The holidays are approaching and for many people, so are the extra pounds. One way to maintain a healthy metabolism through the holidays is to make sure the thyroid gland is adequately supported. Knowing how to support the thyroid gland for the individual starts with adequate testing and optimal lifestyle choices such as sunlight, sleep, and foods appropriate for the individual.
The thyroid hormones play a major role in the body's metabolism and maintenance of a healthy weight. It's common practice for medical doctors to simply test TSH which is a pituitary hormone known as thyroid stimulating hormone. However, this misses the actual thyroid hormones: Total T4 or Free T4 as well as Total T3 or Free T3. The T3 and T4 hormones are the ones who actually help regulate the metabolism inside all cells in the body and thus are arguably the most important values to assess if an individual is having thyroid symptoms. TSH may or may not respond to T3 or T4 levels depending on the stresses on the body and therefore may not be the best marker for thyroid health in all situations. Therefore, medical testing of only TSH as an assessment of thyroid health may miss a significant number of people with symptoms such as difficulty losing weight, gaining weight easily, hair loss, high cholesterol, constipation, brain fog, feeling cold, depression, and infertility, just to name a few.
Also, it's common for TSH to be normal but for there to still be symptoms if the levels are low normal or high normal. Low normal TSH levels may be an indication of needing more adrenal and pituitary support, for example. The adrenals and pituitary glands help regulate cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is one of the main stress hormones. If cortisol levels are out of whack due to extreme or pro-longed stress, then thyroid hormone production and conversion are affected as well. Supporting the adrenals and pituitary with herbal or glandular formulas often brings about healthy weight loss and relief from stress in these cases.
High normal TSH values may indicate the need for more direct thyroid support but it's hard to make this assumption without checking actual thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland needs multiple nutrients, including sodium, iodine, and amino acids from protein in the diet. The liver and gut need to be performing optimally in order to convert T4 to T3 hormone. Iron, Selenium, serotonin and dopamine are additional items required for thyroid hormone conversion. If someone is experiencing chronic inflammation or has an overwhelming number of toxins in their system, then the thyroid hormone conversions will not be optimal.
Then, add to this complexity the understanding that the majority of hypothyroidism cases in the U.S. are driven by auto-immunity, and you might really be missing the boat on understanding how to help your thyroid be healthy if you only measure TSH. To assess for auto-immune thyroid issues, one needs to check the thyroid anti-body levels such as thyroglobulin anti-bodies and thyroid peroxidase anti-bodies. Checking these anti-bodies to see if they are lab normal or not helps with understanding if the thyroid-related symptoms are due to auto-immunity, or more likely related to nutrient-deficiency, cortisol level issues, or a sign of needing liver and gut support.
At Human Nature, we offer nutritional assessments using ranges based on healthy people rather than the average ranges typically used in medical testing. We do not provide medical diagnoses but rather give you personalized support in terms of what to eat and what supplements and lifestyle factors may be most helpful for your metabolism.
We are offering a free lecture in November that presents more detailed discussion of thyroid physiology. We hope you can make it!