What is the thyroid and what does it do?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck just below the larynx. It produces hormones that regulate metabolism, heart function, digestion, muscle control, brain development, and bone maintenance. The thyroid hormones are T3 and T4. Lab tests can measure T3, T4, and TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone. TSH comes from the pituitary gland and signals to the thyroid to produce T4, which circulates and gets converted to T3, the active form absorbed throughout the body.
An overactive thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone. This condition is called hyperthyroidism. Basically, this speeds up your metabolism and can cause issues throughout your body:
- Nervousness and irritability
- Trouble focusing
- Feeling hot often or when others are not
- Fast heart rate
- Unexplained weight loss
When the thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, it is called hypothyroidism. This leads to a slowed metabolism and symptoms that are basically the opposite of hyperthyroidism:
- Feeling tired all the time
- Feeling cold often or when others are not
- Slow heart rate
- Dry skin
- Unexplained weight gain
- In children, slow growth
“Subclinical” Thyroid Conditions
Let’s say you have all the symptoms of thyroid problems, but you go to the doctor, and they tell you your thyroid levels are normal even though you really feel that something is off. This situation is becoming incredibly common, mostly due to the reference ranges doctors use to read lab results. These ranges are debated in the endocrinology field and most functional practitioners are using different ranges. Functional Medicine University suggests that optimal thyroid level ranges are:
- TSH: 1.3-2.0 mIU/L
- Total T4: 6.7-11.9 μg/dl or 77-154 nmol/L
- Total T3: 90-168 μg/dl or 1.4-2.6 nmol/L
- Free T3: 3.0-3.25 ng/dl or 300-325 pg/dl
- Free T4: 1.0-1.5 ng/dl or 0.15-0.27 ng/ml
Atlanta functional acupuncturist Oscar Sierra has explained to us why TSH is so commonly used as a marker of thyroid dysfunction, and what TSH levels mean: since TSH is a sign that the pituitary gland is signalling to the thyroid, a high level means the pituitary gland has to “scream” at the thyroid to get it to produce the correct amount of T3 and T4. Very low TSH means the pituitary gland just has to “whisper” to the thyroid and it will quickly produce enough thyroid hormone.
However, it is important to remember that our bodies are completely unique. Some people might have levels outside the normal range and not have a thyroid condition. Both the symptoms and the lab results must be examined to see if there is an issue.
Where can you learn more about thyroid health?
Peach Vitamins is hosting a free event on June 18, 2015 at 6 PM. There will be a lecture about the thyroid and weight loss. Check out the event on Facebook or ask about it in the store for more information!