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Thyroid 101

b2ap3_thumbnail_Thyroid1.jpgDo you have (or suspect that you have) low thyroid function? 

Are you tired of feeling sluggish and foggy only to be told that your thyroid tests “look normal”?

You are not alone! Thyroid health is one of the most common reasons why patients seek my care - and for good reason! Optimal thyroid function is an essential component of your health and well-being. 
Your thyroid gland is part of your hormone system (also referred to as your endocrine system). The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly and is located inside your neck over your windpipe.
Thyroid hormones play a major role in regulating many bodily functions, including:

  • Metabolism
  • Weight
  • Energy
  • Mood
  • Temperature control
  • Bowel function
  • Cognitive function
  • Heart health
  • Skin integrity
  • Muscle development
  • Gingival health

Many conventional practitioners take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to low thyroid hormone, also called hypothyroidism. They rely on one laboratory value and prescribe one type of thyroid hormone for all patients, because that is how we are taught to approach hypothyroidism in medical school. While some patients are fine with this approach, others are not and find themselves continuing to experience symptoms without an adequate diagnosis or treatment plan.

If you have (or suspect that you have) low thyroid function, a practitioner skilled and experienced in a more comprehensive approach to hypothyroidism may help you to better understand why your thyroid hormones are low, and partner with you to create a customized treatment plan to restore energy, vitality, and well-being.


It is far more common to have low thyroid than high thyroid levels.
When you have a low functioning thyroid it is called hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
  • fatigue 
  • dry skin
  • weight gain
  • constipation
A less common condition is hyperthyroidism, when your thyroid is over-active.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
  • weight loss
  • “bulging” eyes
  • hot flashes
  • rapid or racing heart beat

b2ap3_thumbnail_Thyroid2.jpgTSH = Thyroid Stimulating Hormone
TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) is made by your brain, not by your thyroid. Your brain makes TSH when it senses that your body needs more thyroid hormone. The TSH made by the brain sends a signal to the thyroid to make more thyroid hormone. 

When thyroid hormone levels in your body are low, the brain makes TSH to "turn on" your thyroid.
  • TSH high = body needs more thyroid hormone
  • TSH low = body does not need more thyroid hormone
The TSH is only test many doctors will order to evaluate thyroid function, however relying on the TSH alone does not give you a complete picture of thyroid function, and may miss a certain percentage of people with low thyroid hormone.
If you have symptoms of low thyroid and are told your TSH is "normal" - test beyond the TSH!

T4 and T3
Your thyroid makes different types of thyroid hormones. The two most important are T4 and T3.
Here’s what you need to know about T4 and T3:
  • You make much more T4 than T3
  • T4 gets converted in your tissues to T3
  • T3 is far more active than T4
Why does this matter?
If you have a normal TSH, but a low free T3, you will have all of the symptoms of low thyroid (hypothyroid) even though your doctor tells you that your thyroid is “fine”!

(the lab tests shown here are taken from a patient of mine who had this issue)

  • listen to your body
  • test beyond the TSH
  • know your levels of T3 hormone
My standard thyroid laboratory testing always includes:
  • TSH
  • Free T4 hormone 
  • Free T3 hormone
Additional testing often ordered include:
  • Reverse T3 (which “hides” T3 and prevents it from dong it’s work)
  • Thyroid Antibodies (to evaluate underlying autoimmune disease)
  • Levels of nutrients important to thyroid health, such as zinc and selenium

Now that you know the "Thyroid Basics", are you ready to learn more about your thyroid health?
You can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.or contact my office for more information 231-638-5585. 

Carin Nielsen, MD Integrative Medicine I use an Integrative/Functional Medicine approach with my patients to treat a variety of chronic medical conditions, including many that are linked to unhealthy hormone imbalance. Treating symptoms simply by prescribing medication as a “band-aid” does not address the underlying factors that contributed your problems in the first place, and is not likely to provide lasting results. My approach involves getting "under the surface”  to find and correct underlying imbalances. If you are interested in learning more or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact our office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.
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