According to the American Thyroid Association, approximately 20 million people in the US suffer from some form of thyroid dysfunction, and 60% of those people don’t realize it. Women are much more likely than men to experience thyroid disease (five to eight times), with one in eight women experiencing a thyroid disorder during their lifetimes.
A number of thyroid disorders exist; hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid),Low Free T3 Syndrome, the most common clinical picture, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), Grave’s Disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, thyroid cancer and benign thyroid nodules.
The biggest challenge practitioners face in treating thyroid dysfunction is widespread misdiagnosis, as many common symptoms of thyroid disease are often attributed to other diseases and aging. These symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, depression, brain fog, anxiety and hair thinning, among others.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located in front of the throat and below the voice box. The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones, which control the way our bodies use energy and help us stay warm. A healthy thyroid plays a key role in the body’s metabolism, growth and development.
Thyroid hormones affect nearly every cell and organ in the body, from the way our hearts beat to how our brains, muscles and other organs function. When the thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) to support the body’s needs—or the body is unable to process thyroid properly—bodily systems and organs can slow down and cease to function properly.
The thyroid also works hand-in-hand with the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain. When the body is low on thyroid hormone, the pea-sized pituitary gland releases thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), prompting the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone.
Besides the aging process, there are many things that have been linked to sub-optimal thyroid function. Aside from the ones listed previously, stress, low calorie diets, chronic pain, etc., below are a few others you may not have thought of.
Estrogen, environmental toxins, iodine levels and more. Read in depth here.
Treatment varies based on the type of thyroid disorder and should be closely monitored by a medical practitioner.
Depending on the condition, your treatment may require:
Or as our patients say: “Why do I have normal thyroid numbers but still suffer symptoms of low thyroid?”
The answer is most often Low Free T3 Syndrome.
Many patients come to us for answers. They want to know why they’re experiencing many of the telltale signs of low thyroid, yet their lab tests show their thyroid is functioning just fine. Unfortunately, many medical practitioners rely too much on a single lab test (the TSH—thyroid-stimulating hormone—test) to diagnose hypothyroidism, which only tells one part of the story.
Recent clinical studies regarding thyroid function are urging healthcare providers to pay much closer attention to the active thyroid hormone, Free T3. The Free T3 can be low, even in the presence of a normal TSH blood test. Why is this? It is because TSH is a reflection of T4, the primary thyroid hormone made by the thyroid gland. However, T4 must convert to Free T3, the active hormone that exerts its action in the cell.
Many things can cause decreased conversion of T4 to T3- chronic physical and emotional stress, low calorie diets, depression, insulin resistance/diabetes, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, low iron and even the commonly prescribed synthetic thyroid medication, Levothyroxine. This is why so many people on this medication still have symptoms of low thyroid, despite “normal” lab values. This is a very important concept to understand, as Low Free T3 Syndrome is highly linked to heart disease, heart failure, increased all-cause mortality (all cause of death) adult respiratory distress, and depression, to name a few.
Other research points to a similar syndrome known as thyroid hormone resistance. Believed to be an inherited condition, thyroid hormone resistance is characterized by “a reduced responsiveness of target tissues to thyroid hormone due to mutations on the thyroid hormone receptor.” Much like a car, you may have plenty of fuel (thyroid) in your tank but it can’t get into your engine (the tissues and cells in your body) due to faulty thyroid receptors.
Patients with thyroid hormone resistance or hypothyroidism II may experience symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism and have “elevated thyroid hormones and a normal or elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) level.”
You can see why the single TSH lab test shouldn’t be the only tool practitioners use to diagnose thyroid dysfunction, right? Especially if the problem is malfunctioning thyroid receptors. No wonder so many people go undiagnosed! In fact, the widespread adoption of thyroid blood testing has left scores of patients erroneously untreated.
At EVEXIAS, we take a functional, integrated approach to patient care, which means we go beyond lab tests to find the root cause of our patients’ health concerns. Our practitioners also specialize in treating thyroid disorders and hormone imbalance, so we know what tests to perform (several thyroid tests exist) and what we need to learn from the patient during a physical exam (very important!).
Along with discussing symptoms, we’ll ask questions about family history (thyroid disorders are often hereditary), medical history, diet (iodine deficiency is often tied to thyroid dysfunction) and exposure to emotional and environmental toxins (both can contribute to thyroid problems) and other vague symptoms such as depression, anxiety, difficulty focusing and difficulty losing weight.
We also look for visual clues during the patient exam. For example, puffy face and lips, thinning or lack of hair, missing the outer third of the eyebrows, swollen skin, lack of alertness, slowed speech, hoarseness, cold extremities, weight gain and the tendency toward chronic infections are all common symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Through the analysis of lab test results, visual observations and patient feedback, the goal is to determine the underlying cause of the patient’s symptoms and formulate a treatment plan from there.
Treating thyroid disease is often a long-term—and for some patients lifelong—process. Working closely with your medical practitioner to monitor progress and adjust treatment as needed is the key to a healthier, happier life for patients with thyroid disorders.