• Nutritionist Jennifer May

Check your thyroid

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

Do you struggle to lose weight? Are you constipated? Do you often feel flat, fatigued and depressed? Do you feel more sensitive to cold than your friends? If so it might be time to get your thyroid checked.

Oh and for those of you who think you've already had it checked I have bad news... the sad truth is unless you have a diagnosed thyroid disorder, or unless you have paid for a specific and comprehensive test, then it's highly unlikely that you have had a full, accurate and complete assessment. Can you tell I’m frustrated?..

You see under the MBS (Medicare benefits scheme) there is only one test permitted and unfortunately it's not a very good prediction of thyroid health. By "good", I mean, accurate or reliable which I will do my very best to explain in detail in this blog. So here we are, taking preventative health measures, asking for help and we get given the “all clear – nothing wrong with your thyroid you just need to eat less and move more” – oh the number of times I’ve had someone in tears in my office as they relay this story.

However this test is not complete and therefore not reliable. It is not a thorough assessment and it is possible to get an “all clear” from the doctor while still having issues under the surface.

But all is not lost, you can opt to get your thyroid checked. A good, clear, thorough and accurate assessment of your thyroid is available – you just have to pay for it.

Introducing private pathology…

Private pathology means that you’ve been referred by your Nutritionist (or GP) with a different type of referral slip that states that you’ll be paying for the lab fees yourself, rather than claiming a medicare rebate. This allows you to have any test you request immediately, rather than having to comply with what Medicare determines is significant or not. The lab I use for my private pathology testing is the same lab your GP uses for the ones Medicare pays for, however the referral I give you is like a permission slip to authorise a complete assessment.

Let’s discuss the thyroid a little more so that you have a better understanding of what it is and why comprehensive testing is a highly beneficial and often necessary step..

What is the thyroid?

The thyroid is a gland in the throat which secretes the hormones which regulate your growth and metabolism. This effects both mental and physical growth. The thyroid also regulates many other systems in the body.

What effects does the thyroid have on my health?

The direct and indirect effects of the thyroid hormones include your immune balance, stress tolerance, mood, bowel function, digestion, energy and metabolism.

If I am overweight, does this mean I have a thyroid issue?

Thyroid dysfunction is a common cause of weight issues. Hypothyroidism (under-functioning thyroid) may lead to obesity and/or difficulty losing weight. Hyperthyroidism (over-functioning thyroid) commonly causes weight loss, hair loss and anxiety. In this blog we are focusing mostly on Hypothyroidism.

However, while an important factor to rule out, and one which can significantly impair weight loss, it is important to know that thyroid dysfunction is not the only cause of weight gain. Testing will help to determine if this is the cause for you.

How can I test my thyroid?

There are a few markers which must be assessed together for a complete and thorough assessment of the Thyroid. Let’s discuss each of them now:

TSH: Thyroid Stimulating Hormone – this hormone is produced by the pituitary gland. It’s job is to “crack the whip” to tell the thyroid to work a little harder.

T3: Your active thyroid hormone. This is the hormone which is metabolically active, responsible for all of the thyroid’s influence in the body (discussed above) including the metabolic rate, stimulating weight loss, improving appetite and digestion.

T4: Your storage thyroid hormone – we produce T3 from this in times of need by removing one iodine molecule. An adequate supply of this hormone means we are well nourished and have well stocked reserves. This hormone can be broken down and recycled over and over to create T3.

rT3: Reverse T3, the dummy hormone. One which is used to reduce appetite and metabolism in times of famine or malnutrition. This is the hormone which binds up the receptors, preventing T3 from doing it’s job. Remember T3 is responsible for a healthy appetite and metabolism, therefore elevated rT3 generally means slower metabolism, fatigue, difficulty losing weight.

Thyroid Autoantibodies: Antibodies which are produced due to autoimmune conditions such as hashimotos thyroiditis, or in the instance of nutrient deficiencies. Acceptable levels vary per the sensitivity of the lab conducting the test. Ideal levels would be zero.

Let's talk a little more about the available testing now..

What tests are available free of charge?

The standard process is that your GP will request a TSH assessment. He or she may also tick the boxes to include T3 or T4 but unless the TSH falls outside of the reference ranges, these assessments will not be carried out. Therefore, even if your GP has requested them, you have likely not had a complete assessment.

What is a reference range?

A reference range should be called the “Average range” as this is what it really means. It is the variation in numbers that is seen following an assessment of many tests, the range within which 95% of the population falls becomes the reference range. An example of this is TSH which has a range of 0.5 to 4.

What is a healthy range?

A healthy range is the ideal variation in test numbers that you would see in a healthy person. Using TSH as the example again, the ideal range is 1-2 – vastly different to the reference range. Outside of the healthy range, you may be u