Thyroid Problems are Hard to Diagnose: Here’s Why.

Your thyroid is a small organ with a huge impact on all aspects of your health. Thyroid hormone impacts every cell in your body, so even a small disturbance in thyroid hormone levels affects your digestive tract, brain, heart, metabolism, glucose and cholesterol levels, and much more.

Yet, despite its importance, thyroid problems are one of the most under-diagnosed conditions in the world. As many as 60% of people with thyroid problems aren’t aware. By some estimates, up to one in 10 North Americans have a thyroid problem, and that number rises to one in eight for women. That’s a lot of people experiencing unnecessary health issues!

For many people, thyroid issues are the result of low levels of thyroid hormone, a condition referred to as hypothyroidism. Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:

● Weight gain
● Fuzzy thinking
● Depression
● Constipation
● Chronic fatigue
● Always feeling cold
● Infertility
● Dry skin

To further complicate matters, many thyroid treatments fall spectacularly short when it comes to improving a patient’s quality of life. At the root of the problem lie inadequate diagnostic tools. Traditionally, conventional medical practitioners run two tests for thyroid hormone levels: one for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels and one for the hormone thyroxine (T4). Then they place patients on thyroid hormones or iodine in hopes of restoring balance. In effect, this is a Band-Aid solution that doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

By prescribing thyroid hormone without a full investigation, medical practitioners may run the risk of harming their patients’ health. Growing evidence suggests thyroid hormone is over-prescribed, and may even increase a patient’s risk of mortality.

When blood tests show a dip in thyroid hormone levels, thyroid hormone replacement therapy drugs such as levothyroxine, are very commonly prescribed.
Those that have clear low thyroid levels (hypothyroidism) benefit from this medical treatment, however the problem may lie in those who may have only a few, mild symptoms of hypothyroidism and come back with borderline test results, known as subclinical hypothyroidism, and older adults in particular.

Studies show those aged 65 and over who have been given thyroid replacement therapy have an increased risk of death. Due to the many hormonal changes that naturally begin to occur in older adults such as sleep changes and increased inflammation, natural dips in thyroid levels may occur. Thyroid replacement medication in these cases may not be necessary and if taken may be causing an override of said changes, therefore causing further complications.

Why traditional approaches may fall short.

Focusing solely on levels of TSH and T4, and then applying a quick fix, ignores the fact that the most common cause of hypothyroidism is actually an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. When someone experiences Hashimoto’s, their white blood cells and antibodies erroneously attack the thyroid, leading to a reduction in thyroid hormone secretion.

We haven’t yet determined the cause of autoimmune diseases, although evidence suggests genetic factors, inflammation, certain medications, and stress can all contribute. As well, studies have found possible connections between “leaky gut” syndrome, or increased permeability, and the autoimmune system.

Because of the vague causes for autoimmune disorders, traditional medicine tends to treat just the symptoms, without taking a holistic approach to address overall health. This is particularly true for Hashimoto’s, which is problematic. Without proper treatment, the immune system will continue to attack the thyroid gland, making it increasingly difficult to treat without addressing the autoimmune response.

The problem with traditional lab tests.

As you can see, thyroid problems and treatments are more complex than simply trying to fix a shortage of hormones as determined from testing TSH and T4. For better results, and a more holistic treatment plan, patients need more comprehensive assessments. Below are five causes of thyroid problems that won’t be detected by standard tests.

Pituitary problems.
The production of thyroid hormone is controlled by a gland at the base of the brain called the pituitary gland, which releases TSH. Elevated cortisol levels can damage the pituitary gland, which in turn reduces the amount of TSH, and consequently the amount of thyroid hormone.

Inefficient conversion of T4 to T3.
In order to be used by your body, T4 must be converted to another hormone, triiodothyronine, more commonly called T3. If this process doesn’t run smoothly, your body won’t have its optimum amount of T3, even if your T4 test results look good. An excess of the stress hormone cortisol in your body can impact this process.

High TBG levels.
Thyroid hormone travels through the bloodstream thanks to a protein called thyroid binding globulin (TBG). High TBG levels can lower the amount of active thyroid hormone, since it is inactive when bound to TBG. Excess estrogen can result in elevated TBG levels, which can lead to hypothyroidism, even if the results of the traditional tests are within normal range.

Low TBG levels.
Paradoxically, low TBG levels can also lead to hypothyroidism. That’s because low levels result in an excess of free thyroid hormone in the blood, which causes cells to develop resistance. The result is hypothyroidism, since although there is enough thyroid hormone in the blood, the body’s cells aren’t receptive to it. Common causes of low TBG levels include high testosterone levels and insulin resistance.

Thyroid resistance.
The receptors in your cells can be damaged by high levels of T4 or T3, or high levels of cortisol. As well, chronic stress can lead to adrenal fatigue, which is also harmful.

Optimum thyroid performance depends on a tightly woven interplay of processes, and, as shown above, just one imbalance can throw the whole thing off.
Traditional tests aren’t always going to recognize the various factors that contribute to thyroid problems. If you want to take a deeper dive into your thyroid health, please give us a call!

