Hypothyroidism: What I've learnt so far

Oct 07, 2022

As some of you may already know, I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism when I returned to Europe earlier this year. Hypothyroidism (or underactive thyroid) is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn't produce enough of certain crucial hormones.

Many processes within our body will not function as they should without adequate thyroid hormone. In fact, it is believed that every cell in our body has thyroid hormone receptors.

Hypothyroidism may not cause noticeable symptoms in the early stages but over time, if left untreated it can cause a number of health problems, such as obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease.1

I've never had any issues with my thyroid and it's not something genetic in my family so I've never had any reason to worry, but when I arrived in Europe early June, I knew something was up with my health. 

I was feeling extremely tired and some days I was so exhausted and dizzy that I would lie in bed or on the sofa all day, which is extremely unusual for me. I thought it was due to having COVID shortly before leaving Costa Rica but over time I realised that some of the things I'd gotten used to over the past few months, were starting to bother me more & more.

Even though it was over 25 degrees outside, I was always cold and my skin was extremely dry. Some days I would have such pain in my muscles and joints that even lying in bed would hurt.

At the same time, I was feeling mentally low with very little patience for others and a deep desire to be on my own, all the time. My metabolism had completely come to a halt and it felt as though my digestive system was no longer firing at all, no matter how much water I drank or what I ate, I was constipated.

When I got to Stockholm mid June for my niece's graduation, I spent up to 16 hours in bed per night with no desire whatsoever to go outside. 

My throat was hurting so I was wearing a scarf in the midst of summer and my hair was thinner than usual so the hairdresser asked me, yet again, if I'd had my thyroid checked.

I thought nothing of it until I consulted with my functional medicine doctor and saw a book on her desk talking about thyroid health.

"Do you think I should get my thyroid checked?" I asked.

"If you have a nudge that you should, you definitely should" she said and referred me to the doctor who was the author of the book on her desk.

He was conveniently based only 10 minutes away from where my parents live in Waterloo so off to him I went.

At our first appointment he asked me if I could relate to any symptoms of hyper or hypothyroidism. 

He listed the signs and symptoms for hypothyroidism:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Weight gain 
  • Puffy face
  • Hoarseness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Elevated blood cholesterol level
  • Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
  • Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
  • Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
  • Thinning hair
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Depression
  • Impaired memory
  • Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)

And sure enough, I could relate to nearly all of them!

Here I was taking throat lozenges for my hoarseness and doubling down on my practices to lift my mood while trying to accept that the changes to my metabolism & skin were maybe due to growing old, when actually, it was due to my thyroid not functioning properly.

Upon doing some research, I found that many of the diseases that we face today including depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and heart disease are often related to hormone imbalances that can be corrected with drug or nutrient therapies.

But instead of testing people's thyroid, conventional doctors are increasingly prescribing drugs to treat treat the symptoms of depression, elevated cholesterol, angina and a host of other diseases. 

Which brings me to the testing part.

I was extremely lucky to have done some research myself and to have landed in the hands of a functional medicine doctor who doesn't follow the conventional testing protocol. Thyroid hormones are most commonly evaluated with blood tests testing the TSH but this is just one of many markers and it often fails to give the real picture of what is going on in our bodies. 

In my case for example, the blood tests didn't show anything alarming when it came to my thyroid: my TSH was normal and so was my total T3 and T4. The T3 total/TBG ratio was a little low.

However, the urine test told a completely different story. My T3 was extremely low (-399. The normal range is 800-2500). It had probably been this way for a while but I would never have known if I hadn't had my urine tested.

So first thing I learnt is this: If you suspect you have Hypothyroidism, make sure you get your urine tested!

It's not like a conventional urine test as you need to collect your urine over 24 hours... not fun, but totally worth it!

Your thyroid hormones help regulate so many different functions in the body namely your:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

  • Heart rate

  • Body weight

  • Muscle strength and control

  • Central and peripheral nervous systems

  • Bone maintenance

  • Fat digestion and lipid levels in the blood (increased cholesterol, LDL and/or triglycerides can be indicative of low thyroid hormone)

  • Menstrual cycles

  • Mood

  • Breathing rate/rhythm

After the urine test, I was recommended to have an ultrasound. It showed that my thyroid had shrunk to half its size. My doctor explained that this meant I was operating at 50% capacity of my energy levels. I can't say that the percentage he gave me felt exactly accurate, but what I could say was that I felt very very tired.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have studied Holistic Health & Nutrition because it has given me the tools (& patience) to focus on understanding the underlying reasons why our bodies get out of balance, instead of just treating the symptoms.

Hippocrates said that "The gut is the gateway to most disease" so the testing we did didn't stop there.

We also did an IGG test which is blood test that detects food intolerances. I've always had a fragile gut and was diagnosed with IBS in my early 20's. It's effectively what led me to become really interested in gut health and to study at the Institute For Integrative Nutrition and to make helping others heal their bodies my purpose and my career. 

Despite having a very healthy diet, I knew that there were things I was eating that were causing inflammation to my gut, and sure enough, the tests confirmed this. I removed the foods I was the most reactive to (in my case eggs, cashews, almonds, pineapple & coconut in addition to gluten & dairy). Within 4-6 weeks, I started having more energy, less brain fog and my digestion finally picked up. Hallelujah!

