The Thyroid: The Body’s Furnace

Jennifer’s Story

Fatigued and with a general lack of vitality, Jennifer is concerned about her health. Jennifer eats well, exercises regularly, and sleeps 7-8 hours depending on how much weeding her garden needs before work. Jennifer and her husband, Todd, have a lovely life together. Married for 3 years and comfortable in their careers, they are ready to start a family. However, after a year of unsuccessful attempts, Jennifer is concerned that she or Todd may be infertile. A battery of tests confirm that they are fertile, leaving the couple stumped. “Sometimes poor thyroid performance can inhibit conception,” suggests Jennifer’s doctor. They run some TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) tests and Jennifer’s doctor says that her thyroid hormone level is perfectly fine. Jennifer will be 33 years old in August. What if this mystery is not solved before it is too late to conceive?

The thyroid is a comprehensive part of our health. We need healthcare professionals that can look at the whole picture, not isolated symptoms. Jennifer began to search for answers.

The Thyroid: The Body’s Furnace

The thyroid serves as the body’s furnace, helping to convert consumed nutrients into useful energy. It is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck. Thyroid hormones are essential for the production of energy in each and every cell in the body. The thyroid is also responsible for transforming cholesterol into hormones. Many health related problems have thyroid implications — the challenge lies in knowing how to detect and treat them.

Under normal circumstances, the thyroid makes the right amount of two important hormones, T4 (Thyroxine- the inactive form of the thyroid hormone) and T3 (Triiodothyronine- the active form of the thyroid hormone). The thyroid produces T4 in response to Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) which is made in the pituitary gland. T4 is then sent to the liver and large intestine where it is converted to T3. Digestive health is extremely important for healthy thyroid function, since 20% of this critical transformation occurs in our digestive tract.

It is important to understand how T4 and T3 interact with each other and with the body. Though T4 is the main hormone produced by the thyroid, T3 is the most active. The hormone T3 is anywhere from three to eight times more potent than T4. Many of our thyroid issues result from factors that either block or overstimulate this conversion process.

In general, our body’s cells increase their rate of activity with an increase in available thyroid hormones. These hormones regulate aspects of our metabolism such as how many calories we burn, how much we weigh, and how warm we feel. They influence the heart, which pumps harder and faster with increased thyroid hormones. As the most potent and active thyroid hormone, T3 affects every single function in the human body. It affects the brain’s cognitive function, mood, concentration, memory, attention span and emotions. Additionally, T3 has a direct impact on a woman’s ability to conceive and carry a fetus to term. Perhaps Jennifer’s inability to conceive could be a result of insufficient or ineffective T3.

The Thyroid Continuum

Like a furnace, our thyroid functions on a continuum. When our thyroid is underperforming, the furnace cannot utilize available nutrients and convert it into useful energy. When our thyroid is over-performing, the furnace is producing too much energy. In this article we will discuss the two opposite ends of the continuum- Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism.

What Causes Thyroid Dysfunction?

There are four main causes of thyroid dysfunction:

  1. Over or under production of thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH) from the pituitary gland.
  2. Over or under production of thyroid hormones (T4, T3) from the thyroid gland.
  3. The body’s inability to convert T4 into T3 efficiently.
  4. The body’s inability to utilize T3.

1. Causes of Over or Under Production of TSH in Pituitary Gland

*High TSH indicates Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid), while low TSH indicates Hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid).

• Gluten intolerances

• Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s or Grave’s disease

• Stress

• Low calorie diets

• Inflammation and environmental toxins

2. Causes of Over or Under production of T4, T3 in Thyroid Gland

• Iodine Deficiency

• Chlorine, bromine and fluoride

• Certain medications (Beta Blockers for cardiac arrhythmias, lithium, phenytoin, theophylline, chemotherapy)

• Immune reactions to food intolerances

• High doses of nutritional supplements such as alpha lipoic acid and carnitine

3. Causes of Poor Conversion of T3 from T4

• Stress hormones (cortisol)

• Nutrient deficiencies (especially selenium, iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamins B2, B6 and B12)

• Mercury, lead and cadmium toxicity

• Certain medications

4. Causes of Poor T3 utilization

• Tamoxifen

• High levels of estrogen, including estrogen replacement medications like Premarin

• Toxins

• Anti-inflammatory medications

• Vitamin A deficiency

• Fatty acids EPA and DHA

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism (Under Active Thyroid)

When a person’s thyroid is underperforming, the loss of cellular energy and hormones is felt throughout the body. These issues become more acute and apparent especially with age. Symptoms include:

• Chronic fatigue

• Insomnia

• Immune system problems (frequent colds and flu, asthma, bronchitis)

• Woman-specific health issues (PMS, cyclic migraines, mood swings, fibrocystic breasts)

• Low blood sugar

• Increased cholesterol

• Weigh gain, or inability to lose weight

• A before-rising basal temperature of below 97.8 F
• Depression

• Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism (Over Active Thyroid)

Many of the causes for Hyperthyroidism are similar to Hypothyroidism. Some additional factors are Grave’s disease (an autoimmune disease where the thyroid is attacked), thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland which leads to a release of excess amounts of thyroid hormone), and excessive doses of thyroid hormone, especially those that contain T3. An over-active “furnace” that produces a surplus of energy can drastically affect our physical, emotional and mental state. Symptoms include:

