Quick introduction to the thyroid: lab levels, how the thyroid works, what to do if your labs are ‘normal’ and a quick intro to autoimmunity.

Join us for the thyroid month in our Facebook community: http://www.facebook.com/groups/225270131251390

Read the transcript:

February is thyroid month in month in my Facebook group and I am so excited to do a deep dive into thyroid health. For today’s podcast we are going to talk thyroid basics, some things you should know about labs, how to know when to blame the thyroid, and touch on autoimmunity with Hashimoto’s and Graves. 

The thyroid is one of the most complicated organs and hormone system that we have. What makes this is difficult is that it seems like every doctor or practitioner has their own view on how the thyroid should function, when someone needs medication, and if you listen to podcasts, read blogs, or watch videos you are probably finding that everyone has a different view on what the thyroid should look like as far as lab numbers. 

I am going to teach you today what to look for in your labs and how to understand your thyroid process so you can be confident in your health journey. 

Let’s start with how the thyroid works with the body. First, everything starts in the brain in the hypothalamus and pituitary. These are our master organs that control basically everything that goes on. They monitor the blood to check for hormone levels and release hormones to tell the organs to make necessary adjustments. 

One of the most common confusions is that the TSH number that is tested on labs is the thyroid. It actually is coming from the pituitary to the thyroid, which is why it is called thyroid stimulating hormone, TSH. This hormone tells the thyroid to speed up or slow down. 

So when your TSH is high, your thyroid is slow or hypothyroid. Your pituitary is yelling louder to tell it to move faster. When your TSH is low, your thyroid is moving too fast. So the pituitary is putting out less hormone to quiet the thyroid. 

The brain releases TSH to thyroid and the thyroid makes mostly T4 and some T3 hormones. T4 then goes to the liver and gut where it is turned into T3. T3 is the active thyroid hormone that works directly with our cells. 

T3 is in charge of many processes in our body:

  • Regulating the rate at which your body uses calories (energy).
  • This affects weight loss or weight gain and is called the metabolic rate.
  • Slowing down or speeding up your heart rate.
  • Raising or lowering your body temperature.
  • Influencing the speed at which food moves through your digestive tract.
  • Affecting brain development.
  • Controlling the way your muscles contract.
  • Managing skin and bone maintenance by controlling the rate at which your body replaces dying cells (a normal process).
  • Some common symptoms of thyroid imbalance include:
  • Tired/sluggish Feel cold―hands, feet, all over 
  • Require excessive amounts of sleep to function properly 
  • Increase in weight even with low-calorie diet 
  • Difficult, infrequent bowel movements 
  • Depression/lack of motivation 
  • Morning headaches that wear off as the day progresses 
  • Outer third of eyebrow thins 
  • Thinning of hair on scalp, face, or genitals, or excessive hair loss 
  • Heart palptations 
  • Anxiety

Many people like to jump to “OMG my thyroid is bad and that’s why I can’t lose weight!” They have all these symptoms but their blood work comes back normal. So let’s talk about blood work.

Most commonly, only TSH is ran and the rest of the panel is ignored. Most doctors are told that running anything else is a waste of time and doesn’t impact health, which obviously is incorrect. You can have a perfect TSH with changes in T4, T3, and autoimmunity.

The ranges for TSH by the lab are usually .4 to 4.5 is normal. Functional ranges that I like to use are 1-2.5 is my normal range. Now, being outside of the lab ranges typically can indicate that you would benefit from medication and that isn’t a bad thing.

Here are my top notes on TSH:First: if you are having thyroid symptoms look at your TSH and full panel. Use these functional ranges to know where you might be struggling. Your TSH might be at 3.5, which is ‘normal’ but could be considered subclinical hypothyroidism.

Second, get to know how you feel with your levels of TSH. Some people feel better when it is .8 where others know they do their best at 2.5. Especially if you are using medication or supplementation. Third, again look at your full panel This helps you understand exactly where the thyroid issues are coming from meaning: the brain, the thyroid, the liver, or gut or even cellular issues.

Naming every single lab number and patterns would take a long time here so make sure to join our Facebook group this month!

Now, what if your labs are normal? Scary, right? What do all these symptoms mean??
What I usually find is that when someone has chronic thyroid symptoms but their labs look great, that there is an issue with the HP axis. Meaning that the hypothalamus, pituitary axis that talks to the thyroid, adrenals, and ovaries or testes is interrupted. Working on the brain and the adrenals are usually the fastest way to resolve these symptoms without working on the thyroid.

Lastly, let’s quickly talk about autoimmunity like Hashimoto’s and Graves. Autoimmunity means when your immune system gets confused and starts attacking your own tissues. The immune system will attack your organs, causing tissue destruction and affecting how they function. When the immune system attacks the thyroid it can be very challenging. Some people will need medication to suppress the immune system as well as supporting healthy thyroid function.

The only way to know if you have autoimmunity is to get your blood work done for antibodies. If you have a history of other autoimmune issues, you are more likely to have thyroid autoimmunity as well.

Gluten and dairy can increase the autoimmune reaction and worsen symptoms as well. Make sure to steer clear of those as well as any immune stimulating herbs like green tea or astragalus.

This has been a great starting point for thyroid information so again, please join our facebook community so you can learn more every day. Thank you for tuning in so make sure to like and subscribe to stay up to date with this podcast and we will see you next time!