To find out if you have hypothyroidism, your doctor will run blood tests to check for levels of the hormones known as T4 (thyroxine) and TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). Hypothyroidism is diagnosed in your thyroid test when TSH is high. Sometimes, TSH can be high, but the thyroid is still producing enough hormones. This condition is referred to as subclinical (or mild) hypothyroidism.
People should take T4 on an empty stomach to prevent the absorption of the medication from being erratic. Moreover, doctors usually recommend taking the medication first thing in the morning, then waiting at least an hour to eat breakfast or drink coffee. Taking the medication at bedtime, several hours after the last meal, also appears to work and may be a more convenient approach for some people.
Most physicians diagnose hypothyroidism by simple blood tests that measure the level of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which is made by the pituitary gland in response to thyroid hormone and the body’s needs, and indicates thyroid status. As levels of thyroid hormones fall, the pituitary releases TSH to stimulate the thyroid to produce more hormone. Clinicians may also measure circulating levels of T-3 and T-4, which are the thyroid hormones themselves. Low levels of T-4 and high levels of TSH reveal an underactive thyroid. Other variants of hypothyroidism can exist. Patients can have no symptoms and normal serum thyroid hormone levels, but elevated TSH. Others can have symptoms, but normal TSH and T-4 levels. Patients with either of these variants may benefit from supplementation. In addition, someone with a temporary illness might have a completely normal thyroid but high TSH, a condition called “sick euthyroid” which usually resolves without any intervention.
The purpose of treating hypothyroidism is to maintain normal metabolism by correcting a deficient output of thyroid hormone. Once replacement therapy begins, the thyroid will stop producing hormones all together, and replacement must be continued for life. Most mainstream physicians prescribe the drug Synthroid, also known as levothyroxine, a synthetic analog of thyroxine (T-4) and monitor how much to give based on symptoms and levels of TSH. Physicians will generally check TSH levels after a couple of months of being on the medication and adjust it accordingly. They will often used a more cautious course in patients who have cardiovascular disease. This allows the heart time to adjust to an artificially increased metabolism. Side effects of taking too much thyroid hormone include shakiness, palpitations, insomnia and changes in appetite.
“Infants fed soy formula are at higher risk for hypothyroidism and for later development of autoimmune thyroid diseases. In humans, goiter has been seen in infants fed soy formula; this is usually reversed by changing to cow milk or iodine-supplemented diets . After the 1960s, manufacturers reportedly began adding iodine to formulas to mitigate thyroid effects.” [Doerge]
l-Thyroxine was the first synthetic molecule used to treat hypothyroidism (23) and was shown to be efficacious as monotherapy for myxedema (24). Around that time, serum protein-bound iodine (PBI) emerged as a diagnostic test and therapeutic marker; serum PBI quantitation was the only valid way to biochemically assess thyroid hormone status (25). This tool was limited in terms of treatment monitoring because the effect on serum PBI varied by agent (26). For example, l-triiodothyronine corrected BMR without much increase in serum PBI, l-thyroxine increased serum PBI sometimes to above normal, and combination l-thyroxine and l-triiodothyronine and desiccated thyroid had the advantage of normalizing serum PBI (27). In addition to BMR and serum PBI, other surrogates for treatment response included cholesterol levels, symptoms, and deep tendon reflexes, but their lack of sensitivity was always recognized (28).
Thyroid hormone is critical for normal brain development in babies. Infants requiring thyroid hormone therapy should NOT be treated with purchased liquid suspensions, since the active hormone may deteriorate once dissolved and the baby could receive less thyroid hormone than necessary. Instead, infants with hypothyroidism should receive their thyroid hormone by crushing a single tablet daily of the correct dose and suspending it in one teaspoon of liquid and administering it properly.
According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, 90% of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune hypothyroid condition, whereby the immune system attacks thyroid tissue. Therefore, to cure thyroid disease, or any autoimmune condition, you have to get to the source of the imbalance; focusing on suppression of symptoms with medication is simply barking up the wrong tree.
If you do choose to eat gluten, be sure to choose whole-grains varieties of bread, pasta, and rice, which are high in fiber and other nutrients and can help improve bowel irregularity, a common symptom of hypothyroidism. Also be sure to take your hypothyroidism medication several hours before or after eating high-fiber foods, to prevent them from interfering with the absorption of your synthetic thyroid hormone.
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