Low Thyroid


Like you, I prefer to avoid medication. But with underactive thyroid, medication may be a valid answer. In her early fifties, my mother suffered from arthritis, depression, skin problems, fatigue, unexplained weight gain and assorted other miserable symptoms. Nothing seemed to help, until she got a new, younger family physician.  He promptly put her on thyroid medication, and she was a new woman. Her singing voice came back, along with her get-up-and-go. Her weight came down, her joy of living came up, and her skin looked great. No more bags under the eyes; no more three-hour daily naps.  If you are one of the millions who struggle with such not exactly subtle low-thyroid symptoms, then the rest of this article may be for you.

What to do? If you feel crummy, insist on thyroid testing, and get a copy of your test results. By law, your doctor must provide them to you if you ask. So ask! Interpretation of the tests is likely to be better if you insist on being in on it. You should first read up on the subject to be prepared.

There are important differences between T-3 and T-4 thyroid hormone. T-3 (triiodothyronine) would seem to be the one to watch.  Doctors characteristically over-emphasize your T-4 (l-thyroxine, or “storage” thyroxine) level and effectively ignore T-3 (fast-acting or “active” thyroxine) levels. Physician fixation on test results’ numbers, which are inadequate to detect borderline conditions, results in masses of people suffering the symptoms of low thyroid. These all-too-common symptoms include fatigue, depression, weight gain, insomnia, difficult menopause, endometriosis, and quite a variety of others including arthritis and rheumatic complaints, low sex drive, infertility, and skin problems. Many, many persons are therefore “uncomfortable but normal.”

Since a “normal” or even somewhat high T-4 can coexist with the symptoms of low thyroid function, do not accept a test for T-4 alone. Insist on T-3 testing as well, and pay special attention to it. TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) testing will almost always be done. High TSH levels indicates that the brain and pituitary gland probably want more thyroid hormone. A TSH number above 3.0 may be considered suspicious. Some doctors would say that anything over 4.0 deserves treatment if symptoms are present.

To assist you, and your doctor, in making a proper diagnosis, one simple preparatory step for you is to take your basal body temperature using a sensitive ovulation thermometer, or a good basal thermometer. This you do before you even get out of bed in the morning.

With tests done and results in, require your doctor to authorize a therapeutic trial of thyroid medicine. Be prepared for your doctor to wish to deny you thyroid supplementation if your T-4 is high. And, if you have low thyroid symptoms with a TSH of 2 or lower, request a TRH (Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone) test.

Thyroid medication is generally taken on an empty stomach, about half an hour to an hour before eating.

Learn the side effects of too much thyroid. These include: rapid heartbeat, unusual difficulty sleeping, sweating and otherwise feeling hot, hyperactivity, a racing mind, and twitching. Contrary to popular medical myth, thyroid medication does not cause osteoporosis; it helps prevent it.

There is disagreement as to whether excess iodine supplementation will help low thyroid sufferers. I am not an endocrinologist, so I continue to read both sides of the story. To settle the issue, one may paint a couple of square inches of the skin with iodine tincture once every week or so. The body will then absorb what it wants. That's what my family does.

There are different types and brands of thyroid medication. In my opinion, a natural dessicated thyroid is best. I believe you should insist on it.

Common sense caution: any treatment with a thyroid medication will require monitoring and tailoring of the dose. Work with your doctor. Or more correctly, require that your doctor work with you.  

And it can really work. A close friend of the family was literally falling asleep at the wheel while driving home from a normal workday. One day when I was at my doctor's office, waiting in one of those little exam rooms, I saw a wall poster illustrating the symptoms of an underactive thyroid. The image of the woman on the poster looked so much like our friend that it was uncanny. And virtually all the symptoms itemized were ones she had, in addition to falling asleep. It was such a close match that we told our friend about it. Interested, she went and asked her doctor for a referral to an endocrinologist and promptly received one. She asked the specialist about thyroid medication . . . and was literally laughed out of the office. He did no examination and did no tests. The visit was minutes long. Not taking intimidation for an answer, she made an appointment with a general practitioner known to be interested in natural therapeutics. This doctor agreed to the very testing that the endocrinologist would not even consider ordering. The numbers were inconclusive. So common sense took over and our friend simply asked for a trial of natural dessicated thyroid medication. The doctor, having taken note of her symptoms, agreed and prescribed a very low dosage. This appeared to help, perhaps, a little. Our friend went back and requested a higher dose, which was granted. Now she saw clear improvement. A third visit yielded a prescription for a still higher dose. This promptly proved to be too much: our friend developed a feeling of "racing," a faster heartbeat, and could not sleep. She immediately went back to the second dosage and all was well. Interestingly enough, over time, she was able to maintain good results on the original lowest dosage. Still, a little made a big difference. She never again fell asleep at the wheel.

In case you think I am too quick to sanction thyroid medication without considering diet, let's put that to rest now. Another very good, retirement-age friend of mine was on prescription thyroid replacement for many years. She was taking a very low dose. When she decided to really overhaul her diet, she converted to a mostly plant-based diet, with vitamin supplements including extra vitamin C. She also ate lots of backyard-grown, organic raw food and she regularly drank fresh vegetable juice. Within a matter of weeks of her diet revision, she began to experience some signs of thyroid medication overdose. Her doctor was able to take her off the thyroid replacement entirely. Living to 93, she never needed that (or any other) medication again. When she went in to the hospital for an old-age hip replacement, nurses from other floors converged on her room just to see "that elderly lady who took no medicines."

Copyright 2019, 2003 and prior years by Andrew W. Saul.

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at http://www.doctoryourself.com/review.html ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at http://www.doctoryourself.com/saulbooks.html )


Andrew W. Saul


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