Fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, skin changes — are
you having any of these symptoms?
Maybe something feels “off” in your body, yet your healthcare practitioner said
that your thyroid levels are fine and everything is functioning normally. Yet you
don’t feel normal.
You could be suffering from subclinical hypothyroidism and the life-disrupting symptoms
it can cause. But many practitioners disagree about whether or not subclinical hypothyroidism
should be treated.
At Women’s Health Network, we’re all about giving women information so that they
can take control of their own health and happiness. I’m here to tell you that there
are many options for supporting your thyroid and relieving symptoms. It’s not simply
a choice between taking thyroid medication or doing nothing at all.
7 common symptoms of low thyroid function
1. Severe fatigue, loss of energy
2. Weight gain, difficulty losing weight
3. Dry skin
4. Hair loss
5. More sensitivity to cold
6. Diminished sex drive
7. Puffiness in face and extremities
What is subclinical hypothyroidism?
- Subclinical hypothyroidism refers to abnormally low thyroid function.
When TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone)
is slightly high or almost high, but blood levels of thyroid hormones are normal.
- Up to 8% of the general population has subclinical hypothyroidism.
Women have it more often than men, and it becomes more common as we age. When thyroid
hormone production drops, TSH typically increases, as the pituitary gland, which
makes TSH, signals the thyroid to make more hormone.
- Conventional doctors often don’t address the issue at all. Even
if your TSH is in the “normal” range (which is wide) on standard thyroid tests,
your symptoms can still feel unbearable.
In functional medicine, we focus on addressing imbalances before they tip the scale
toward disease. Even slightly elevated TSH levels are seen as an indication that
your thyroid hormonal balance is off and it is appropriate and important to correct
the imbalance as soon as possible.
Causes of subclinical hypothyroidism and thyroid imbalance
All of your endocrine glands produce hormones and are extremely sensitive and deeply
interconnected. Because of these feedback loops between glands like the thyroid,
adrenals (our stress-responders), and ovaries, imbalances in one area can easily
trigger imbalances in another.
Here’s an example: because the adrenal hormone cortisol is needed to make T3, our
most active thyroid hormone, a cortisol deficiency can cause hypothyroidism. But
too MUCH cortisol from acute stress — it’s a delicate balancing act for
the body. That’s why supporting your adrenals is one of the best ways to also support
Another common cause of thyroid imbalances is thyroid autoimmunity: where
your body’s immune system gets confused and makes antibodies against your own thyroid.
Get your blood checked for anti-thyroid antibodies if:
1. You already know that your thyroid function is low
2. You have symptoms suggesting low thyroid
3. You have a family history of hypothyroidism
4. You have an autoimmune disorder
Note that this is not a standard test, so you will probably have to ask your doctor
to include it in your thyroid panel.
Elevated thyroid antibodies indicate you have an autoimmune thyroid condition —
the most common cause of low thyroid function in the western world. Sadly, this
often progresses to overt thyroid disease if not addressed early on. In most cases,
you can slow or even prevent this progression by addressing any inflammatory disorders,
infections, or allergies you might have. It’s also important to maintain healthy
gastrointestinal function and eat nutritiously.
Other factors that can interfere with thyroid hormone production include too much
estrogen, birth control pills, some medications, chronic illness, and environmental
What are your lab results really telling you?
Most labs consider TSH above 4.5 or 5 mIU/L as abnormal and indicative of hypothyroidism.
Because the normal TSH cutoff used to be around 10, many conventional doctors still
don’t consider a TSH between 5 and 10 to be significant and they may not treat it.
But I’ve found good evidence for paying attention to TSH levels above 2.5. Thyroid
lab reference ranges were established by averaging numbers from many people. I think
it’s interesting that when data from those participants with anti-thyroid antibodies
are excluded from that calculation, the cutoff for “normal” TSH drops to 2.5 — a
good argument for paying attention to TSH numbers above this level!
In general, doctors are more likely to consider prescribing thyroid medication if
you have thyroid symptoms and abnormal lab results, especially if anti-thyroid antibodies
are found. But, even if just one of these three factors is an issue for you (symptoms,
TSH levels above 2.5, or elevated anti-thyroid antibodies), it may be time to support
your thyroid with natural measures.
5 steps to support your thyroid naturally
Whether you’re taking thyroid medication or not, supporting your thyroid health
can only help. Sometimes, natural thyroid support may enable you to reduce or even
stop taking medication with your practitioner’s advice. In general, if you’re taking
thyroid medication AND you’re working to improve your health, have your TSH and
other thyroid markers monitored, since you may need to have your medication reduced
at some point.
When you support your adrenals you also help your thyroid. The following steps do
1. Take in the right nutrients. The most important
fuel for thyroid health are vitamins B2, B3, B6, C, E, A, and D, as well as zinc,
copper, selenium, tyrosine and iodine. These nutrients work best as part of a well-balanced
diet. And adding fish oil with EPA and DHA helps with all thyroid imbalances. (We
offer a high-quality omega-3 fish oil supplement in our
SHOP). Fish oil, selenium, and vitamin D are especially helpful in autoimmune
thyroiditis. So is eliminating gluten from your diet and adding the herb rosemary
to your food.
2. Explore thyroid-supportive herbs. Ashwagandha
is a great herb for your hormonal system. It sensitizes thyroid receptors to thyroid
hormone and also supports the adrenals. You might also try Bacopa monnieri,
Coleus forskohlii, hops and sage plus iodine and selenium for
total thyroid support.
3. Get enough sleep to feel rested. Setting a regular
bedtime and getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night can do wonders for your thyroid
health and stress levels.
4. Find exercise you enjoy. Regular exercise is a
great way to relieve stress and support your thyroid. Choose something you enjoy,
rather than anything that feels like a chore. Yoga, dance, and walking in nature
are some of our customer favorites.
5. Eat a Mediterranean-style diet. This includes
plenty of fresh, organic vegetables and fruits, adequate protein (especially cold-water
fish, and meat or poultry that is free of hormones and antibiotics), healthy oils
like olive oil, and whole grains and legumes. Some people suggest avoiding soy though
many studies suggest that soy is not a problem, especially when it’s cooked
or in fermented form, like tempeh or miso. Avoid processed foods, trans fats, and
reduce your intake of white-flour products. It’s also important to avoid sugar and
too much caffeine, as both of these can be hard on your adrenals and affect your
As too many women know, overall health suffers when thyroid function is low. It’s
also true that thyroid function suffers when overall health is compromised. That’s
why a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet are so important to thyroid health.
Don’t forget, we are always here for support whenever you need it. I wish you thyroid
health and plenty of happiness!