Originally published November 6 2007
The Nature of Energy-Depleting Thyroid Problems
by Byron Richards
(NaturalNews) Millions of Americans suffer from some degree of energy-depleting thyroid problem. You may be one of the many whose sluggish thyroid problem did not show up on a lab test. This is partly because thyroid lab tests do not accurately measure the activity of thyroid hormone inside cells. Testing can catch more flagrant problems relating to the thyroid gland itself, but it often leaves you with a long list of hypothyroid symptoms and “normal” lab test results. Like many lab tests, thyroid testing is mostly an indirect estimate of what is happening. They are better than nothing, but far from perfect.
Another reason the lab tests may not show anything is because the thyroid problem is secondary to some other form of stress (chemical, physical, or emotional). Thyroid problems often occur in a complex web of other issues including adrenal fatigue, fibromyalgia, depression, cognitive decline, ADHD, digestive complaints, food intolerance, Candida albicans, chemical sensitivity/exposure, allergy, asthma, and leptin-related obesity issues. How are you supposed to know what your problem really is when it could be so many different things? To make matters worse, doctors are almost useless at sorting out complex health issues and now seem obsessed with managing numbers on paper instead of the person sitting in front of them.
What is Thyroid-Related Fatigue?
Energy is the backbone of life. All systems in your body need energy to function properly. How you produce and distribute energy is complex; thyroid hormone function has a major impact on all of your energy systems. However, not all fatigue or tiredness is due to thyroid malfunction. How do you tell the difference?
Thyroid hormone governs the basal metabolic rate, which is like the idling speed of a car engine. Even when you are sitting in a chair or sleeping your 100 trillion cells keep making energy. This type of energy production is the foundation for all other energy and hormonal systems. If it is not up to par, no other system in your body works as well as it should.
When you step on the gas pedal during the day, this is not thyroid hormone that goes into action. Increased activity of any kind is controlled by adrenaline, muscle activity, increased calorie burning, and an increased speed at which your cells make energy. If you have a sluggish thyroid you may still be able to make yourself have the energy to do things based on adrenaline-driven necessity. You may also notice that you have too much reliance on stimulants such as caffeine, sugar, or cigarettes.
A demanding day may deplete muscles of fuel and induce enough wear and tear so that natural tiredness follows. Such fatigue is normal and why we need to sleep. Even pushing it day after day and cutting sleep short may not be a thyroid problem. However, such a poor lifestyle is pushing your system and you may eventually develop a thyroid problem as a result. Getting less than seven hours of sleep per night is asking for trouble.
Thyroid-related fatigue starts to show up when you cannot sustain energy long enough, especially when compared to a past level of fitness or ability. If the thyroid foundation is weak, sustaining energy output is difficult. You will notice you just don’t seem to have the energy to do the things you used to be able to do.
The menstrual cycle, pregnancy, exercise, stress, and physical demands are all examples of increased energy demands requiring increased energy output. Thus, PMS is almost always a thyroid problem to a degree. The increased energy demands of the menstrual cycle are simply too much, partly due to an underlying thyroid weakness. Pregnancy is always a major test of the thyroid, as one’s thyroid is called upon to do metabolic work for two bodies. This is why thyroid issues often flare up during or following pregnancy.
Thyroid hormone is synergistic with growth hormone in muscles, and when these two are working properly together then muscles feel fit. Exercise conditions thyroid hormone to work properly to assist general energy production and a lack of exercise contributes to poor thyroid function. The more fit your muscles feel, the less likely thyroid-related fatigue will be an issue for you. If you have poor thyroid function you frequently feel like you don’t have the energy to exercise and usually don’t on a consistent basis. Muscle weakness is a classic hypothyroid symptom.
One of the key symptoms of thyroid fatigue is a heavy or tired head, especially in the afternoon. Thyroid hormone activity is regulated differently in the brain than anywhere else in the body, as brain cells themselves convert T4 to T3 (active thyroid hormone). Your head is a very sensitive indicator of thyroid hormone status. This is different than low blood sugar symptoms from not having eaten for a while. The head just feels sluggish or tired, lacking clarity or sharpness. When this head tiredness occurs too many hours in the day then you will feel like you want to sleep all the time and you will feel depressed, signs of more advanced thyroid-related fatigue.
