Making Sense of Thyroid Testing

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, but it’s a big deal all over your body. The hormone it creates is responsible for some of the most basic functions and systems of your body. If your thyroid isn’t working properly, you’ll definitely feel it.

The symptoms of an underactive thyroid make for a long and varied list. Fatigue and weakness, dry skin, hair loss, cold hands and feet, constipation, insomnia, depression, forgetfulness, and unexplained weight gain – they’re all possible signs of a thyroid problem, and they often lead people to seek thyroid testing.

Sometimes, though, testing doesn’t reveal the whole picture.

Testing Thyroid Function

Thyroid function is usually measured by a blood test called TSH. It’s a common enough test, but the challenge is that TSH results can often look normal, even when things aren’t right. That’s because the TSH test doesn’t actually measure thyroid function. It measures another hormone that stimulates our thyroid to make its hormones.

Your thyroid itself actually makes two main hormones: T4 and T3. T3 is the active form, but T4 is the most commonly produced. The T4 isn’t active, but instead gets converted into the active T3 form by our liver and kidneys.

What’s critical is that this conversion is nutrient dependent – it requires things like iodine, zinc, and selenium. If we don’t have enough of these nutrients, our body can’t covert the T4 into the active form. The result? TSH is showing normal – there’s lots of stimulating going on – but we still feel lousy because not enough of it is being converted into its active form.

The Environmental Toxin Connection

Even when the stimulation and conversion processes are working properly, environmental toxins can prevent the active T3 from actually getting into the cell and doing its job properly. Here again, the blood test can look normal even though things aren’t working right.

To get a more detailed picture of thyroid function, we look at TSH and T3/T4 levels, as well as other indicators like basal body temperature. That gives us a clearer picture of what’s happening – is there a production problem? A conversion problem? A cell uptake problem? As always, the naturopathic approach is that each problem (and each patient!) needs a slightly different approach. – Tara

To learn more about thyroid function and testing, or to understand how environmental toxins might be impacting your health, contact the clinic at (705)444-5331 to book a complimentary “meet the doctor” visit with a naturopath.