescribe T3.
- nutrients to help the production and conversion of thyroid hormones; deficiencies may vary from person to person
- herbs to support thyroid function, and other body systems as needed (e.g. adrenals if stress is a factor, liver)
- in the case of autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s) supplements are used to support and balance the immune system
- detoxifying heavy metals if present
- dietary correction and support
Life can be a struggle if you feel sluggish, tired and overweight. If this sounds like you, it may be time to get your thyroid tested. If you have had your thyroid tested, and the doctor says it is fine, then take the results to your naturopath for them to take a closer look and investigate further.
If you need naturopathic help, contact me on 0431917728 or firstname.lastname@example.org