One of the most overlooked and misunderstood hormones associated with aging in the body is the thyroid. Many people experience signs and symptoms of deteriorating thyroid function and mistakenly attribute it to just “getting older”.
Decline in thyroid hormone often presents as a slowing down of many body functions. This is why it is often overlooked as the “normal aging process” since we are accustomed to older people “slowing down”. But what came first? The slowing down of aging, or the deterioration of thyroid hormone production?
What is Thyroid Hormone?
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that sits just beneath the skin in the anterior neck below the Adam’s apple. It produces a hormone that is the most potent metabolically stimulating hormone in the body. By this I mean that it has a direct eﬀect on every metabolic function in the body ranging from sugar metabolism, bone metabolism, weight, energy production, even cholesterol metabolism.
When the thyroid hormone declines with age, as many hormones do, there is a generalized slowing of function in the body.
Symptoms of Low Thyroid
The range of symptoms of low thyroid is so diverse, that it can easily be misconstrued as something else. This is why low thyroid conditions are often overlooked by doctors.
Symptoms of low thyroid range from cold intolerance, weight gain, dry skin, dry hair, brittle nails, constipation, bloating, poor gut motility, depression, foggy brain, low motivation, irritability, diﬃculty calculating numbers or doing math, sluggish thinking, poor memory, hair loss, hoarse or husky voice, feeling tired even after a good night’s sleep, achiness, muscle fatigue and soreness and menstrual irregularities, arthritis, balance problems, cardiac irregularities, high blood pressure and even osteoporosis.
Women are generally more frequently aﬀected than men. The most frequent age group is mid-life to over 65.
There is so much variation and diversity of symptoms of low thyroid that it is easily overlooked. And even when it is tested for, many times the tests are not revealing, or not sensitive enough to detect the problem.
The thyroid gland, like most hormone glands, function by what is called “Feedback Inhibition”. What this means is that the thyroid level in the blood is sensed by your pituitary gland (a pea size gland in the brain). If the pituitary senses the hormone is low, it sends a signal to the gland to make more, like the thermostat in your house sends a signal to the heater to raise the heat. This signal is called TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone. When TSH enters the gland, it stimulates it to produce more thyroid hormone. When the thyroid hormone rises in the blood, the signal from the pituitary is shut oﬀ, just like your thermostat shuts oﬀ when the heat rises in your house.
Causes of Low Thyroid
There are many causes of low thyroid, such as radiation exposure (limit those dental x-rays; the thyroid often gets zapped), Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, premature greying, or diabetes.
Other than symptoms, most low thyroid is diagnosed by blood tests. Also a 24 hour urine thyroid test is very reliable. There are many tests available to evaluate the thyroid. I personally like to put a profile together using the symptoms, the blood tests and then confirmation with Basal Body Temperatures (BBT).
BBT’s are a very sensitive indicator of overall metabolism. If there are symptoms and suggestive blood tests along with low BBT’s, then the picture of low thyroid is quite convincing. I like to be sure, because once starting on thyroid replacement it is generally a lifelong commitment.
BBT’s are done by using a special Basal Body thermometer, sometimes called an ovulation thermometer. The temperature is taken first thing in the morning BEFORE getting out of bed. Standing up and walking to the bathroom is enough activity to raise the basal temperature. So, the temperature must be taken before getting out of bed. I recommend doing 7-10 diﬀerent daily readings and then average them out. A normal BBT is over 97.8.
The good news is that low thyroid is easy to treat. One just needs to take a thyroid pill. It must be taken first thing in the morning on an empty stomach with only water. No coﬀee, juice or any other supplements for at least 30 minutes.
Thyroid hormone comes as either an extract from pig gland (Armour or Nature Thyroid) or a synthetic (Synthroid). I prefer the pig extract as it is almost identical to human thyroid hormone, and is much more natural and balanced.
There are two primary thyroid hormones replaced, called T3 and T4. T3 is the active form of thyroid. T4 needs to be converted in the body to the active T3 form. Nature Thyroid and Armour Thyroid are both T3/T4 combos, in the same T3/T4 ratio as human thyroid, so I believe it works much better.
The dose can be adjusted, using the symptoms, blood tests and BBT’s as a guide. Once the dose is fine-tuned, people usually stay at the same dose long term.
Most people who need thyroid usually don’t know they are deficient. The symptoms tend to creep up on people so gradually that they adjust to the low condition and often write it oﬀ as “aging”.
But once someone starts to replace their missing thyroid hormone, they often feel great again, with the return of vitality they thought was gone forever. The sluggishness, draggy feeling, and diﬃculty losing weight disappear. The bloating, constipation and sluggish bowels returns to normal. Mood improves, depression lifts like a curtain going up and motivation returns.
So, if you or someone you know seems to be displaying some of these symptoms, do the BBT’s and get the appropriate blood testing done.
Give me a call to discuss, if you’re not sure, and I’d be happy to help you figure out if thyroid hormone replacement may be right for you.
All the best in Radiant Health,
Howard Liebowitz, M.D.