So the second thing I was reminded of was this: the gut is the gateway to most disease. If you're unwell, start by focusing on your diet & gut health!

I had already done a food sensitivity test in my early 20s when I was diagnosed with IBS and it changed my life back then, and so it has again now. Food intolerances change over time and while there is no scientific evidence that proves that these types of tests are reliable, they have done miracles for me and the clients I have recommended them to as well.

My guess is that there's not a real ton of money to be made from people cutting out gluten, dairy or eggs from their diet, so the studies to support theses types of tests are harder to fund than those for pills to cure you from the "diseases" that appear as a result of you eating things that cause inflammation to your gut.

But the reality is, when your gut is inflamed and out of whack, everything crumbles. Not only will it make you feel mentally crappy (95% of your serotonin is produced in your gut) but you are more likely to get sick too (75% of your immune tissue is located in your gut!). In addition to this, when your gut is out of balance, you are more likely to get bloated and to stop absorbing the nutrients from your food.

In my case, I was eating a really healthy diet but my blood test showed that I was highly deficient in Iodine, Zinc & Selenium, three of the most important minerals to enable healthy thyroid function.

I've never been big on taking supplements because unless you have a true deficiency, they are a waste of money at best, and a potential danger for your health at worse.

So the third thing I learnt is this: food is medicine and a lot of ailments can be cured by changes in diet, but taking supplements helps, when required!

Aside from all this, and maybe because with time as I've become a little more "woo woo", I've also started to believe in the power of my own thoughts, my energy and how events from my past can have an impact on my health.

The gut is our emotional brain and it's often where we hold onto our fears, our traumas and strong emotions from the past. Most of us will experience events in our lives that are traumatic, hard to process and often hard to speak about. And my past is no exception to this.

Over the past few months, I have taken a closer interest in energy medicine. I consulted with a specialist in Neural Organization Technique in San Jose in Costa Rica who reset my nervous system and I've also included practices in my day to day life to help heal my thyroid.

In energy healing, the thyroid is closely related to our throat chakra. The throat chakra (also known as Vishuddha) is responsible for communication, self-expression, and the ability to speak your personal truth.2

So I've made a point of speaking my truth more, often unfiltered, which has been at times a little unsettling for those around me! I've also started doing Yoga poses to benefit the throat chakra, to sing in the shower and to repeat the mantra "HAM" which is said to help unblock the throat.

I've become more mindful of doing exercises for the mobility of my neck as it has been causing me a lot of trouble and pain over the last few months, which is perhaps no coincidence since that's where my thyroid is located!

Finally, I've been even more mindful of listening to my body, of slowing down and doing what feels good. I've released all expectations and pressure on myself to perform in any sport. If I can get up in the morning and ride Bill, I'm happy! Even if we're not out there competing and training like we used to.

If I can paddle out in the waves, I'm happy! Even if I don't catch any waves!

And if I can step on my mat and do some exercises that make me feel strong, flexible and truly grateful for my body and all it's doing for me, despite being unwell, I feel like I'm winning at life :)

So in the end, I've learnt this: everything is connected. Our body, our mind & our soul all work together and a good healing protocol should focus on all three.

Our physical ailments are often an expression of something that is happening on a deeper level. We can choose to only focus our attention on what we can see, treating each symptom with a pill, or we can go beyond the conventional and learn to look after ourselves better, and to trust that the body can heal itself when given half a chance to do so.

So where are things at today?

Three months after my initial appointment with the Thyroid Specialist, I came back to Belgium earlier this week for a follow up today.

As my doctor reviewed my tests he looked up and said "So how are you feeling?"

"I'm feeling great actually. Like night & day compared to when I saw you 3 months ago"

"Yes the medicine really helps doesn't it?". 

I was a little confused.

He said "I prescribed you hormone replacement therapy, didn't I?"

I said no, you did not. I thought we were going to try and heal this without it.

He said that by looking back at my test results from June, he didn't understand why he hadn't prescribed me medication and how I could possibly be feeling better without having taken any.

I'm definitely feeling better. Am I 100% as I was before? Definitely not.

I'm still feeling tired and finding it hard to focus and express myself. I also feel like I've somewhat lost my spark and find it hard to find the energy to socialise or challenge myself in any way.

But when I see the progress I've made over the past 3 months, I am confident that with a little patience I can continue getting better with what I've been doing so far.

The results from today's test will be ready in 2-3 weeks and I'm curious to see if my markers have improved. 

I remain confident that they have. And if they haven't, maybe I'll go onto the hormones. Or maybe I won't.

At this point, I'm definitely not excluding their use in the future. The promise of having more energy, of feeling more upbeat mentally, of no longer being cold or having brain fog, are definitely tempting...

But I know deep inside that our bodies have an incredible power to heal themselves. And that there's something for me to learn from this journey. So I'd like to keep learning and to keep giving my body the chance to heal itself and hopefully it will...

Stay tuned for the next chapter!

1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/symptoms-causes/syc-20350284

2. https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/chakras-yoga-for-beginners/a-guide-to-the-chakras/



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