What is the Thyroid?
Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland situated at the base of the front of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. Hormones produced by the thyroid gland, such as — triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) — have an enormous impact on your health, affecting all aspects of your metabolism. Each week, in my old practice, I’d have many patients ask me for thyroid testing. I’d check their TSH and the results were almost always normal. When they weren’t, the treatment (Synthroid or Levothyroxine) rarely made much of a difference.
When I look back now, I know I wasn’t checking all of the proper blood tests and often not using the appropriate treatment. Sure, I was following the conventional standard of care, but what I’ve learned now is that isn’t always enough. Thyroid disease is common and often undiagnosed and undertreated. In fact, many people wish they could have hyperthyroidism over hypothyroidism. The truth is that there is a sweet spot, and too much of anything isn’t good either.
When it comes to blood testing, most doctors order TSH. TSH comes from the pituitary and signals the thyroid to make hormones. The lower the TSH is, the higher the thyroid. All doctors know this. The ideal range for TSH is 1 to 3.
If your regular doctor ordered thyroid blood tests, this is what they probably ordered. And, I still agree that if we were only going to check one test, this would be the best one. It’s the best overall measure of how much thyroid hormone you have.
But, what KIND of thyroid hormone do you have? Well, TSH stimulates the thyroid to make T4 (a hormone precursor). So, it’s likely that if you asked your doctor to order a complete panel, this is what they ordered, TSH and T4.
T4 is inactive and gets further converted to Free T3 (the good stuff) and reverse T3. Reverse T3 is a pretty much worthless thyroid hormone. Your body makes it to deactivate your metabolism because it thinks you are in danger and needs to reserve fuel (fat) for later use. This is helpful if you are indeed in immediate life-threatening danger. But not so helpful if you are dealing with chronic non-life-threatening stress.
Here’s the kicker: if you have a lot of reverse T3, your body will tell your brain (the pituitary) that you have enough thyroid hormone, so your TSH looks perfect.
An Optimal Amount of Free T3
People feel great when free T3 is as high as it can be without being too high. It’s what leads to optimal health. I like to think of it as a Goldilocks hormone.
Remember the story of the three bears? First, Goldilocks comes into the cabin and tries Papa Bear’s porridge– “too hot,” she says. Then she tries Mama Bear’s porridge– “too cold,” she says. But, Baby’s Bear’s porridge is just right. The bottom line: if you get too much thyroid hormone, you will feel worse, not better.
The adrenals communicate with the thyroid. So, when the adrenals are fatigued or worn out from all the stress (remember emotional, dietary, inflammatory), they send inhibitory signals to the thyroid — > Danger! Slow down!
How Do We Fix A Suboptimal Thyroid?
In functional medicine, we fix the underlying problem. We fix the adrenals, which will fix the thyroid! We fix the gut, which will help with autoimmunity. And, sometimes, if we want the truly best, fastest results: we directly optimize the thyroid.
There are also many necessary nutrients and trace minerals required for optimal thyroid function, such as selenium, zinc, iodine, and much more. Food is medicine. Food isn’t just calories.
If you or someone you know has gotten their thyroid checked, and the results came back “normal,” but they’re still not feeling their best, it may mean you or they didn’t receive the most comprehensive testing.
At Best Life Functional Medicine, we approach treatment by first looking at the root cause and the pathways leading to a poorly functioning thyroid in the first place. Many patients come to us with diagnosed thyroid problems or autoimmune diseases desperately looking for answers. We also love to help patients who don’t yet know what is wrong, but they know something isn’t right. We’ve designed programs to help them find the answers they need once and for all.
By walking them through 3 phases: Adrenals, Gut, and Mitochondria, clients can begin to understand what’s affecting the thyroid and the best way to treat and optimize it. It’s our goal at Best Life Functional Medicine to empower clients to transform their health. We want YOU to be in charge of your health. Knowledge is power.
Your body is designed to feel amazing and when it doesn’t, there is a reason.
If you need a guide to help you on your health journey, reach out. We’d love to help! Contact Us.