When you are first diagnosed with a thyroid condition, a prescription for medication becomes much like a prescription for hope.
There is hope that you and your body will once again work together as partners, that you can feel “normal” again…at least someday soon. There is a butterflies-in-the-belly kind of optimism that all will be well again and that the emotional lows will become poignant highs.
And then it happens: You grow frustrated as you and your doctor struggle to find the right dosage and the right type of thyroid medication. You slowly realize that your thyroid medication doesn’t do all you thought it would. It may not have taken your symptoms away and possibly added some extra ones to the mix.
It’s frustrating but do not fret. All hope is not lost…
A Hard Pill to Swallow
If you have been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, that diagnosis likely came with a prescription for thyroid medication. After all, it’s the most common way thyroid conditions are treated in Western medication.
It’s the American way, right?
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not opposed to thyroid medication per se. Especially when people have classic hypothyroidism, thyroid medication can be a viable way to get your body back into balance. And in the beginning, you might need a thyroid supplement or medication for a short period of time to support your body.
But I am against the idea that medication is a magic pill that will absolute alleviate all of your symptoms. Magic, my friend, it is not. Nor is it absolute.
Medication rarely addresses the root causes of disease…especially thyroid and autoimmune conditions.
It’s kind of like putting a Band-Aid on, well, an autoimmune condition. The escalating hopelessness is so frustrating that it can add to the stress and strain that comes with the physical symptoms, the lethargy, the hollowness of your disease.
I also take issue with the popular idea that medication is the only viable course of treatment. I hear over and over and over again from people who don’t understand why their levels look better on tests results, and yet they still suffer from symptoms, such as depression, weight gain or loss, temperature variations, hair loss, fatigue, anxiety, etc.
That can leave a person feeling baffled, bewildered and bamboozled.
Rethinking The Doctor’s Orders
Knowing why your medication isn’t working is a big step toward feeling better. And taking your health into your own hands to reverse your condition can bring hope back again.
If you’re worried about why your thyroid medication doesn’t seem to be working, here are a few reasons that might be the case:
1. You have undiagnosed Hashimoto’s disease. Hashimoto’s disease is the No. 1 cause of thyroid problems; I have a deep, personal relationship with Hashimoto’s. But it also frequently goes undiagnosed and is often missed by a standard TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) blood panel. I personally went undiagnosed for over two years, after seeking help from 12 different doctors and specialists and two visits to the ER! It’s all too common – ask your doctor to test for TPO and TGB antibodies.
And, if your doctor refuses to test your antibodies, you can test them yourself through DirectLabs.com which is fairly affordable. (Just don’t forget to bring those results to a functional or integrative doctor or practitioner.)
2. You have lowered thyroid receptor sensitivity. When your body is suffering from inflammation, it can “dull” the sensitivity of receptors on cell membranes that transfer thyroid hormone for the cells to use. It can also reduce the number of those receptors overall. When the receptors’ sensitivity is dulled, the body must make more and more hormone (or you must take more and more medication) for the body to recognize and use it.
3. You have poor thyroid hormone conversion. Your body must convert T4 to T3 to help give energy to your cells. There are many factors to why your body may not be converting your thyroid hormones properly. If your body isn’t converting these hormones right, you will have to take a higher dosage in order to convert enough for your body to use.
4. You have high reverse T3 levels. Too little T3 is not good, but neither is too much. When your body is really stressed out, you can produce high levels of reverse T3, which is the opposite of active T3. It can’t be converted to T3, but it isn’t a thyroid deficiency.
5. You have stressed brain-thyroid communication. Your thyroid doesn’t work alone, of course; your brain has to tell it what to do. But stress, inflammation and autoimmune responses can put static on the line (if you will) between the brain and the thyroid.
6. You have a selenium deficiency. Selenium is an essential micronutrient for thyroid hormone conversion. And while selenium deficiency in adults is rare, it is seen sometimes in people with gastrointestinal diseases.
7. Your medication contains gluten. Shocking, right? It’s probably not something you would think about, but yes, it’s a dirty little secret that some thyroid medications do contain gluten and other cross-reactive ingredients like corn and dairy. As you likely know, for people with an autoimmune condition, gluten can become a vicious ogre. Medications containing gluten can cause you headaches, fatigue, congestion and other symptoms. Make sure you check that your prescribed medication contains no gluten.
These seven reasons are related to various inflammation and autoimmune disorders including thyroid dysfunction, so if your medication is not working, you may now know why.
But I think there is something else to be said: I preach to my clients and communities that to heal your thyroid, you must heal your whole body. It’s not simply about masking symptoms; it’s about getting to the root of the issue.
And you can’t do that with a pill.
Nutrition, exercise, relaxation, meditation and yoga can all have positive impacts on your autoimmune condition. Even drinking tea has been shown to help.
However, you should also make sure your medication works as best it can for you. Like I said, there is no silver bullet when it comes to medicating your thyroid or autoimmune condition. That means that it can be a bumpy road to healing, but it’s a journey you owe yourself to take. You’ll be grateful you did.
Here Are a Few Tips as You Navigate the World of Thyroid Medication:
1. Don’t let a doctor tell you that he or she only prescribes one brand of thyroid medication. The right medication is the one that works for you.
2. Ask your doctor how to take your medication. What’s the correct diet? What foods/supplements should you be avoiding to ensure your medication is working to its full potential? These are the questions you should ask.
3. If your doctor doesn’t understand that the brain, gut, adrenals and thyroid are all connected and that nutrition and lifestyle factors play a huge role in healing thyroid dysfunction and autoimmunity, it’s time to find a new doctor, practitioner or health coach – preferably one who looks at the body from a functional or integrative point of view.
4. Pay attention to your body. It seems like common sense, but sometimes we miss our body’s signals that our medication is not working for us. Pay attention to weight loss and weight gain, hair loss and any other physical or emotional symptoms and effects. When you’re not feeling your best, jotting down your symptoms on a piece of paper or tracking them in a journal will help you uncover the root cause.
Remember, just like the systems in your body, your thyroid doesn’t work in a vacuum. All the systems of the body rely on thyroid hormone to help regulate it. Thus, we must pay attention to the health of all of those systems if we want to heal.