When we take tests, particularly medical tests, most of us breathe a sigh of relief when we’re told our results are “normal.” In general, a “normal” test result is a good thing. But when it comes to tests of your thyroid hormone levels, “normal” doesn’t really mean much at all.
That’s because “normal” thyroid levels can vary quite a bit from person to person. So what’s normal for me may not be what’s normal for you. And as you will see, when it comes to thyroid hormone blood tests, normal doesn’t mean much of at all.
As you can imagine, this can make diagnosing a thyroid issue a bit of a guessing game. This is unfortunate because improper thyroid levels can do a number on your health. And according to research recently published in the journal Hormone and Metabolic Research, these issues can be compounded if you’re obese. The researchers found that subclinical hypothyroidism is on the rise in this population group. In these patients, levels of thyrotropin (TSH) increase to try to compensate for low thyroid levels.
The researchers compared obese patients with normal TSH levels to those with elevated TSH. They found a number of significant differences between the two groups. Those with elevated TSH had lower fasting plasma glucose, HDL (good) cholesterol, and 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels. They had much higher fasting insulin and C-reactive protein levels. And their thyroids had much lower secretion capacities. They even displayed more severe chronic low-grade inflammation.
None of these markers are what we want to see, particularly in individuals who need to lose a bit of weight. Having proper thyroid levels is important both to your weight-loss goals and to your overall health.
There are a number of signs that can point to low thyroid levels. Struggling to lose weight (or even gaining weight) despite healthy diet and exercise habits is one of them. Others include fatigue, frequent colds and flu, constipation, acne, water retention, high cholesterol, menstrual problems, infertility, dry skin, and cold hands and feet. If you notice any of these signs, it’s a good idea to have your thyroid levels checked.
But if your levels come out in the “normal” range, as this study shows, it really doesn’t mean that you have a healthy functioning thyroid. So here’s the question. Is there a really accurate way to test thyroid function?
Back in the pre-1960s, there was a foolproof way to measure thyroid function. It was called metabolic testing. And here’s why it was foolproof. Thyroid hormones do only one thing — they control metabolism. So when doctors in the pre-1960s era wanted to measure thyroid function, they simply measured metabolism. A high metabolism meant excessive thyroid function. A low metabolism meant deficient thyroid function. And a normal metabolism meant normal thyroid function. Pretty simple isn’t it? Instead of measuring the amount of thyroid hormones in the body, doctors just measured if there was enough. But then all that changed.
In the early 1960s, scientists discovered a way to measure thyroid hormone levels in the blood and the world of thyroid diagnosis changed forever. Even though there was absolutely no proof at all that measuring these hormone levels was an accurate way to measure thyroid function, metabolic testing was completely abandoned and blood testing became the standard of the day. When I went to medical school in the late 1960s, I was not taught anything about metabolic testing. The only thing I was taught was blood testing. And so it is even to this day. Except for a very select few, the doctors of today not only do not use metabolic testing, they don’t even know what it is! And here’s why this is such a huge problem.
About 15 years ago I became aware of a way to quickly and easily measure metabolism in my patients. It involved measuring how much oxygen their bodies were processing using a method called VO2 testing. Ever since then, I have measured the metabolism of thousands of patients. And here’s the point — 96% of the time when a patient has a very depressed metabolism indicating significantly depressed thyroid function, their thyroid hormone levels are in the normal range. This has become such a problem that I finally stopped measuring thyroid hormone levels entirely. Why measure them, they are almost always wrong?
So if you think you have a thyroid problem, and you can’t get a doctor to help you because your thyroid blood tests are in the so-called normal range, see a doctor who uses metabolic testing. You can find a list of them at www.antiagingmedicine.com. So far, there are only a handful of doctors who see the light, so you might have to travel to find the right doctor. But the effort will be well worth it. Because neglecting to treat an abnormally depressed metabolism is just too important to ignore. It’s one of the main reasons that people feel tired, get diseased, and age prematurely.
by Frank Shallenberger, MD