“There’s nothing wrong with you. Your lab tests are normal.”
Does this sound familiar? Many of my clients have gone to the doctor feeling tired, depressed, constipated, bloated, anxious, or generally just not themselves. The doctors run lab tests that come back normal and they tell the patients that they can’t find anything wrong.
This is a terrible place to be – knowing something isn’t right and feeling like there’s nowhere to turn.
A friend of mine encouraged me to share my own experience here so you can see what kind of transformation can take place when you get to the bottom of your health issues. I am not going to waste a lot of space giving you my health history. If you are interested in the details, you can find them on my website. To make a long story short, I had severe endometriosis when I was in my early twenties. This diagnosis led to surgery and drug treatments that had many side effects. (Suffering fifteen hot flashes a day at any age isn’t fun. When you’re twenty years old, it’s awful.) This experience sent me on a quest to reclaim my health without drugs.
With the help of a Naturopathic doctor, I made some progress over the next four years, though I was still experiencing fatigue, bloating, and constipation. I also had 20 pounds I couldn’t get rid of, no matter what I tried.
I’d had many alternative lab tests done (food allergy, metabolic profiles, and gut function tests) and spent thousands of dollars in supplements. In the end, it really didn’t get me the results I was looking for. I was baffled, because I was eating a so-called “healthy diet,” yet I wasn’t feeling much better.
One day, I was reading about hypothyroidism online and realized that many of my symptoms, including endometriosis, were related to this condition (click here for an online thyroid questionnaire). I decided to go to my doctor and request a thyroid test. I decided to request a thyroid test. The doctor screened my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone, released by the pituitary gland) and my numbers came back normal. I remember thinking that was interesting, since I had 20 signs of hypothyroidism, according to the online quiz, and nothing I was doing was making me feel better. I started taking my basal body temperature and found my “normal” was between 96.6°F and 97.0°F. In my mind, it just wasn’t adding up. I had low body temperatures and multiple symptoms for hypothyroidism, yet my doctor told me I was fine.
Around this time, I met an M.D. who took a more holistic approach. She told me I needed to have a FULL thyroid panel taken. She explained that simply testing TSH doesn’t tell the whole story. You also need to measure the Free T3 (active form of the hormones) and the Free T4 (which is converted to T3 in your liver). My full panel indicated that even though my TSH was normal, my T3 was low. With those results, my doctor prescribed a bio-identical (desiccated) thyroid hormone called Armour (Naturethroid and Westhroid are other brand names).
Desiccated thyroid hormones have been used around the world for over 100 years and it was the primary type of drug used to treat hypothyroidism until the 1960s, when pharmaceutical companies developed and marketed inexpensive synthetic versions. The difference between desiccated thyroid and synthetic thyroid drugs (Synthroid and Levoxyl) is that desiccated thyroid contains both T3 and T4, whereas Synthyoid and Levoxyl contain only synthetic T4. One of the main problems in using just T4 is that many individuals have a problem converting T4 into active T3 in the liver.
There is a huge debate in the medical community about the use of synthetic vs. desiccated thyroid medications. You can read about both sides of the issue on the internet, though I’d caution you to remember that a lot of the research you read is funded or influenced by pharmaceutical companies. Because of this (in my opinion), most mainstream doctors only prescribe synthetic medications. This is unfortunate, particularly since many of my clients have fully recovered from their hypothyroid symptoms after switching to bio-identical hormones.
Hypothyroidism Type 2, by Dr. Mark Starr, is a fantastic book that goes into great depth on this topic. He scientifically explains why synthetic drugs don’t work for most people and what options you have if you suffer from this condition. He discusses why current lab tests aren’t an accurate reflection of thyroid conditions, either in individuals, or, for that matter, on the national landscape. And Dr. Starr explains why you might be hypothyroid, even if your full thyroid panel comes back normal.
I want to leave you with a couple of last thoughts:
- If you are currently on a synthetic medication and you are not getting better, do your own research on this topic and talk to your doctor as an informed patient (resources below).
- Ask your doctor to run a full thyroid panel (Free T3, Free T4, TSH)
- If you are symptomatic with low body temperatures, find a doctor that will treat you with a holistic approach.
You are your own best advocate. No one can fight for your health as well as you can, and when you’re confronting hypothyroidism, you really need to understand what you’re dealing with, in your own body and regarding the medical community. I know, through my own experience and in working with a number of clients with thyroid issues, that sometimes it’s an uphill battle. The best things you can do are to become informed, to learn how to talk to doctors, and to learn where to get the information that they either can’t or won’t give you.
In October 2008, I began the process of healing. I gave my diet a complete overhaul, and made a concerted effort to include foods that support the metabolism (what these foods are might surprise you). I began taking bio-identical thyroid in June 2008. I’ve lost 12 pounds by following the same recommendations that I give my clients. My body temperatures have risen from 96.6°F to 98.2°F. Since I started taking thyroid medication, I have lost an additional 8 pounds. I feel better than I have in years. I hope my story encourages you to do your own research, to continue to dig until you find an answer and start to feel better. More often than not, proper thyroid function is a key to the equation.
Update: 2011 – Since originally posting this article in 2009, I continue to feel great and have lost an additional 10 pounds. My energy levels are consistent and my digestion has improved significantly. I also discovered in the last 2 years that adequate vitamin D levels are important to good thyroid function. Please have your Vitamin D levels checked by your doctor if you’re having (or think you might have) thyroid issues.
Tracie Hittman Nutrition, LLC
Resources for further study:
Barnes, Broda and Lawrence Galton. Hypo-thyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness. NY: Harpers & Row Publishers, 1976.
Peat, Ray. “TSH, Temperature, Pulse Rate, and Other Indicators in Hypothyroidism.” Ray Peat.com 2007. 9 Sept. 2009. <http://raypeat.com/articles/articles /hypothyroidism.shtm>.
Shomon, Mary. Living Well with Hypothyroidism. NY: HarperCollins, 2000.
Starr, Mark. Hypothyroidism Type 2. Columbia, MO: Mark Starr Trust, 2009.
Tracie Hittman, MS, is a Nutritional Consultant and, as such, the nutritional consulting services provided are for information and education purposes only. Information provided is not to be substituted for a physician’s medical attention and professional judgment for diagnosis and hands-on treatment. Tracie Hittman MS, of Tracie Hittman Nutrition doesn’t provide medical advice or medical and/or diagnostic services. Follow suggestions as your own risk.