Another key sign of thyroid fatigue is conking out as soon as you sit down and don’t actually have to do something (there is no necessity making you have to do something). In this case it feels like your body is a car idling too slowly at a stop sign and it just stalls and goes to sleep. This is a clear sign of thyroid fatigue.
You either do or don’t have the symptoms of thyroid-related fatigue. If you wake up energized, maintain decent energy throughout the day, are able to maintain mental alertness/sharpness, have energy as needed to meet demands, and your muscles feel fit, you do not have thyroid-related fatigue. The more you don’t feel this way, the greater the problem. No lab test is needed. In many cases thyroid lab tests may still be normal, even though you clearly are not. The symptoms tell the story and they never lie.
Body Temperature and Thyroid Problems
When your thyroid hormone is working properly inside cells you will make 65% energy and 35% heat as you burn calories for fuel. Thyroid hormone is governing your basal metabolic rate, orchestrating the idling speed at which all cells make energy and thus heat. A classic symptom of poor thyroid function is being too cold. And conversely, a classic symptom of hyperthyroidism is being too hot (making too much heat). However, many people with slow thyroid are too hot, a seeming paradox that I will explain shortly.
Generally, you know all too well if you fit into the too cold category. You always want the thermostat set higher than everyone else or you have on an extra layer of clothes. You go to bed with socks on your feet or you want extra layers of blankets. When this type of coldness matches up with the symptoms of thyroid-related fatigue, you fall into the classic pattern of sluggish or hypothyroid.
In many cases of poor thyroid function a cold feeling is not quite so obvious. Dr. Broda Barnes pioneered the use of the basal temperature test to help identify sluggish thyroid function. This is done by placing a thermometer (not digital) under your arm for ten minutes before getting out of bed. This should be done ten days in a row, averaging the daily reading. Menstruating women should start their ten day test when their menstrual cycle begins, as basal temperature naturally rises 2 degrees at ovulation. If your waking temperature averages from 97.8 to 98.2 degrees it is normal. Less than 97.8 reflects sluggish thyroid function.
It should be noted that there are other factors besides thyroid that can make a person run too cold. Common ones include:
A) Protein malnutrition that is resulting in a loss of muscle. Individuals with borderline thyroid should eat at least ½ their ideal weight in grams of protein per day (avoiding excessive intake of soy protein).
B) Nutrients lacking for cellular energy production (co-enzyme B vitamins, Q10, magnesium).
C) Nutrients lacking to implement cellular DNA thyroid instructions (iron or zinc).
D) Excessive stress, which pools blood around central organs and makes hands and feet cold. Anti-inflammatory nutrients are required to fix this, along with stress management. Fish oil and squalene are very helpful.
E) A viral infection, even a subclinical viral infection. Viruses hijack cellular energy production, shutting down energy and heat production, and making excess lactic acid. This leaves one feeling cold and achy from the lactic acid. This is why you get the chills from the flu. Many viruses, like Epstein-Barr or cytomegalovirus, can operate on a low grade basis – enough to make a person cold, tired, and achy. Such individuals often wake up with a sore throat in the morning. Monolaurin is a top choice for nutrient support.
These coldness issues can masquerade as thyroid problems, and in some cases may in fact be the primary cause of the hypothyroid symptoms. The proof of the source of the problem is in the solution. Whatever helps get energy on and temperature up is what is needed. Sometimes this means thyroid support nutrition. Sometimes it is addressing any issue in A-E above. And many times it is some combination of approaches, including thyroid support.
Many individuals with hypothyroid symptoms are not cold and may even be hot. Remember, normal cell energy production is 65% energy and 35% heat. In classic low thyroid both numbers drop. However, if thyroid hormone is still signaling cells to go, but cells lack nutrients to properly make energy, then a person may make 50% energy and 50% heat. If the problem worsens a person could make 35% energy and 65% heat (and lots of anxiety). Such a problem will present itself as low thyroid, but it is really a deficiency in energy-producing nutrients like co-enzyme B vitamins, Q10, magnesium, and antioxidants.
The most common reason for true low thyroid with excess heat occurs in the overweight individual. In this case the body is trying to dispose of surplus fat calories by converting them to 100% heat. Even though cells are not making adequate energy or heat, the heat is coming from the desperate attempt of the body to get rid of fat so it doesn’t clog organs, cells, and arteries. Eating according to the Leptin Diet solves this problem. Since excess heat produces too many free radicals, extra antioxidants are a good idea.
