Unexplained Fatigue: Could your Thyroid have the Answer?
Low thyroid function affects ten times more women than men but the right help can boost energy and health.
Many women have thyroid issues at Menopause for a variety of reasons and the resulting fatigue is not always linked to this.
The usual treatment is medication such as Thyroxine but bioidentical progesterone is also known to help support the thyroid so I thought it would be helpful to share the views of leading Nutritionist Patrick Holford for a different view of the issue.
What is the thyroid?
Thyroid hormone is produced from a tiny gland that curves across the windpipe just below the Adam’s apple; its job is to keep the body’s various functions working at the right pace.
Too much and everything goes too fast – you lose weight, can’t sleep and your heart races; too little and your system slows down – fatigue, dry skin and constipation.
Too little (hypothyroidism) is the most common; production can be affected by all sorts of things – an autoimmune response, for example, or other factors such as prolonged stress or intake of certain drugs which can damage your thyroid. Patient groups like Thyroid-UK claim pollutants and even a lack of fruit and vegetables can also reduce your thyroid gland’s output.
How is it diagnosed?
The official NHS view is that if the level of a marker for thyroid levels in your blood is within the ‘normal’ range, then you aren’t hypothyroid and you shouldn’t get a hormone supplement.
Lynn Mynott of Thyroid-UK points out: “The Department of Health guidelines say that ‘blood tests are useful but should not be used in isolation’. In other words, you need to take symptoms into account as well.”
So the first thing to do if you are worried about your thyroid levels and have had them tested by the doctor, is not to accept vague phrases about their being ‘high’ or ‘low’ but instead ask for actual numbers and ask what the testing lab considers a normal range.
If possible, get a copy of the actual report. If it shows that your TSH level is above 2.4 to 3.0 and you are told that this is normal, point out that the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologist (AACE) now recommends treating when TSH goes above 3.0.
If you wish to take this further then a more detailed test can be run by Genova Diagnostics. The lab’s Total Thyroid Screen includes tests for TSH, anti-thyroid antibodies and the two kinds of thyroxine (your thyroid hormone) called T4 and T3. T4 is converted into T3, the active form of thyroxine.
Tiredness and your hormones
Sometimes you can have a normal T4 but a low T3, which means your ability to convert T4 into T3 is impaired and you feel tired as a result. If this is the case, follow my nutritional guidelines below. If your TSH is high, but your thyroxine levels (T4 and T3) are normal, one possibility is that you have too much oestrogen.
Oestrogen is one of the main female sex hormone which competes with thyroxine at hormone receptor sites. In other words, your body is able to make thyroxine, but the message isn’t getting through.
Having a lot of dairy products can promote excess oestrogen, so reduce or exclude dairy but do increase nuts or seeds to make sure you get enough calcium.
With all the mainstream emphasis on blood tests, the issue of thyroid dysfunction diagnosis has become a highly controversial one and one method suggested by some alternative practitioners is to use the Barnes temperature test. This involves taking your temperature first thing before rising on five consecutive mornings (for women, in the first half of their cycle).
If it falls below 97.8F/36.6C, it can be a sign of hypothyroidism. While doctors may dismiss it as unreliable, it may give a more accurate picture of the state of your system than the snapshot provided by a blood test.
Your doctor will almost certainly offer you thyroxine, a synthetic version of T4 which the body then turns into the useable form T3. A test for just T4 can be misleading because if your problem is that T4 is not being properly converted into T3, it won’t be spotted – you will have plenty of T4 and may still feel terrible.
Nutritional support for your thyroid
From a nutritional perspective, the two most common causes of an underactive thyroid are ‘endocrine burn-out’, or an auto-immune condition where your body produces anti-bodies that attack the thyroid. This second factor can be identified by testing for what are called ‘anti-thyroid antibodies.’
If you test positive there’s a good chance you may have an unidentified food allergy and this occurs when the body’s immune system reacts abnormally to a specific food as it is perceived as a threat.
What appears to happen is that your immune system reacts against a food protein (the most common being wheat, milk and, for some people, soya) and protein is an essential nutrient for our body.
So the next step could be to test yourself with a food intolerance test and you can find information on this at Patrick Holford’s website.
Nutritional support for your thyroid
From a nutritional perspective, the two most common causes of an underactive thyroid are ‘endocrine burn-out’, or an auto-immune condition where your body produces anti-bodies that attack the thyroid.
This second factor can be identified by testing for what are called ‘anti-thyroid antibodies’. If you test positive there’s a good chance you may have an unidentified food allergy and this can occur when the body’s immune system reacts abnormally to a specific food as it is perceived as a threat.
What appears to happen, in some cases, is that your immune system reacts against a food protein (the most common being wheat, milk and, for some people, soya) and cross-react s against thyroid tissue.
So you may want to test yourself with a IgG food intolerance test and you will find information on this on Patrick Holford’s website.
Thyroid hormones are made from the amino acid tyrosine, which is converted into thyroxine, then into T3, by enzymes that depend on zinc.
B vitamins are also important. So, I’d start with taking a high strength multivitamin that contains iodine, zinc (at least 10mg) and selenium. You could try adding extra zinc (up to 20mg a day in total) or extra selenium (up to a maximum of 200mcg in total).
Kelp is also a good source of iodine, as is seafood. You need about 1000mg of tyrosine (some need twice this), taken on an empty stomach. Some supplements provide this with adaptogenic herbs such as the ginsengs.
A strict low-GL diet, eating lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole foods, and minimising stress and stimulants (caffeine and nicotine) are also an excellent foundation for thyroid health.
One of the difficulties with thyroid issues is they can easily be confused with usual menopause symptoms such as weight gain, feeling hot, hair loss and plenty more.
Oestrogen dominance is a major factor for women at Menopause and certainly being overweight and having unbalanced oestrogen in relation to progesterone is a factor to take into account when dealing with your thyroid.
If you would like more information there is plenty of help at the Thyroid-UK website (www.thyroiduk.org) and the article below will also give you more information on the benefit of progesterone for a healthy thyroid.