Sluggishness, depression, constipation, dry skin, thinning hair, weight gain, heavy menstrual bleeding, irregular menstrual cycles, brittle nails. Does this sound like you? If it does, then your thyroid hormones may be unbalanced. The symptoms listed above are very common in a condition known as Hypothyroidism – an under active or sluggish thyroid. You don’t have to have all the symptoms to suffer from an under active thyroid, you may only have a few. Of course these symptoms could indicate a number of health conditions, but taken together, it is often the thyroid gland that is out of whack.
Although conventional Medical Doctors (MD) and Naturopathic Doctors (ND) agree on many things, thyroid health is one exception. During a routine physical, your MD will test your TSH level – Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. A high TSH level suggests Hypothyroidism. The normal range for TSH is quite large in conventional medicine, and MDs do not typically flag TSH levels under 5mIU/L. Therefore, once your TSH reaches 5mIU/L or above, pharmacological treatment will be initiated. It can take time for your TSH level to get that high, meaning you could be suffering from symptoms long before your MD decides to treat it. Many of my patients come in saying “my doctor said everything was normal,” and therefore have no idea what their TSH levels actually are. To NDs, myself included, we generally consider TSH levels above 1mIU/L abnormal – a much lower level than an MD. The reason for this is because there are often many signs and symptoms of thyroid dysfunction well below 5mIU/L and above 1mIU/L. The technical name for this is “Sublaboratory Hypothyroidism.” In other words, the TSH level is within the conventional normal range, but the person is experiencing symptoms of an under active thyroid. So you could say, that the ideal TSH value is 1mIU/L. This is one advantage of seeing NDs – we identify dysfunctions and imbalances at an earlier stage, preventing you from suffering longer and eventually going on a pharmaceutical drug.
The most common medication prescribed for hypothyroidism is Synthroid. Synthroid is generally a well tolerated, moderately effective drug to bring a patient’s TSH into the normal range. However, many still suffer from hypothyroid symptoms, despite being on medication. New research is emerging that this is becoming a more common phenomenon, suggesting that Synthroid is not as effective as we once thought it was, even if a patient’s TSH is in the normal range. So you might think to yourself, “I am on medication, but I still don’t feel right.” You do not have to suffer. This is a great opportunity for an ND to support your thyroid, whether you are on Synthroid or not. There are several dietary, vitamin, mineral, and herbal options to bring your TSH to the optimal level and improve your quality of life. Fortunately, many naturopathic therapies can be used alone or in conjunction with Synthroid to support your thyroid health and optimize how you feel.
If you think your thyroid may be out of balance, get tested through your MD and ask for a copy. Then make a visit with an ND to identify any issues and discuss options. Or, have testing done directly through an ND (not covered by OHIP, but often more efficient).