• Palpitations, fast heart rate

• Heat Intolerance; warm, moist skin

• Nervousness, trembling hands, breathlessness

• Insomnia

• Increased bowel movements

• Light or absent menstrual periods

• Fatigue, muscle weakness

• Weight loss

• Hair loss

• Staring gaze

Testing Options: Finding out the Truth

1. TSH Range

Most doctors test only for TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) and T4 in standard blood tests. Unfortunately, this does not tell the whole story. In order to obtain a complete picture of your thyroid health it is important that any thyroid test also include:

• T3

• The body’s utilization of T3

• Thyroid antibody levels

There are tests that check T3 levels, but no blood test can test our bodies utilization of T3. This is why symptoms surveys are crucial components to assessing thyroid health. Thyroid antibody levels are indications of autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s disease or Grave’s disease. Though these autoimmune disorders are increasingly common, thyroid antibody levels are not frequently examined. The absence of these three elements in standard blood tests is why so many patients still do not feel better.

2. Oral Temperature and Resting Pulse Test and Thyroid Symptoms Survey

One of the easiest ways to test thyroid function is the oral temperature and resting pulse test paired with a comprehensive thyroid symptoms survey. Broda Barnes, M.D., developed this method oral temperature and resting pulse test. By measuring basal metabolic rate, an indicator of how well the furnace is burning, Barnes was able to determine sub-clinical hypothyroidism which does not show up in standard blood chemistry tests. Since the basic function of the thyroid is as a metabolic “furnace,” our body temperature is a key indicator of thyroid health. Our oral temperature in the morning after rising should be at least 98 F. Half an hour after lunch our oral temperature should be between 98.6-99 F. Our resting pulse after lunch or when not eating should be 85 bpm. This information combined with a thyroid symptoms survey can clearly and accurately indicate a poorly functioning thyroid.

Common Medical “Cures”: Expensive and Ineffective

There are three common medical “cures” utilized by most doctors today:

1. Drugs for Hypothyroidism: Under active thyroids are common and wide-spread throughout the United States. So common, in fact, that Synthroid (Levothyroxine), a synthetic thyroid hormone which provides TSH and T4, is the # 4 prescribed drug. Unfortunately, this drug is often not effective because it does not supply T3, the active thyroid hormone

2. Three Drugs for Hyperthyroidism: Overactive thyroids are treated with three different kinds of medication. The first kind are called beta blockers such as Propranolol and Metoprolol that reduce rapid heartbeat, tremors and nervousness. The second kind are antithyroid drugs such as Tapazole (methimazole) or Propylthiouracil (PTU) that block production of thyroid hormones. Antithyroid drugs are known to lower white blood cell count, dropping the body’s resistance to potential infection. The third kind of drugs are radioactive iodine-131 which destroys cells that make up the thyroid gland and prevent thyroid hormone production.

3. Thyroidectomy: The surgical removal of the thyroid gland is often utilized in cases of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), this can lead to the opposite problem: hypothyroidism (under active thyroid). Patients may rely on artificial thyroid hormone supplements for the rest of their lives.

Thyroid Results

As nutritionist Dr. Joseph Debé points out in his article Do You Need a Thyroid Tune-up?, “thyroid hormone medication does nothing to improve thyroid metabolism and actually causes the body to stop making it’s own hormone.” Common medical cures often inhibit the body from healing itself. 

1. Right Information: The first step on our path to wellness. Once we know where and how our thyroids are failing, we can begin to heal appropriately. This is especially important in cases where  thyroid antibodies are present because this can indicate an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s disease or Grave’s disease. Treatments should be tailored to our individual needs.

2. Armour thyroid: a complete bioidentical thyroid replacement hormone containing TSH, T4 and T3. Bioidentical hormones are identical in molecular structure to the hormones humans produce naturally in their bodies. Synthroid and other synthetic or pharmaceutical drugs may have negative side effects. Additionally, Synthroid provides ONLY TSH and T4 hormones, and not T3.

3. Thyroid glandular supplements: these supplements have T4 and T3 as well as other thyroid nutrients to help support the thyroid gland. An example is desiccated thyroid.

4. Iodine, Magnesium and Selenium: these 3 key ingredients are important nutritional supplements for general thyroid health.

5. Bladderwack, ashwagandha, and Indian ginseng to make sure body properly utilizes t3.

6. Work with a clinician to measure basal metabolic temperature four days in a row after lunch to see how well these supplements are resolving the thyroid issue.

Jennifer’s Resolution

After over a year of frustrating doctors visits, Jennifer visited a health practitioner that suggested she check her basal metabolic temperature to see if her thyroid was working properly. She was astonished to find that her temperature was much lower than normal. Despite inconclusive TSH tests at her doctors office, Jennifer realized that her thyroid was under active and her body was struggling to produce T4 and T3. She immediately began taking dessicated thyroid supplemented and added foods that contained selenium and magnesium to her diet. An ELISA food allergy panel indicated a strong food allergy to dairy. Jennifer removed dairy products from her diet. Within months her body temperature returned to normal and she and Todd were pregnant.

Please call to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Ann Arbor Holistic Health Clinic we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.