Hypothyroidism means that the thyroid gland is underactive and, as a result, there is a deficiency of thyroid hormone - a vital hormone involved in many metabolic processes. It is the most common hormone deficiency, and yet one of the most undiagnosed health problems in the world. Subclinical hypothyroid sufferers are falling through the cracks in conventional (mainstream) medicine and being left to live with symptoms that severely impact their quality of life.
The thyroid hormone is involved in so many cellular functions that a deficiency can present in a multitude of seemingly unrelated ways. Low libido, lowered mood, fatigue, lethargy, poor concentration and memory, as well as muscle weakness and joint stiffness are all possible symptoms. Physical signs may include dry skin, brittle nails, dry, thinning hair and even hair loss (especially on the outer edges of the eyebrows), constipation, menstrual dysfunction (usually a heavy or prolonged flow), and unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
There are a few possible causes for thyroid dysfunction but the most common cause is autoimmune - meaning the body is producing an antibody to thyroid tissue - which is like an instruction from the immune system to attack the thyroid gland as it would a foreign pathological invader (virus, bacteria etc.). This means that the most important aspect of most thyroid disorders actually has more to do with immune dysfunction than thyroid dysfunction, an important distinction that is overlooked in conventional treatment protocol.
Subclinical hypothyroidism - or mild hypothyroidism - commonly goes undetected in blood tests. An inefficient system of testing only the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), together with outdated TSH lab ranges, means patients are often sent home from the doctors without a diagnosis or an explanation for their symptoms.
Thyroid dysfunction can be a result of long-term chronic stress and high cortisol levels, inflammation or blood sugar imbalances and, in any of these cases, standard lab tests can be totally normal. Unfortunately, even if your lab results are normal, if you are suffering from hypothyroid symptoms, it is likely your thyroid is underactive.
There are diet and lifestyle modifications - such as eliminating gluten or working to heal a leaky gut - as well as supplements that can help to restore thyroid function from a subclinical level. But don't self-prescribe. Work with a nutritionist or naturopath to get full thyroid function lab tests (including testing thyroid antibodies, free T3 and free T4), combined with a full case history to reach a diagnosis. In cases of severe hypothyroidism, TSH will be elevated. Your doctor will pick up on this and prescribe thyroid medication (replacement therapy). The thyroid hormone is so essential to cellular function that the benefits of replacing it far outweigh any possible aversion to taking life-long medication. Don't let feeling subpar become your normal - if you think your thyroid is underactive, it probably is.