The Thyroid Problem – It’s time to talk about the T-word.
How much do we really know about the thyroid? I imagine that most of people might even be aware that they have one. A majority of people may know it is often linked to problems with weight control, while others may even be able to locate it at the front of the neck. But the fact is, for most of us, until something goes awry, we pay very little attention to this highly important gland and its function within our bodies. Perhaps, then, we should start by looking at what exactly the thyroid does and why it is so vital to almost all aspects of our health and well-being.
The thyroid gland sits low on the front of your neck and is made up of two lobes which lie on either side of the windpipe. The brain produces thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which signals the thyroid gland to produce and secrete two of the major thyroid hormones into the bloodstream, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones regulate the speed at which our cells work. If too much of the thyroid hormones are secreted, then they will work faster; if too little are secreted, then they will perform much slower.
Imbalances of this nature – known as hyperthyroidism when overactive and hypothyroidism when underactive – are increasingly common, and now thought to affect around 1 in 20 people worldwide, most of whom are likely unaware that they have the condition. Many in the medical profession are of the belief the figure is considerably higher, with upwards of 40% of people over 50 having low thyroid hormone. That last statistic is particularly worrying when you consider that a thyroid imbalance can lead to a whole host of medical complaints, from issues with temperature regulation and weight control, to brittle hair and nails, dry skin, fatigue, insomnia, depression, low libido, anxiety, high cholesterol, neurological conditions, and heart disease. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what exactly a healthy thyroid reading should be and what we can do if we suspect ours is out of range.
Testing Thyroid Health
The most common way to test for thyroid function is via a series of blood tests in order to ascertain your TSH, T3 and T4 levels. The TSH and T4 tests generally take place first, and these are used specifically to ascertain the levels of thyroid stimulating hormone in the blood and to determine whether there are any indications of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Any result between 0.4 and 4.0 milliunits of hormone per litre of blood (mIU/L) for TSH (although a large number of my age management colleagues believe a normal TSH should be less than 0.5 mIU/L) and 9.0 and 25.0 picomoles per litre (pmol/L) for T4 are considered to be within the normal range. If the results of this test suggests an overactive thyroid, a T3 test is then usually administered. The normal range for T3 is anywhere between 3.5 and 7.8 pmol/L.
It is very important to note here, however, that these healthy ranges are very much a guide, not least because blood tests do not always provide the accuracy required for your physician to properly diagnose a thyroid condition, but also because many in the medical profession are at odds as to what actually constitutes a “normal range”. That’s why many physicians are now also using a Thyroflex as a secondary measure to test thyroid function. The Thyroflex is essentially a reflex hammer connected to a computer, which measures the speed of the neurotransmitters and the reflex speed in order to determine a resting metabolic rate. Your reflex reading will be slow with a low thyroid level, and higher with increased thyroid levels. This is due to thyroid’s effect on nerve conduction and muscle contraction. We have known for more than 40 years now – ever since American physician Dr. Broda Barnes warned doctors that blood tests for thyroid are not that useful on their own – that we need to look at the complete picture. Besides blood tests, then, this includes the client’s history, a physical examination, and now, today, the Thyroflex as well.
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