Thyroid hormone is a metabolic hormone secreted by the thyroid gland. It regulates temperature, metabolism, and cerebral function, which results in increased energy, temperature and warmth. It increases fat breakdown resulting in weight loss as well as lower cholesterol. It protects against cardiovascular disease by its cholesterol lowering properties. It improves cerebral metabolism and prevents cognitive impairment. It relieves symptoms of thin, sparse hair, dry skin, and thin nails. Thyroid affects every cell in the body.
People who suffer from low thyroid function tend to experience fatigue and low energy, slowness in their speech and actions, forgetfulness, mental confusion, depression, arthritis-like pain and susceptibility to colds and infections. Many of these aspects are considered normal aging. However now we know that it is secondary to thyroid insufficiency. The thyroid hormone can be an indispensable ingredient in the total hormone package. Thyroid production declines as we age, similar to other hormones. This is not considered to be true hypothyroidism but rather a thyroid insufficiency, which has in the past been thought to not need hormone replacement. Research has now shown that improving thyroid levels will alleviate any of the symptoms of thyroid insufficiency and allow our system to function more effectively and efficiently.
Thyroid hormone initially is produced in the thyroid gland as a storage form of thyroid called T-4. Once in the body, this circulating T-4 is converted to the active form of T-3 by an enzyme, which becomes less effective with time. As we age, the production of T-4 by the thyroid gland diminishes. In addition, the conversion of T-4 to the active form of T-3 also diminishes, resulting in less stimulation of the cells. Mitochondria need thyroid hormone to burn oxygen and produce ATP, which is the fuel that runs the body. If the mitochondria are weakened due to an inadequate supply of thyroid hormone, then we will not be able to burn up proper amounts of oxygen thereby giving us less energy and symptoms of thyroid insufficiency. In addition, we will be unable to keep up mentally and physically as we once did. Also our immune system slows down becoming weaker and less effective. Physicians have been hesitant to supplement thyroid hormones largely due to a lack of understanding of the importance of optimal thyroid levels and the relationship to the quality of daily life.
Over the years I have seen hundreds of patients that complain of fatigue, lack of energy, weight gain and all the typical symptoms of low thyroid. Every time these patients have been seen by their doctors they are told that there is no problem with their thyroid because their tests are "normal". Patients seem to know that there is a problem with their thyroid, but physicians refuse to acknowledge this. Many patients treated with synthetic T-4 products will still experience hypothyroid symptoms even though the laboratory test values appear normal to their physician. This is because a physician tends to rely on one thyroid test, the TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone, which is an indirect measurement of thyroid function. The new paradigm is to measure the free hormones in our body, which is the Free T-3 level. The free hormones are the "active" hormones and are a more accurate indication of the body's metabolism by the hormone. I am currently working on two studies showing low normal Free T3 levels were associated with fatigue and other symptoms of low thyroid, thus indicating that "low normal" is sub-optimal. Correcting these deficiencies of thyroid hormone to optimal levels with natural thyroid results in optimal blood levels and resolution of symptoms. Even though thyroid levels might vary, symptoms might not improve until optimal levels are reached, levels similar to those present in our younger years. This is a concept not understood by most physicians, yet wholeheartedly embraced by patients.
Just because laboratory values fall within a normal range does not mean the levels are optimal or the best they can be. We believe there is room for improvement. Normal levels for a test are an average for the population. People might be low or high and this determines normal levels. But normal for a middle-aged person is low in comparison to a younger person. So a middle-aged level is just as low as everyone else at that age, rather than optimal for a younger person. Physicians call it "normal for your age." Patients call it feeling lousy for your age. By optimizing thyroid levels symptoms of low thyroid can be alleviated.
As for those who are taking thyroid, most physicians prescribe only synthetic T4 medications. Unfortunately, many symptoms persist despite "normal" thyroid levels. The problem is lack of conversion of T4 to the active hormone, T3. By using a combination of both T4 and T3 in a natural form, optimal levels of T3 are obtained. A recent study in the NEJM proved that the synthetic T4 by itself did not work to eliminate symptoms. It was only the combination of T4 and T3 together that resulted in clinical improvement and resolution of symptoms. We find the synthetic thyroid (T4) replacements are not as effective as the natural replacements, which mimic the hormone normally produced by the body. Natural thyroid with T3 is the only way to optimize all thyroid measurement levels. Patients who switch from the synthetic to the natural usually notice an improvement in their symptoms similar to the NEJM study. In spite of the evidence that natural thyroid is much more efficacious, physicians will often only prescribe the T4 due to drug company marketing and habit.
Reprinted with permission and appreciation.