Your thyroid is a small gland located in the lower part of your neck. It produces hormones that play a major role in your metabolism and energy. The primary thyroid hormones are triidothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
Thyroid imbalances occur when your thyroid produces too few or two many of these hormones. An overactive thyroid, known as hyperthyroidism, occurs when the thyroid glands produce too many hormones. This can result in symptoms ranging from heart palpitations and anxiety to weight loss, heat intolerance and muscle weakness. Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is by far more common. In fact, some estimate that as many as 1 in 7 adults suffer from hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
When the thyroid gland is underactive, you may suffer from symptoms such as:
- Unexplained weight gain
- Dry skin and hair
- Hair Loss
- Puffiness or swelling in the face
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Brittle hair and nails
- Cold intolerance
Many women have the symptoms of low thyroid hormones but are told that their lab tests are "normal" and that there is not a problem. That's because conventional medicine often only looks at TSH and may not be using the most current cut-off levels even for that. In 2002, the Society of Endocrinologists announced that the standard testing ranges for TSH were inaccurate and that many people with hypothyroidism were undiagnosed. However, still many thyroid lab tests have not been corrected to test for the accurate range of thyroid hormone levels.
A more effective manner of testing is to test the free T3 and free T4 levels as well as TSH. This gives a more full and accurate picture of how the thyroid is functioning. In addition, checking for thyroid antibodies, can help determine the presence of an autoimmune thyroid disorder.
Thyroid Hormone Replacement Therapy
In traditional medicine, hypothyroidism is generally treated with synthetic T4, which can correct your T4 and TSH levels. However, many people cannot efficiently convert T4 to T3 which is the more active form of thyroid hormone. That means even if your T4 and TSH levels are optimal, if your T3 levels are imbalanced, you may still experience symptoms.
Once your doctor assesses your current levels of all your thyroid hormones, he or she can then customize an individually-tailored thyroid replacement therapy regimen. The strategy of thyroid treatment focuses on a combination of T3 and T4 hormone replacement, for more effective treatment and better results.