References:

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Why It’s More Important than Ever to Support Your Immune System

We have weathered some serious concerns about our health and how to protect ourselves from viruses over the last year and a half. We know the fight is not over and that having a strong and healthy immune system is your first defense in preventing invaders from taking over. As we enter into the cold and flu season (yes these germs still exist) and as we continue to battle new variants of viruses…our best foot forward is knowing what we can do ourselves to support our bodies innate ability to heal.

Why Your Immune System Needs Some Extra Love Right Now

The world has learned a lot about practicing good hygiene since the onset of the pandemic. Hand sanitizer sales jumped an astonishing 600% in 2020, we all wore masks in public, and “social distancing” entered into our regular vocabulary. This all contributed to our collective efforts to control viruses, but, somewhat ironically, scientists are now raising concerns about the long-term effects on our immune systems.

One concern is that the emphasis on sanitizing everything weakens immunity. According to the “hygiene hypothesis,” exposure to microbes like bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi helps to build our immune response. By limiting our exposure to the microbial world while trying to avoid viruses, have we disturbed this process? Research still needs to be done, as it’s obviously too early to know the long-term effects.

However, the isolation of the last year may have affected our immune systems in a more subtle fashion. Emotions have a profound impact on immunity. In particular, loneliness can lower our resilience. One study found that it triggers cellular changes that may reduce immunity as much as other, more physical risk factors for illness, like obesity. Similarly, stress reduces immunity. You’ve likely noticed you’re more likely to get sick during tough times, and research confirms that stress – particularly chronic stress – can alter your immune response. For many people, isolation and what sometimes feels like an endless stream of bad news have resulted in more intense feelings of loneliness and stress, and the resulting impact on immunity should be front of mind as we enter into the season where exposure to cold and flu viruses become more impactful.

Cases of the flu decreased dramatically during lockdowns, in part because hygiene practices were followed more conscientiously due to fear of contracting a virus. Continuing to do things like frequent hand washing will help you stay healthy. So will proactive efforts at supporting your immune system.

Another reason for building up immunity is the hard truth that viruses are likely here to stay. New evidence shows that even if you’re double-vaccinated, you could still be at risk (although the data has shown vaccination drastically reduces the odds of serious illness, now we are learning about how long those antibodies last and that immunity may be waning for the vaccinated). Being in top shape with your health is what we can personally control and feeling empowered with what you need to know is the first step.

Support Your Immune System: Proven Strategies

Being resilient is what we need to aim for. We know we can’t control everything but ensuring you do what you can to keep your body strong may help support your immune system for months ahead (and for the long term).

Focus on fiber
A diet rich in high-fiber foods encourages the development and maintenance of the gut microbiome, which stimulates your immune cells. A diet centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes is one of the best ways to develop stronger immunity.

Choose probiotics
Probiotic supplements and fermented foods also contribute to your gut bacteria. Good choices include sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and kefir.

Limit sugar
Reducing sugar intake may lower the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, both of which are risk factors for a weaker immune system. In one study, obese patients were twice as likely to get the flu following a flu shot, and eliminating sweets can go far in any weight loss strategy.

Favor healthy fats
Certain fats can reduce inflammation, which is stressful for your immune system. Research shows that extra virgin olive oil and foods with high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and flax seeds, are beneficial.

Find time for moderate exercise
Even a single session of moderate exercise improves immune response. Of course, everyone has a different definition of “moderate,” so pay careful attention to your body. You should feel refreshed and energized afterwards, not exhausted.

Stay rested
It’s always been a commonly held belief that getting enough sleep helps prevent illness, but new research suggests the relationship is even stronger than previously assumed. According to one study, a difference of less than one hour in the amount of sleep a person gets can significantly affect their susceptibility to colds. In particular, sleep helps strengthen T cells, a type of immune cell. It also slows production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that compromise immunity. If you find yourself hitting the snooze alarm every morning or you frequently feel exhausted, it’s time to take a look at your sleep hygiene and perhaps make scheduling more time to sleep a priority.

Add supplements if needed
Daily supplementation with certain immune supportive supplements may be beneficial. Some supplements that have been proven to help immune response include vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before including any new supplements. Feel free to get in touch with us and we can help find the right ones for you!

Avoid toxins
Don’t undermine your efforts to support your immune system by exposing your body to harmful toxins like cigarette smoke, excessive amounts of alcohol, or harmful pesticides. Be mindful of hidden toxins in household cleaning products, detergents and cosmetics too! Read labels and choose all natural products when possible – check out the Environmental Working Group website for more information on what could be hiding in typical household products, cosmetics and more! https://www.ewg.org

Remember – You’re in Control

We’ve all experienced a lot of stressful changes over the last year and a half. By taking proactive steps to support your immune system, you can ensure you’re ready for whatever the next few months hold and celebrate the world’s gradual re-opening.
If you’d like some help creating a health plan that fits your goals and lifestyle, give us a call – we are here to help!


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