Monday, June 18, 2012

Hypothyroidism! The Diagnosis and the Decision

I was sitting at the endocrinologist's office. She had just said the words hypothyroidism, sluggish thyroid and medication. Outwardly, I took it calmly. Internally, the words sh*t, f*ck, and cr*p chased each other around inside my head.

My thyroid Stimulation Hormone (TSH) level was a 14. Normal range for a TSH result sits somewhere between .1 and 4.5, but endocrinologists keep truncating that upper range. At one point, the upper range was 5.4, but nowadays, according to the Journal for Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the upper normal range is likely 2.5 (with 2.5-4.5 being an indicator of future hypothyroidism. See this page for more information on ranges and what they mean.

So, the entire healthy thyroid thing is a moving target. How fabulous. What did that mean to me at the time? It meant that a 14 needed to be brought down to somewhere lower.

"What do we do now?" I asked.

"Okay," said Dr. L the endocrinologist. "We'll put you on Synthroid right away."

"What will it do?" I asked.

"It will provide you with the thyroid hormone your body should be making, but isn't."

That peaked my curiosity since I wanted my body to make the stuff it was supposed to make.

"So, when will my body start to make the hormone again?" I asked.

"Well," she replied. "It won't. You'll be on the Synthroid for the rest of your life."

"But then what will happen to my thyroid?"


"So what you're saying is that it will just sit there and be useless?" I asked incredulously.

"Pretty much, yes."

WTH? I didn't want to be on meds every single day for the rest of my life. I wanted my thyroid, my body, to do what it was supposed to do. I was glad I'd asked because that's something they don't tend to tell you. If you go on meds (permanently), your thyroid will atrophy and generally become useless. It won't be needed anymore so it'll go on a permanent vacation.

"I don't want to go on it," I said as I stood up.

"I can't recommend that," she replied. "Once your thyroid gets this sluggish, it's not possible to bring it back into normal range without medication."

"I'm going to figure out how to make it happen, how to get my thyroid back on track because I don't want meds. I want my thyroid to work."

"You have to understand. Once it goes," she said. "That's pretty much it."

I was really glad she was so honest but all that did was to light my fire.

I thanked her, promised I would keep getting my TSH levels tested to make sure things didn't get a whole lot worse, and then I left.

I cried the whole way home. I felt two emotions: release and apprehension. On the one hand, it was good to have a diagnosis. It was good to learn that there was a reason for my fatigue and my achy muscles and joints. I'd been thinking I was just pushing myself too hard but it wasn't just that. I was under a lot of stress, I was working incredibly hard, I was pushing myself, and I burned the darn little gland out.

I would bet a lot of people can relate to that feeling, the feeling of pushing yourself like crazy, beyond endurance. So many of us drive ourselves to exhaustion, regularly. I had no idea it was possible for me to stress so much that a part of my body would stop working. But it did.

Now I had to decide what to do. My initial "no meds" stance had been reactionary. Meds would make things easier. We would determine the appropriate dosage and I'd just go on the meds and my energy level ought to return. It would be so much easier, and with how exhausted I already was, "easy" beckoned seductively. By the way, here's an interesting side note. There is absolutely no guarantee that meds will help you take off the weight, relieve the depression or help bring energy back. What they will do is get the appropriate (for you) amount of thyroid hormone in your system. They are supposed to help alleviate all these symptoms, but they won't necessarily do so. So, the decision rested with me: go on Synthroid or fight to find another way.

Somewhere on the walk home, I resolved to figure out exactly what I needed to do to fix myself. Although I knew that I faced an impossible task (according to Dr. L) I promised myself that I'd try and that meant a different perspective

I had already been interested in alternative medicine. I regularly saw an acupuncturist, and I had done some studying about herbalism. I knew fairly little, but I figured there someone had written about thyroid issues and supplements, herbs, and alternative treatments.

First thing, I dug out my copy of "Prescription for Natural Healing." ( I looked at many books and I will eventually note them here.)

The book has an entire section dedicated to hypo- and hyper-thyroidism. And oh boy did it have things to say. It gives herbs and supplements to take and foods to avoid (this last has been very helpful) Some of the supplements included (a more comprehensive list will come):
Evening Primrose Oil
Vitamin A, B, C, E.
(in certain dosages)
I purchased a litany of herbs and supplements. I had never taken supplements before, but now it had become necessary since the alternative was a dead thyroid and that scared me.

The foods to avoid included: spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and tofu. The kicker? I am a vegetarian and those four were in my diet every single day. I believe that the amount of those that I was eating contributed to my thyroid going out of whack to begin with and I quit eating them completely (for a while). For a person with a properly functioning thyroid, these foods rock. They are full of nutrients, especially iron. But, unless a proper balance of iron, iodine, and selenium is maintained, thyroid function will be impeded (Here is an abstract from the NIH about the proper balance of those three :

My next move: I made an emergency appointment with my acupuncturist.

I got on the table and she told me she would need to needle a point that was unorthodox. She warned me it would potentially be quite painful, but it would jump start my body and re-engage my energy. I admit, that scared me some, but again, the alternative was a dead thyroid and I was more scared of meds forever.

Next time: the mystery acupuncture point!

Have you made dietary changes to help with health issues? Have you taken supplements? How has that worked for you? Tell me your story.


  1. i've been reading this with much interest. my hypothyroidism started post-menopausally, tho i suspect i've had some sort of endocrine problem all my life. i did many non-med things, and am now on a t3-t4 compound that is working marvelously. or was, til my thyroid took another nosedive. now i'm looking to maintain where i am. i'm not sure i could crank up my thyroid again.
    one thing that has made a big difference is doing salamba sarvangasana, shoulder stand, regularly. and i mean, regularly! i think my backsliding in my own practice contributed to my current loss of function.
    i'm going to check out the foods to avoid. i've been eating a lot of spinach lately.
    and oddly, i just started taking selenium. sometimes the intuition is right on!
    thanks, izolda. this rocks.

    1. That's the thing about the thyroid. Exercising, more, doing more, can be just the opposite of what needs to happen. With the thyroid and the adrenals, it's often doing less that has helped me get back on track. So frustrating and so counterintuitive. Gentle yoga that still stimulates the thyroid seems to be the way to go for me (Cobra [Bhujangasana] is my friend).

      Good for you on the selenium. It's funny how so many things we are regularly told to do/not do are the exact opposite of what we need to do with thyroid issues. Want to lose weight? Do aerobics (not when you're hypothyroid). Want to eat healthy? Eat lost of dark leafy greens (not when you're hypothyroid). Argh.

      When I cut back on the spinach/broccoli/cauliflower, it made a huge difference. I went back to eating them later, in moderation, and was able to do so. But for a while, I had to cut them out completely.

      And thank you for your kind words. I'm hoping the story is useful.


Please Note

Welcome to Natural Thyroid. This blog details my process of treating my hypothyroidism naturally. Please note: I am not telling you *to* do or not to do anything with my posts (remember to work with your medical practitioner, whether it's an allopath or an alternative medicine practitioner).