A staggering number of women take thyroid medications! Even teenage girls are taking thyroid medication, undergoing surgeries or receiving radiation therapy. Why do so many women need help with their thyroid glands?
The classic story begins like this: Energy is down, mood is sadder or swings up and down for no apparent reason, unexplained weight gain that won’t drop on any diet. Other symptoms may include, high cholesterol, hypertension, hair loss, muscle and joint pain, menstrual irregularities, and constipation.
Next stop: a visit to a doctor who recommends a blood test (often with the words “to rule things out”). Or, possibly, a psychiatrist to address the mood swings or depression who recommends mind altering medications (often with the words “help you feel better”). Even if these tests indicate low or high hormone levels, these tests still don’t answer the vital question: Why is my thyroid stressed? Commonly, the first test is for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) a hormone that can get the thyroid going. The thyroid is under direct control of the pituitary gland. The idea is that if thyroid hormone goes low, the body sends a signal to the brain (to a region called the hypothalamus) that tells the pituitary to make more TSH. Medical school students learn that a high-range TSH level often indicates that your body isn’t getting enough thyroid hormone; this is called hypothyroidism (hypo- for below). A low-range TSH level may indicate the opposite, or hyperthyroidism.
Unfortunately, it is not this simple. The TSH test is a very unreliable measure of thyroid function and correlates poorly with symptoms. Some people with TSH outside what is considered “normal” have no symptoms; others have horrible symptoms but on that day with that test the TSH was “in range.” This is because TSH and thyroid activity are dynamic, in other words they change throughout the day, month and seasons based on the body’s needs. TSH is typically higher in the morning than later in the day, lower in the spring...