Many people don’t realize that your thyroid plays a number of very important roles in different aspects of your health, all of which can contribute to unintended weight gain. The thyroid gland is a gland located in your neck, and is responsible for the production and secretion of thyroid hormones, which have the following actions in the body:
- Increasing metabolism
- Increasing clearance of bad cholesterol
- Contributes to heart function (increases heart rate)
- Mental alertness
- Increased movement of the intestines (helps us to have regular bowel movements)
- Bone turnover (break down & creation of new bone)
During fetal development in pregnancy, thyroid hormones are responsible for helping with brain development as well as proper development of the skeleton.
Some symptoms that your thyroid is not functioning optimally can include:
- Weight gain
- Constipation (You should be having a bowel movement every day)
- Hair loss
- Intolerance of the cold
- Abnormally dry skin
- Mood changes and irritability
On the other end of the spectrum, some symptoms that may mean your thyroid is in overdrive can include:
- Abnormal weight loss
- Heart palpitations
- Excessive sweating or intolerance to heat
- Greasy or oily skin
What to test for
A general first step to assessing the thyroid gland can be during physical examination, looking at the gland and feeling for any outright abnormalities or tenderness. Lab work is the most common way to confirm or rule out a thyroid issue, however, there are many different tests to check the function of your thyroid gland.
TSH- this is the one that your doctor will usually run first, your thyroid stimulating hormone. if your hormone is too high this can indicate your thyroid is underactive, and too low can indicate that your thyroid is overactive.
T4 & T3- These are your thyroid hormones found in the blood. These tests can further evaluate the amount of hormone your thyroid is able to make.
Anti-thyroid peroxidase & Anti-thyroglobulin can help in the diagnosis of autoimmune thyroid disorders, however as they do not change conventional treatment, are not usually run. Your naturopathic doctor may want these to be run since NDs use different treatment protocols to address an autoimmune condition.
Why a prescription doesn’t always fix the issue
If your TSH is too high, this often indicates that your body is attempting to stimulate your thyroid to make more thyroid hormone, but your thyroid is not properly responding (also known as “hypothyroidism”). If further investigations were not done, it can be assumed that you need to be substituting with thyroid hormone (synthroid) to fix the problem. However, if an autoimmune thyroid disease was present (hashimoto’s thyroiditis), we would not be able to identify the problem solely testing TSH.
Looking at the larger picture, an autoimmune thyroid process is basically our body identifying the thyroid gland as foreign, and attacking it as a result. This usually starts with our thyroid gland spilling out all of our thyroid hormone, and ends with us being deficient in thyroid hormone, often left in a hypothyroid state. In the case of autoimmune disease, the process of the body identifying the thyroid as foreign tissue will continue unless the immune system is targeted for treatment.
To the contrary, a hypothyroid state may also be present due to nutrient deficiencies , specifically nutrients required to properly make thyroid hormones. It is easy to see why a full thyroid panel is able to give us a lot of useful information above just testing TSH.
Additionally, cortisol (our stress hormone) can reduce the effectiveness of thyroid hormones on our tissues, so we can have symptoms that we are in an under-functioning thyroid [weight gain, constipation, dry skin, hair loss] state, when our thyroid hormones may still be in the “normal” range.
Think your thyroid may be functioning less than optimally? Lets chat!
Dr. Laura, ND