If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I would be dictating this by a beach, from a much warmer place, sipping on a cocktail.

Often I have people coming in for “quick fixes”: brittle nails, cold hands and feet, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, high cholesterol, hair loss, infertility, brain fog, menstrual irregularities, muscle weakness and poor memory. I try and steer them away from a “quick fix”, towards causes. One of the main causes driving many of these symptoms is an underactive thyroid.

At the other end of the spectrum I get people coming in and asking me to treat them for Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, because the supplements they are taking for it are not working. I politely ask how the disease was diagnosed and find that yet again Dr Google has struck. I just love our “No 8 wire, do it yourself” mentality. My neighbour has a Porsche, which he tried to fix himself. It has been on blocks for the past two years, because that little ignition problem is now a big ignition problem.

Women have more thyroid issues than men. I see a large number of women who struggle with their weight. The secret is not some diet or exercise plan, but to regulate the thyroid so that it burns the calories. A typical example was Sonya. Sonya was a young mother of two. She had been quite sporty BK (before kids), but had always struggled with her weight. After the children arrived she put on an extra 20 kilos and despite several diets and exercise plans, the weight refused to shift. A study of her diet and activity levels did not equate to the extra fat and the inability to lose it.  After a few tests we found she had an underactive thyroid. In her case the reason she was not making enough thyroid hormone was because she was lacking the nutrients needed to make them.  Once we stabilized the thyroid, the weight came off nicely.  Not all thyroid isssues are this simple.

Now for some nerdy stuff. The thyroid is a little gland in your throat. It is the thermostat and accelerator of your body. There are only two substances for which there are cell receptors on each of the 70 trillion cells in your body. One of them is the active form of the thyroid hormone (T3).  This is an indication of how important the thyroid is in the body.

Dr Hertoghe, a leading endocrinologist, believes that over 60% of people suffer from an underactive thyroid and rates are increasing.

Here are some of the signs of an underactive thyroid:

Apathy
Anxiety
Cold hands and feet
Concentration difficulties
Constipation
Depression
Disturbed sleep patterns and/or insomnia Dry skin and hair
Fatigue or weakness
Hair loss or thinning on head
Hair missing on outer edge of eyebrows Lower eyelashes missing or sparse
Heavy menstrual flow
Infertility
Joint pain
Low body temperature
Memory problems
Migraine
Muscle pain
Pale skin
Reduced ability to sweat
Shortness of breath with little exertion Water retention
Weight gain or difficulty losing weight

Do not be fooled into thinking that you have to have them all. I find that most people with an underactive thyroid only have three or four of the signs.

The body is so smart, but it was designed to operate in a time long gone. T3 is the active hormone, that makes the thermostat and accelerator stuff happen. However, T3 only lives for a short while, so in its infinite wisdom, the body produces T4. This is a storage hormone that converts to T3, as needed. But wait there is more. It also produces Reverse T3. This is the famine mechanism. It blocks the body from using T3, so that everything slows down and you burn fewer calories, so that you survive the famine. Then there is something called thyroid binding globulin, which can bind to both T3 and T4 and prevent it being used by the body. Complicated isn’t it? So why don’t most doctors check for all this stuff. Gosh, what a great question?

Many practitioners get hung up on the hypothalamus and pituitary, but these are like uncaring bosses. Ms Hypothalamus and Mr Pituitary bark instructions from headquarters and then cruise off to drink G & Ts in a nice part of town. Ms Thyroid is left, to just get on with it, doing what is needed to get the job done.

If you go to your doctor with possible thyroid dysfunction, you will probably have a TSH test and get told that your thyroid is fine. A TSH test does tell you a lot about the pituitary gland, but little about the thyroid. The pituitary gland sends a message to the thyroid (TSH), but for some reason no one seems to check whether the thyroid is actually carrying out the message, producing what it needs to, converting to the useable form or whether it is being blocked or bound up.

Did you know that 90% of underactive thyroid conditions are attributed to Hashimoto’s disease? This is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid, destroying it. It can lead to other autoimmune conditions. Many of the people I see with rheumatoid arthritis, MS and lupus have underactive thyroids. We rarely check for markers of Hashimoto’s disease, because we do not have a drug response for it.

The first step towards optimizing thyroid function is to make sure that it has the raw materials that it needs, like iodine, zinc and selenium. Next, you need to look for barriers preventing optimal functioning, like heavy metal toxicity.   Ten steps later, you might have to supplement with thyroid hormone, but please if you do have to go there, then do it right.

Most doctors go straight to hormone supplementation. “Take this pill for the rest of your life”.  I get many clients, who are on T4 medication and are still feeling “bad”. T4 is the storage form of the hormone and has to covert to T3 to make stuff happen. But what if the body cannot convert T4 to T3? The studies suggest that most patients feel better on a combination of T4 and T3, but what would those pesky patients know.

The thyroid is key to wellness.