If you wake up in the morning complaining that you are as tired as when you went to sleep or you’ve gained weight and find it impossible to lose, no matter what you do or your hair is falling out or you’re feeling depressed, you just might be suffering from low thyroid function.
Fatigue, weight gain, falling hair and depression are the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism, but they are far from the only ones. It’s loosely paired with a laundry list of symptoms as long as your arm, including such seemingly unrelated health issues as low body temperature, missing parts of eyebrows, carpal tunnel syndrome, brain fog, digestive problems and constipation. Having just one symptom could indicate your thyroid is under-functioning.
Women are at risk
More than 20 million Americans have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, but experts suggest that the real rate of hypothyroidism is probably double that number with as many as 30 million unaware they have the conditions. Women are five to eight times more likely than men to suffer from hypothyroidism and older women become more vulnerable to thyroid malfunction.
This is probably because excess free estrogen, present during perimenopause, can suppress the action of the thyroid, while progesterone, which declines as a woman ages, enhances thyroid function.
At least one in four postmenopausal women has subclinical hypothyroidism, low thyroid function that does not show up on thyroid tests.
Some thyroid specialists suggest trying a severely calorie-restricted diet (under 1,000 calories) for 28 days and, if significant weight loss doesn’t occur, considering the possibility that hypothyroidism is slowing your metabolism.
A Simple At-Home Thyroid Test
Have a thermometer ready by your bed. Plan to awaken at precisely the same time every day for the next four days.
When you first awaken, before getting out of bed, place the thermometer in your armpit. Leave it there for 10 minutes, then record your reading. If your four days of measurement show your average morning resting temperature is below 97.8 degrees, it is likely you have low thyroid function.
What tests do you need?
Some doctors will prescribe thyroid medications for those whose tests are inconclusive or even definitively indicate normal thyroid function, based on the theory that so many people have low thyroid function that is not registered on common blood tests.
Unfortunately, the majority of doctors will do cursory blood tests and summarily rule out hypothyroidism.
The most common blood tests to measure thyroid function are TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone, the hormone that stimulates your thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones) and T4 (the major thyroid hormone.
A high level of TSH indicates your hormone function is too low. A normal TSH range is between 0.35 and 5.0 mU/l. However, most doctors consider any reading higher than the optimal reading of 1.8 to indicate hypothyroidism.
Most doctors stop at the TSH and possibly the T4 test if you insist (optimal range: 4.5-12.0 uG/dl).
There are other tests that provide much more information, including T3, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3 and anti-thyroid antibodies.
It’s not always easy to find a doctor who will pay attention to your problem and do the proper testing. If you’re lucky, you may find a doctor willing to give you a low dose of natural thyroid medication based on your symptoms and see if you get relief
Synthetic thyroid hormone replacement is the standard medical treatment for hypothyroidism, but there are natural alternatives.
These supplements can help:
- Iodine: Thyroid problems can be caused by iodine deficiency, despite its presence in table salt. Hypothyroidism can often be successfully treated with iodine and with supplements containing seaweed in the form of kelp, bladderwrack and bugleweed.
- L-tyrosine: This non-essential amino acid is one of the building blocks of thyroid hormone as well as the brain chemicals dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine and can help improve thyroid function and improve energy levels and mood.
- Prescription natural thyroid hormones: If you don’t get relief from the above supplements, ask your doctor to prescribe natural thyroid hormone replacement. They’re available under the brand names Armour Thyroid, Westhroid and Nature-throid.
It’s not necessary to soldier your way through the exhaustion, stubborn weight gain and other trying symptoms of hypothyroidism. There are answers to your problems.
However, you may need to become a crusader to get a doctor to recognize your problem and give you the treatment you need—and deserve.