Strategy 4: Use Supplements That Support Your Thyroid
Key nutrients for healthy thyroid function are included in my basic supplement recommendations, including a multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains selenium, iodine, zinc, vitamins A and D, and omega 3 fats (fish oil). You will find all these nutrients at my store, as well as a thyroid support kit.
One warning is that if your adrenal glands are burned out from long-term stress, treating the thyroid without supporting the adrenal glands through relaxation and adaptogenic herbs (such as ginseng, rhodiola, or Siberian ginseng) can actually make you feel worse.
I also recommend working with an experienced practitioner who can address individual nutrient needs for your thyroid and, if necessary, also your adrenal glands.
Strategy 5: Have Your Thyroid Tested
There is no one perfect way, no one symptom nor test result, that will properly diagnose low thyroid function or hypothyroidism. The key is to look at the whole picture – your symptoms and your blood tests – and then decide.
Doctors typically diagnose thyroid problems by testing your TSH levels and sometimes your free T4 level. But some doctors and clinicians have brought the “normal” levels of those tests into question.
The diagnosis of “subclinical” hypothyroidism that I discussed last week depends on having a TSH level higher than 5 m IU/ml and lower than 10 m IU/ml. As I mentioned above, new guidelines suggest anything over 3 is abnormal. While an improvement, practitioners following these guidelines may still miss many people who have normal test results and a malfunctioning thyroid system.
To get a complete picture, I recommend looking at a wider range of functions:
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), the ideal range is between 1 and 2 m IU/ ml
Free T4 and free T3 (the inactive and the active hormone)
Thyroid antibodies (TPO), looking for an autoimmune reaction that commonly goes undiagnosed if the other tests are normal, as doctors don’t routinely check this
Thyroid-releasing hormone (TRH) stimulation test
A 24-hour urine test for free T3, which can be helpful in hard-to-diagnose cases
A physician experienced in ordering these tests and interpreting the results can provide a more comprehensive picture of how your thyroid is functioning.
If you think you have an undiagnosed thyroid problem, insist that your doctor perform these tests or find a doctor who will. They are essential to fill in the pieces of the puzzle standard tests don’t provide.
Strategy 6: Choose the Right Thyroid Hormone Replacement
Ultimately, to properly balance a thyroid that is severely out of balance, you will need to go on some type of thyroid hormone replacement therapy.
Altering your diet and your lifestyle will certainly help tremendously, but if your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, you may need to take some additional thyroid hormones to supplement its output. Knowing what’s available and what to ask about can empower you to make better decisions about your health.
When I went to medical school and did my residency, I learned about only one treatment for low thyroid function: Synthroid®, a synthetic form of T4 that wasn’t FDA-approved until recently.
Why do doctors prescribe it? Because that is all they learn to prescribe. But that doesn’t make it the best treatment for everyone. Some people benefit from Synthroid, but in some cases the symptoms don’t seem to go away using only T4, even if their tests return to normal. So what is the right treatment?
The answer is, it depends.
Part of the beauty (and the headache) of Functional Medicine is that no one treatment works for everyone. A combination of experience, testing, and trial and error becomes necessary to get any treatment just right.
At the same time, I’ve discovered the majority of my patients benefit from a combination hormone treatment including both T4 and T3. Synthroid is just T4, the inactive hormone. Most doctors assume that the body will convert it to T3 and all will be well.
Unfortunately, pesticides, stress, mercury, infections, allergies, and selenium deficiencies can block that process. Since 100 percent of us have pesticides stored in our bodies, we will all likely have some problem with Synthroid.
The most common treatment I use is Armour thyroid, (9) a prescription drug made from desiccated (dried) porcine thyroid. It contains the full spectrum of thyroid hormones, including T4, T3, and T2 (10). That last one – T2 – is a little-known product of thyroid metabolism that actually may be very important. The right dose ranges from 15 to 180 milligrams, depending on the person.
Many doctors still hold the outdated belief that the preparation is unstable and the dosage difficult to monitor. That was true with the old preparation of Armour, not the new one. (See www.armourthyroid.com for more information.)
Sometimes the only way to find out if you have a thyroid problem is a short trial of something like Armour thyroid for three months. If you feel better, your symptoms disappear, and you lose weight, it’s the right choice. Once started, you needn’t take it for life.
Sometimes, once all the factors that disturbed your thyroid function have been corrected, you may be able to reduce or discontinue the dose. As with any treatment, always work with a physician experienced in using medications to treat your thyroid.
Careful monitoring is essential. Taking too much thyroid hormone or taking it if you don’t need it can lead to undesirable side effects, including anxiety, insomnia, palpitations, and, over the long term, bone loss.
Over my several decades working as a Functional Medicine doctor, I can assure you that even in the toughest cases, you can heal your thyroid. With some patients, I can do this through the dietary, nutrient, and lifestyle factors I’ve discussed here. For others, that healing requires trial and error using several medications and working closely with a physician.
The bottom line is that you should never lose hope. Taking a proactive approach and working with a trained practitioner can correct many thyroid issues.
If you’ve ever had a sluggish thyroid or other thyroid issues, I encourage you to join our upcoming 10-Day Detox Diet Challenge which will have a bonus segment on Thyroid. Receive a free Ebook, an additional 30 minute live call with a nutritionist, extra coaching support, and my 7-step plan for reversing Hypothyroidism.