Today, in this third module of the “Sage’s Pages” featuring Dr. Sara Gottfried‘s “The Hormone Cure,” we examine a condition facing an estimated 60 million Americans (both men and women): thyroid problems. By now, you will have read Chapter 9 (Low Thyroid: Weight Gain, Fatigue, and Mood Problems) so you’re aware that he thyroid gland secretes hormones that regulate activities of almost every cell in our bodies. It regulates how quickly we burn calories and maintains our metabolism, which explains why weight control is such a problem when the thyroid is out of whack. Dr. Sara calls your thyroid your very own metabolic thermostat.
But hold the phone — if you haven’t gotten hip to our online Book Club yet, you can still sign up for our “Sage’s Pages” series featuring Dr. Sara’s “The Hormone Cure” right here and catch up with us once you’ve ordered the book and taken Dr. Sara’s Hormone Questionnaire.)
Remember when you completed the Hormone Questionnaire two weeks ago? If you scored 5 or more checkmarks in Part G, you likely have a thyroid problem. Even if you checked off 3-5 symptoms, there’s a chance you might have an imbalance, so once you’re finished your required reading of Ch. 9, rejoin us here and leave your comments below to receive “7 Proven Potions for Ageless Skin”, a 50+ page resource for vitality. For those of you who have either already been diagnosed with low thyroid, or simply feel as though you need a re-boot and suspect your thyroid is the culprit, we encourage you to join us below to understand the mechanics of what’s happening when your thyroid is low.
Chapter 9 (Low Thyroid: Weight Gain, Fatigue, and Mood Problems) is key reading for so many of us who are feeling a sense of sluggishness, an inability to shed a few stubborn pounds, and a less-than-rosy outlook that we can’t seem to shake. While men can (and do) suffer from symptoms of low thyroid, women face a 20 percent chance of developing a thyroid problem at some point in their lives. “Unfortunately,” says Dr. Sara, “too many physicians mistake the symptoms for the problem—weight gain and depression.” In fact, 15 to 20 percent of people with depression are low in thyroid hormones, which is a number Dr. Sara thinks is too big to ignore. She suggests that a major call to action is required of our current medical establishment: an increase in the diagnosis of hypothyroidism, which heretofore has gone largely undiagnosed. The misconception that thyroid symptoms must always be accompanied by an abnormal TSH needs to be corrected, as often doctors won’t test for T4, T3 or reverse T3, all of which could be where the problem lies. In this chapter, she gives you the know-how to talk to your physician to get the right tests done.
So, without further ado, let’s get geeky about the thyroid — in real talk. (Okay, real talk with just a few very hormone-y words thrown in.)
Thyroid tissue stores a protein called thyroglobulin, and before it’s released into the bloodstream, it is converted into T4. T4 makes up more than 90 percent of your thyroid hormones, but it must be converted into T3 before it can be used, meaning T4 is essentially a storage hormone, waiting to be converted into T3. T3 is the catalyst for weight loss, warm limbs, and good mood.
When you are low thyroid (hypothyroid)—meaning you don’t make a sufficient supply of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) to meet your body’s needs—the pituitary gland in the brain responds by sending out a signal to nudge the thyroid into action by secreting TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone). But the main reason people in the United States develop low thyroid symptoms is because they’re producing too much TSH. When your thyroid is acting normally, you make less TSH and the feedback loop behaves normally.
To understand how the feedback loop works, it’s important to note that T4 is converted not just into T3 (which stimulates the metabolism), but that a small portion of T4 is also made into reverse T3, which slows your metabolism in order to save energy. While reverse T3 is intended to keep T3 in check and create homeostasis under normal conditions, Dr. Sara often finds that reverse T3 is high in her clients, meaning it is slowing the metabolism beyond what is necessary.
Thus, when Dr. Sara looks beyond the standard TSH test, she often finds that T3 is low. Adding a small dose of T3 can help with symptoms of fatigue, mood issues, hair loss, and reduced midlife zest.
So, what causes the thyroid to get out of whack in the first place?
Dr. Sara outlines a host of potential culprits on p. 247, but she suggests that in the US the most common cause is usually Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This is when your body’s own immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing inflammation and an overproduction of thyroid hormones. Burnout occurs when your thyroid is eventually unable to produce adequate thyroid hormones, and your thyroid cells are destroyed. The low levels of thyroid hormones cause the pituitary to make more TSH, but the thyroid can no longer keep up with the demand. Hashimoto’s typically progresses slowly, over the course of several years, and the signs can vary widely, depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency.
It’s also possible that your thyroid function is being undermined by other factors like stress, gluten sensitivity or environmental factors (like endocrine disruptors – truly scary chemicals like BPA that slow thyroid function by blocking thyroid receptors. You can do a deep dive in -person with Dr. Sara at Wanderlust Squaw on how to reduce the danger of endocrine disruptors in your life in this upcoming Speakeasy). Other possible culprits for low thyroid function are listed on p. 247.
So, beyond getting the right tests, what can you do right now to up your game against the threat of low thyroid? Start taking a short list of vitamins and minerals (including copper, zinc and vitamin A) but be sure to note the quantity of each that Dr. Sara prescribes on p. 254.
Further to that, she outlines a strategy of thyroid medication that can help jumpstart your trip back to hormonal status quo. Start with a desiccated thyroid, and after 6 weeks if that shows no progress, she outlines on p. 258 the next steps in honing in on first T4, then T3.
Your homework for next week is:
1. If you scored high in Part G of the Hormone Questionnaire, make an appointment with your physician to discuss your thyroid, and ask specifically for a test beyond TSH so that your doctor can look at your levels of T4, T3 and reverse T3.
2. Incorporate at least two of the vitamins and minerals Dr. Sara lists on p. 254. Be sure to check the recommended dosages she lists for each, as some combinations can work against you when the dosage isn’t right.
3. Read Chapters 6 & 7 on Estrogen for next week’s reading.
Then come back to this page to comment on what your experience was trying these methods to get take control of your thyroid. Each commenter will receive Dr. Sara’s special report on the “7 Proven Potions for Ageless Skin”. This 50+ page reference guide — not for women only, by the way — breaks down the science and the solution behind 7 areas that we can target to make our skin reflect our inner health. Get all this just for leaving a comment below on your experience this week taking charge of your thyroid! We look forward to hearing you describe your experience completing our assignments above.