Disclaimer: This should not be used as a substitute for medical care. Always consult your medical doctor before starting or stopping medications, or changing your treatment protocol! I am NOT licensed to prescribe medications or diagnose illnesses. This blog is for education and information purposes only.
For the past 18 months my thyroid has been sluggish. After a year of trying various treatments, my blood levels have finally normalized. I never had a problem with my thyroid until I turned 35, and then, poof—something changed?
The thyroid is a complicated gland. I hear many stories of people (especially women) who suffer for years because doctors are so polarized over what to do about it. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I’ll share some of what I’ve come across in my own thyroid journey.
What Causes Hypothyroidism? We don’t know! But these are some current theories:
1. Virus—We contract a viral infection (respiratory flu, etc.) that wipes out the immune system. The endocrine system then takes a secondary hit from this illness, which may cause the thyroid to not work as optimally as before.
2. Heavy Metals—The thyroid might be trying to eliminate things like; mercury, lead, arsenic and environmental toxins from the body. Excessive heavy metals in the body may slow thyroid function.
3. Age—General catch-all explanation. We age and the thyroid may simply slow down.
4. Emotions— Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz M.D., PhD., studies the connection between our emotions and physical symptoms. She says the thyroid can “be affected by too much vulnerability, a fear of expressing yourself, or an inability to communicate your own wishes and desires while always taking in those of others.”
5. Gluten-Intolerance—It is thought that people who have celiac disease or are intolerant to wheat gluten may develop a sluggish thyroid as a result of not being able to digest wheat.
While these theories are all interesting and plausible, I can’t say with 100% certainty that one of these is the cause of my hypothyroidism. In the end, the thyroid is complicated. No one really knows the cause of hypothyroidism, and we just have to treat it as best we can.
The Inside Politics of Thyroid Treatment
1. Arguing the TSH range—There is huge debate and polarization with doctors around what the optimal TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) range should be. This is an unfortunate waste of time and energy because the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists states very clearly that the TSH range is 0.3-3.0 . This means if your TSH is 3.0 or higher you might have a sluggish thyroid! These guidelines changed in 2002 but many doctors ignore (or don’t know about) the new range. They tell their patients “nothing is wrong with them” even when the patient feels absolutely horrible and their TSH is out of range. These doctors will insist a TSH of 3.5, 4.0 or even 5.0 is absolutely fine. Here is the AACE link to share with your doctor if they argue that higher TSH numbers are normal. When my TSH was a 4.6 I was exhausted and my hair was falling out; that is not normal!
2. Armour vs. Synthroid—I take Armour, which is another heated debate. It is the more natural form of thyroid replacement. Similar to the TSH argument, some doctors are adamantly against prescribing Armour thyroid. I tried to stop taking Armour, and my TSH began to slow down again. I started the Armour again and my blood levels returned to normal. I know other people who have had equally great results with Armour when other medications like Synthroid weren’t working; yet some doctors still refuse to use it. Here is link with more information about Armour thyroid.
Resources for Hypothyroidism
1. Dr. Lowe—I have spent many hours reading Dr. Lowe’s online information. He offers help to thousands of frustrated thyroid patients. His website is wonderful for public research and education. He is in Boulder, Colorado, and will do phone consults if you don’t live close by. He also willingly works with your primary doctor; however, doctors who are polarized over thyroid treatment often do not agree with Dr. Lowe’s protocols. In the end, I read a lot of his information and educated myself through his website, and I encourage others to do the same.
2. Mary Shomon—Another very useful website for public education and information. Shomon has been a leader in empowering people with information, education, and thyroid resources. Her book Living Well with Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Tell You… That You Need to Know (Revised Edition) has an abundance of great information and resources.
3. From Fatigued to Fantastic —More of a clinical medical book, author Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. explores thyroid, adrenal burn-out, candida, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and pain. Everything becomes interrelated and falls under the umbrella of “fatigue.” This is a good comprehensive book to achieve endocrine balance.
Other Things to Consider
1. Know all your numbers—Always get a Free T4 and Free T3 blood test along with your TSH. A TSH blood test does not tell the whole thyroid story; you need to know what Free T4 and Free T3 hormones are doing in relation to the TSH level. At some point you may need to test for thyroid antibodies as well; visit Dr. Lowe and Mary Shomon’s websites for further information on this.
2. Adrenals and thyroid work together. When healing the thyroid, it is important to support the adrenal glands and vice versa. For good adrenal health, get adequate sleep, moderate exercise and eat regularly. Avoid excess sugar, alcohol and caffeine.
3. Cholesterol—Hypothyroidism can cause total cholesterol to rise. If your cholesterol is high, have a complete blood panel with TSH, Free T3 and Free T4 to rule out thyroid problems.
4. Avoiding medication—I tried various thyroid protocols (homeopathic, naturopathic, yoga and nutrition) and avoided medication for as long as possible; yet my TSH number kept going up. Hormone balance is delicate, and when the thyroid goes awry, medication can be quite beneficial (at least in my experience). Nothing else seems to balance an imbalanced hormone except the hormone itself. Once the thyroid hormones balance, some people are able to discontinue the Armour thyroid after a year or two. Synthroid, however, is harder to stop once started.
5. Be your own health care advocate—Read and continually educate yourself! Do not take one piece of advice/information (including this blog post) and run with it. Always question the source, the motivation and documented measurable proof of what you read or are told when it comes to your health!
6. If you have a doctor who doesn’t listen to you, find another doctor. I did! Check out Quality Doctors and search around. There are doctors on your insurance plan who have read and understand the current thyroid guidelines. You just need to find them.
7. Good Luck! Persistence pays off when looking for a competent doctor. Whether it’s you, a family member, or friend who struggles with their thyroid hormones, when the thyroid is balanced, everyone feels much better:-)
About the author
Jolene Park, B.A., Certified Nutrition Consultant, Yoga Teacher founded Healthy Discoveries in 2001. She facilitates health and nutrition workshops for companies large and small across the U.S., and provides wellness and nutrition coaching for individuals and multiple medical offices throughout the greater Boulder/Denver area. Learn more.