This scenario happens in my office all too frequently.
A new client walks in.
She’s been struggling with her hormones for quite some time.
She's talked with her medical doctor and went ahead and
ordered a TSH blood test to check her thyroid.
The results have come back and everything is “normal”
[even though she’s exhausted, losing hair by the handfuls,
and her moods are making her bonkers].
She comes to me because she can’t understand why the tests say that there’s
nothing to worry about, when she knows in her heart-of-hearts that she feels like
the very definition of a low-functioning thyroid (aka: a crazy, hormonal mess).
Blood tests are the go-to test when it comes to taking a first
step towards a thyroid diagnosis, but are they always accurate?
We’ve come to rely on blood tests, because they seem like they
should be able to catch everything. Right?
Well…….blood tests might be our “gold standard”, but they certainly aren’t perfect.
When considering blood tests here’s a couple of points
to keep in mind.
1. Your Blood is Precious: Seems simple, I know- but let’s think about this one together.
Blood is such a precious fluid in the human body.
It brings oxygen, hormones and other vital nutrients to your brain, your organs
and your muscle tissue. It delivers nutrients to the cells and ferries waste away.
Your blood chemistry is pretty darn important for the overall function, health of your body.
Now remember, your body loves homeostasis- meaning your body will do whatever it can
to keep your system within a set, narrow margin.
And because your blood has such an important job (ie. feeding your brain),
your body will do whatever it can to keep the blood at a specific chemistry.
Because your body will compensate around your blood chemistry,
it can take years for a low-functioning thyroid to show up,
even though your symptoms show classic thyroid disorder.
2. TSH is Only A Part of the Picture:From reading my most popular article to date,
you know that your thyroid is just one gland in a very intricate system known as the endocrine system.
TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) is a hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland.
TSH levels infer thyroid function.
High TSH levels indicate a sluggish thyroid. When a thyroid isn’t responding to
thyroid stimulating hormone, the pituitary releases more TSH increasing the amount of
TSH circulating in the blood. On the other hand, low TSH levels suggest hyperthyroid-
meaning that the thyroid is working too fast.
There is one big caveat with diagnosing a thyroid solely on a TSH test. Ready?
The pituitary gland is not the only gland that determines thyroid function
nor does the pituitary gland determine the effectiveness of the thyroid’s hormones.
You might have a low functioning thyroid because the thyroid hormone is not being
received at the cellular level, you might have a hard time converting the T4 hormone to T3,
or you might have antibodies built up against your thyroid.
All of these situations lead to poor thyroid function and they do not affect TSH levels.
3. Hormones Change: Perhaps this is one fact that blood tests just can’t get around.
Your hormones (TSH included) are like the tides in an ocean.
They have a rise and a fall and they’re known to change throughout the day.
Dr. Philip Young author of Thyroid: Guardian of Health writes,
“the output of thyroid fluctuates significantly throughout the day. This is just what
is to be expected if the body has to adjust to the differing metabolic challenges
throughout the day. Digestion, exercise and stress all demand differing energy outputs
and thus different amounts of thyroid hormone.”
Bottom line: your hormones are not static. In fact, they have to change and fluctuate to deal with the
different demands of each day. Think about it. The metabolic demands of a relaxing Saturday morning
are very different compared to the metabolic demands of a crazy Tuesday morning.
Blood tests do not account for day-to-day fluctuations, let alone seasonal changes.
So, if blood tests aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be,
how do I get an accurate diagnosis?
Again, Philip Young, MD writes,
“I believe Hypothyroidism may be the single most important health problem of today;
certainly it is the most important problem that is not being diagnosed. Every aspect of
bodily function is touched when hypothyroidism is present, and mild degrees of hypothyroidism
are very common. Dr. Broda Barnes believed that in the Denver area, where he practiced,
about 40 % of the population would benefit from being on thyroid hormone.”
The key to getting a solid diagnosis is knowing your body.
Self-checks, temperature tests, and good, old-fashioned symptom
checklists will help you get the answers you deserve.
How to Test Your Thyroid: 3 Easy Ways goes over the steps to check your thyroid at home.
These home tests might not seem high tech (because they aren’t), but they sure do give you
valuable information to bring to your doc.
I know this whole temperature test thing seems like a drag.
Most of us wonder how a temperature test can trump a blood test.
But time and time again, Broda Barnes [who developed the temperature test] proved that checking
temperature upon rising was, by far, the most effective method to catch any type of hypothyroidism.
So, if you’ve got an inkling that your thyroid might be lagging (even just a little bit),
check out these at-home tests so that you can bring some extra info to your next apt. These days, when we’re talking
about quality healthcare, we’ve got to come prepared and understand that just because we’re taking a “test”,
it doesn’t mean that it’s going to catch everything.
Make Sure to Pass This Along
Empowering ourselves and getting to know our bodies is one thing, but helping a friend is another.
Hypothyroidism affects a person on so many levels. It can affect our moods, our learning abilities, our reproduction,
as well as our digestion, metabolism, elimination and sleep cycles. Pass this article along to a friend who you might think
is in need or share it on your social media platform of choice (by clicking the quick links below).
I wonder how many of us have been told that our tests show everything is normal,
when indeed our systems [and our thyroid in particular] needs support.
Here’s to understanding our bodies and getting to know our thyroid just a little bit better!