Thinking About Your Thyroid? Top 3 Tests for Thyroid Health
Thyroid health is a growing concern, especially with all the environmental factors that can affect it today. Recent studies show that 1 in 10 Canadians suffer from a thyroid condition and as many as 50% are undiagnosed.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck, just above the collarbone. It may be small but it’s mighty! It plays a crucial role in regulating many bodily functions through two main hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The thyroid hormones help regulate metabolism, cardiovascular function, body temperature, growth and development, reproductive health and digestion. With so many body systems affected by its functioning, it is clear why proper diagnosis and management are essential to ensure optimal health and well-being.
When Should You Get Thyroid Testing Done?
Thyroid hormone testing should be an essential part of every wellness checkup but there are various symptoms and risk factors that may indicate the need for testing. This is where naturopathic medicine thrives!
Symptoms that may indicate the need for thyroid hormone testing include:
- Unexplained fatigue, weakness, sluggishness
- Significant and unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Extreme intolerance to cold, excessive sweating or heat sensitivity
- Irregular or rapid heart rate or palpitations
- Irregular menstrual cycle (longer than 32 days), heavy periods, or other menstrual changes
- Brittle hair, hair loss, dry skin, or changes in skin texture
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Mood disturbances, depression, anxiety or difficulty concentrating
- Aches, pains and stiffness in muscles and joints
- A visibly enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), discomfort or swelling in the front of the neck and difficulty swallowing
Risk factors that may warrant thyroid hormone testing include:
- A family history of thyroid disorders
- Age above 60
- Having a personal history of linked autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes or celiac disease
- Pregnancy and postpartum
- Previous exposure to radiation in the neck area or a history of thyroid surgery
- Medications like lithium and amiodarone can affect thyroid function
- Too little and too much excessive iodine intake (sushi, seaweed, iodized salt, dairy, canned fish, etc)
Types of Thyroid Tests We Offer
Most doctors only measure TSH as a marker of thyroid health, but there’s so much more and about 7% of conditions can be missed by not testing these other markers. Therefore, Naturopathic doctors usually order a comprehensive thyroid panel which includes multiple hormones and markers related to the thyroid function.
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
TSH plays a central role in regulating thyroid function and is the primary marker for evaluating thyroid function.
Free and total T3 provides additional information beyond what can be inferred from TSH alone. Total T3 represents the thyroid’s ability to produce T3 but is not directly reflective of the amount of active T3 available to the body. Free T3 measures the biologically active form of T3 available for immediate use by the body and is the more accurate indicator of thyroid function.
Total T4 measures the amount in the bloodstream, including T4 that is both bound and unbound to proteins. Free T4 measures the unbound active form of T4 that is readily available for conversion to the more active T3. Free T4 is a more accurate indicator of thyroid function.
Reverse T3 (rT3)
rT3 is typically biologically inactive and produced through the conversion of T4. Conversion of T4 to rT3 is preferred over the T4-T3 pathway in response to illness, chronic stress and nutritional deficiencies. This becomes a problem when there is too much rT3 because it competes with T3 and reduces its availability, causing hypothyroid-like symptoms.
Thyroid antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system that start to see the thyroid gland as an enemy and mistakenly attack the thyroid tissue. Research shows that an increasing number of healthy people have autoimmune antibodies in circulation years before signs and symptoms appear.
If any of these symptoms or descriptions seem familiar, despite your thyroid labs being “normal”, you may benefit from a more comprehensive and functional thyroid evaluation—book in with one of our Naturopathic doctors today to find out more about thyroid testing.