What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is normally located in the lower front of the neck. The thyroid’s job is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormones help the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as they should.
Most GP’s and endocrinologists rely on a standard thyroid test, known as TSH, to screen for thyroid problems. This test measures Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), a pituitary hormone whose function is to stimulate thyroid hormone production by the thyroid gland. When thyroid hormone production goes down, TSH goes up. There is a range of TSH levels that is considered normal.
For most GP’s, TSH is the only diagnostic test for hypothyroidism that they use and the most sensitive marker of peripheral tissue availability of thyroid hormone. If TSH is within a normal range, most doctors will “rule out” thyroid problems as a cause of symptoms, even though patients may be experiencing symptoms.
And there lies the major issue with the GP’s thyroid assessment. The problem with prcatcing medicine that way is that it is becoming more and more obvious that the standalone TSH test simply does not detect all thyroid hormone problems. It does not detect any problems you may have converting T4 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (the active form).
TSH also cannot detect thyroid hormone resistance, which happens when cells are unable to allow thyroid hormone inside because their receptor sites are malfunctioning. Both of these thyroid hormone problems are more common than most GP’s realise, and they are seldom detected.
Standard GP Testing
Here in Australia, testing the thyroid function begins only with a standard TSH test. Most GP’s are happy to test for this if you meet their diagnostic criteria. Complementary and extensive thyroid testing is rather expensive, so Medicare have tightened up their now fairly strict codes of conduct to maintain our health care system, however, this model of healthcare system is only setup to treat public health, early signs of disease and medically treatable pathologies, Medicare is NOT for disease prevention or wellness. And GP’s will most definitely not test for extended thyroid panels just ‘because’ and will only do so if your TSH panel results warrant further investigations.
This is why I have so many patients present in clinic with ALL of the thyroid symptoms you could imagine, but are dismissed from their GP’s as they are told there is nothing wrong, and they’re within the ‘normal’ range – yet feel anything but. The statistics show that up to 95% of patients within our clinic have an underactive thyroid, 25% of them had a major autoimmune thyroid condition, whilst only 3% of them had TSH results outside of their GP’s allowable reference ranges.
Here in the Nutritionista Clinic, we investigate all potential avenues. If you feel less than amazing, we’ll aim to investigate and address the root cause. Functional medicine is an amazing tool to assess the treatment of sub-optimal health imbalances, and when effectively addressed, we can typically reverse the progression of illness & disease progression. Making functional medicine a wonderfully preventative approach to your level of health & wellbeing.
Signs that your Thyroid needs assistance
Have you recently experienced any of the following?
- Unexplained or irregular weight gain
- Weight loss efforts failing despite your best efforts
- Sensitivity to cold
- Irregular periods
- Muscle aches and pains
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pains
- Breathing difficulties
- Thinning hair, hair loss
- Eyebrow or eyelash thinning
- Brittle nails
These symptoms may or may not be entirely related to the functioning of your thyroid, the assessment of a full thyroid panel is required (including TSH, total T3, total T4, free T3, free T4, anti-TPO antibodies, thyroglobulin, and reverse T3).
Can autoimmune diseases affect the thryoid?
Clinically, we often find that those with pre-existing autoimmune conditions also present with some form of thyroid dysfunction. And to ponder if the thyroid dysfunction or imbalance triggered the autoimmune condition or vice versa is often the question as they both frequently lead back to one another.
It is very well understood biochemically that a sub-optimal (low or high range ‘normal’ that often presents with symptoms, but not low enough to warrant further investigations) thyroid ranges can promote autoimmune disease due to the thyroid hormone regulation of detoxification and cellular function. One common root cause of thyroid symptomology is an iodine deficiency. If iodine levels are not optimal within the body, then certain viruses, such as EBV (Epstein Barr), can hide within the thyroid and/or liver tissues, leading to the immune system mistakenly attacking those tissues in attempt to eliminate the virus. This is just one example of how autoimmune disease can begin within the body.
Why a clinical assessment is so important?
A detailed clinical assessment is completed for all new patients to the Nutritionista Clinic. If the thyroid is of concern, we can provide referrals for comprehensive blood tests and other relevant hormonal testing if required. When the results are back we can assess the full status of thyroid health and the biochemical pathways responsible for the imbalance. We then create a personalised treatment plan for that one individual. Many say that once their thyroid is balanced they feel like a brand new person, with plenty of energy, a clear mind and eliminated the need for constant exercise to shed weight.
To begin your journey to feeling brand new and energised, you can start here.