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  • Writer's pictureGemma Westfold

Is your thyroid firing on all cylinders?

Updated: Apr 30

What's the fuss about the thyroid?

The thyroid – a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck – is the body’s internal motor, effectively setting the speed at which the body works. If it’s not up to scratch, you might experience a whole host of uncomfortable or debilitating symptoms (see below).

With Spring finally here, now is the ideal time to reboot your system and commit to glowing health – and thinking about thyroid health is a good place to start.

If you often feel you’re dragging yourself through the day or you've been struggling to lose weight for a long while despite eating all the right things, it might be worth considering whether your thyroid is doing the job it should. With the UK prevalence of hypothyroidism at 2% and undiagnosed hypothyroidism at 6.4% for females (according to recent studies quoted by NICE), it's vital to know if this is what is slowing you down.

The hormones the thyroid gland makes affect most cells in the body by increasing the basal metabolic rate (BMR), as well as augmenting heat production. That’s why people with an underactive thyroid often struggle to lose weight, feel the cold more easily and have low energy – imagine the thermostat in the house not hitting the correct temperature. Ever.

What sounds familiar from below?

· I feel tired all the time

· My hands and feet are always cold

· I’m putting on weight for no reason

· I can’t seem to lose weight whatever I do

· I’m often constipated

· My muscles ache

· I get muscle cramps more often

· I feel irritable

· Generally, I’m feeling a bit low

· I’m struggling to fall pregnant

· My periods are heavier than usual

· My hair and skin feel so dry

· My sex drive is flagging or non-existent

· I’m losing hair at the outer edge of my eyebrow.

If more than a few symptoms resonate with you, visit your GP to discuss symptoms and ask to get your thyroid tested.

GP testing

One of two things will happen after you have a blood test at the GP. The doctor may tell you your results look normal, in which case no further action will be taken*. Or you might be sent for further testing if the result looks a little off, either immediately or for a retest in a few months’ time.

It’s much more common to have an underactive thyroid than an overactive one, and more common still for the underactive thyroid to be an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease where the immune system destroys the thyroid gland to the extent that it can no longer function normally. However, even with a diagnosis, many people still experience symptoms in spite of treatment.

What actually gets tested?

In the UK, the first thing doctors test is Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) levels. TSH is the hormone that tells your body to produce the actual thyroid hormones. If TSH is within range, your GP is unlikely do any further tests on the assumption that the rest of the thyroid hormone-producing cascade is working correctly.

If TSH is raised, your body is working harder than necessary to produce the right levels of thyroid hormones. At this point, your doctor may repeat the TSH test in a few months in order to compare levels.

Alternatively, they might test your Thyroxine (T4) levels to determine whether or not you’re producing the right levels of this hormone. If this level is below range, you’ll likely be prescribed a synthetic form of thyroxine to supply the body with what it is not making itself. If the level is above range, which suggests an overactive thyroid, you may be prescribed carbimazole and perhaps a beta-blocker.

*Still feeling tired and slow despite treatment?

This a common problem. Initially, you may start to feel better, but many patients report sliding back into their previous pattern of symptoms.

The reasons why you’re not feeling better can be complex.

Supplementing with synthetic T4 might not work, as what’s going on in your body might be more complicated and involve several issues. Some people produce enough TSH and T4, but T4 isn’t actually the hormone that does the work.

Triidothyronine (T3) is the ‘work horse’ that needs to be converted in the liver, the gut and peripheral cells from T4. Some people, for various reasons, simply don’t convert it very well.

In other cases, you might produce enough TSH, T4 and T3, but the body negates the effects of the usable T3 by making reverse T3 (rT3) –literally reversing the action of T3.

Secondly, your THS may ‘look normal’, but if you’re still dragging yourself through the day, you could have sub-clinical thyroid problems. GP ranges are quite broad, so it’s easy to fall outside the limits. Functional Medicine ranges look for optimal health, not just absence of disease. It’s worth knowing that regular GP testing does not cover T3 or rT3, so if you’re still feeling below par, it’s worth getting a full thyroid blood screen done privately. I work with all major private laboratories and can arrange this for you.

Do you have an autoimmune thyroid problem?

Another vital piece of information, which isn’t often covered by the standard GP test, is for the presence of autoimmune thyroid antibodies (thyroid peroxidase and thyroglobulin antibodies). This indicates your immune system is attacking your thyroid.

The autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s Disease (a form of underactive thyroid) is incredibly common but unless your GP tests for the antibodies, you won’t know that you have it.

GPs generally don’t test for this as it doesn’t affect their clinical management of you – whatever the diagnosis, you’re still going to be prescribed thyroxine.

However, this test is important to nutritional therapists, as the diagnosis requires an entirely different treatment protocol. We will now need to concentrate on what is affecting your immune system.

You may have high levels of these antibodies, but no symptoms of an underactive (or overactive) thyroid. The autoimmune element always comes first.

Hashimoto’s (underactive) and Graves’ (overactive) Disease affect the thyroid, but they are actually immune system disorders.

Adrenal stress - the missing link in thyroid treatment

Thyroid health is closely connected with your adrenals (two walnut-shaped stress glands located on your kidneys). If you have had any significant stress, your adrenal glands may not be performing optimally – and this is very bad news for thyroid health.

Adrenal stress disrupts the complex network of interactions needed to make the right amount of thyroid hormones, suppressing the thyroid function.

There are tests available privately for this. Unfortunately, adrenal issues are not recognized by UK GPs.

Addressing adrenal problems is important because the effects of stress affect energy production, fat storage (storing fat around the middle) and as well as female hormone health.

Ready to get that thyroid back into shape?

There are a number of different tests, which we can use to measure your thyroid levels. These include a full blood draw or a finger prick blood spot test. I take a full medical history and evaluate my clients symptoms before deciding on the best option. If you have an underactive thyroid and are feeling below par despite medication, I can help. Medication is just a piece of the puzzle. Book a free 20 minute call here

My programmes are designed with people like you in mind. I look for the reasons you have thyroid issues, and they will be unique to you, because with them we can really target our approach. I see many hypothyroid and Hashimoto's clients but they all have different symptoms, family health histories, lifestyles, work and family life which may may have contributed to where they are. This is why a personalised nutrition and lifestyle rather than a 'one size fits all' gets such good results.

Sound good? Book in a free 20 minute Reboot your Health call and see if we can work together.

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