Thyroid is one of those slippery diseases that many people think they have the symptoms for, but then the blood test tells them they are “normal”. The symptoms of tiredness, lethargy, weight gain, hair loss, foggy thinking, frequent infections and more create havoc for the person who is told it is all in their head and their blood tests are fine. Now, some doctors are realizing the tests are not always right, and measuring the pituitary output isn’t the same thing as how much of the hormones are actually working. It is a complicated picture but worth getting to the bottom.
“One of the reasons why the extent of the epidemic is not being appreciated is because the routine tests do pick up a lot of people, but it’s also missing a significant number,” he said.
A Misleading Test
To diagnose a thyroid disorder, doctors primarily look to a pea-sized gland in the brain—the pituitary—for answers. The gold standard to determine thyroid problems is a blood test to measure how much thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) the pituitary gland excretes into the bloodstream.
Think of TSH as a message of encouragement. When the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones, the pituitary sends TSH in hopes of kicking the thyroid into gear. A TSH level that is higher than normal indicates that the thyroid is failing to respond to the pituitary’s message because it is too weak to meet the body’s needs. A TSH test verifies the problem, thyroid hormones are prescribed to compensate for the underproductive gland, and TSH drops to a normal range because the pituitary is satisfied with hormone levels.
That’s how it’s supposed to work anyway. But Kellman says there are many patients who exhibit several classic symptoms of a low thyroid, but may still show a normal TSH level. He says the TSH test is “terribly misleading” because it frequently misrepresents what is happening in the thyroid and the pituitary.
“That’s why there are an untold number of people walking around with unexplained fatigue, unexplained brain fog, and difficulty losing weight even though they’re following a good diet. These people sense intuitively that there is something wrong with their thyroid, but it’s not being picked up. That’s why they go from doctor to doctor sometimes for years.”
So what can you do? There are other tests, so insist. Also be aware of the toxic chemicals that can be masking your blood levels and sending your brain a message, that isn’t true. Meet Dr. Raphael Kellman, an integrative medicine practitioner in New York City who specializes in thyroid disorders. Kellman says we’re in the midst of a “thyroid epidemic.”
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