As thyroid problems deteriorate a person becomes both heat and cold intolerant. Hot humid days are stressful; frigid winter days are stressful. The body’s heat regulating system simply struggles to keep up with environmental demands, especially when they are more extreme. Aging is generally associated with deteriorating thyroid function and troubles regulating body temperature.
Understanding your body’s heating and cooling system is central to effectively managing thyroid health.
Fall Season May Trigger Thyroid-Induced Depression
It could be a beautiful Indian summer fall day, but if you have a sluggish thyroid your mood may already be taking a beating. Fall and spring are often difficult times if you have a struggling thyroid gland. Large fluctuations in temperature pose a unique stress to the thyroid system.
Thyroid hormone adjusts itself once every seven days (the half life of the hormone). While the liver has some ability to slightly modulate the rate at which T4 is converted to T3 on a daily basis, the basic production of thyroid hormone changes more slowly. When daytime high temperatures vary 25 – 40 degrees over a period of a few days, the thyroid system really struggles to keep up.
The Northern states have been through a tough fall this year from the thyroid point of view. The first and most obvious symptom is just feeling jolted by the weather changes. Other symptoms include feeling more sluggish, more tired, and your mood starts to suffer. The desire for sweet tasting food increases and you may put on a few pounds.
If you have a borderline thyroid status entering the fall season, it is not uncommon to find yourself in a mental funk, even feeling depressed. Extra nutrient support for the thyroid is vital during this time. Heading into the holidays with a sweet tooth raving and an unstable mood is setting the stage for bottoming out in the winter months.
Obesity Causes Thyroid Problems
You are not alone if you think a sluggish thyroid is causing you to gain weight. Contrary to this popular belief, in most cases it is just the other way around. Gaining weight is actually causing the thyroid to become sluggish. If your thyroid is struggling the problem tends to get worse the more times you go on a diet and lose some weight and then gain it all back again, typically with a few extra pounds for good measure. Once in motion thyroid and weight problems feed off each other like a chicken and egg, locking in a nasty metabolic catch 22 that is quite difficult to solve.
Leptin is the key hormone that governs body weight. Leptin is produced in fat, travels through the blood and up to the brain, enters the brain and informs the subconscious brain how much fat is in reserves. If there is an adequate amount of fat in storage leptin permits the thyroid system to set a faster basal metabolic rate. Leptin is in control of thyroid, thyroid does not control leptin. Think of thyroid hormone as the drummer in the band, setting the pace or tempo. Think of leptin as the conductor of the band, determining what piece of music will be played.
This leptin and thyroid relationship is fundamental to survival. During evolution there was often a scarcity of food. This required that stored fat be broken down to use as fuel. The stored fat now produces less leptin, which means to the brain it is time to slow down metabolism to conserve energy so as not to perish. If a faster basal metabolic pace was allowed a person would die from malnutrition at a quicker rate. Thus, leptin intentionally creates a hypothyroid state in order to survive.
Then, when more food is available, leptin commands that fat storage is replenished before thyroid is allowed to go faster. This is a mode your body uses to recover from a period of famine, otherwise known as a diet. This mechanism is the bane of any dieter, and the cause of the yo-yo dieting response.
The curse of prosperity is that we now have ready access to too much food. Our bodies did not evolve with overeating as the primary issue. Too much food really creates a lot of stress. Extra pounds of fat crank out way too much leptin. At the same time extra fat in the blood (triglycerides) blocks leptin from getting into the brain, inducing a problem called leptin resistance. This makes your subconscious brain think you are starving even though you have plenty of extra fat on hand. This is a false state of perceived starvation, with the undesirable side effect of slowing down thyroid function to set a slower metabolic pace (hypothyroid).
Now it is certainly possible to create a thyroid problem in some other way, such as chemical poisoning of the thyroid gland by exposure to fluoride or perchlorate. This will slow down metabolism and make a person more likely to gain weight. However, once the person starts gaining weight then the leptin problem makes the thyroid problem worse.
The problem isn’t too bad if a person can cut back on calories and increase exercise and lose the extra weight. However, this leptin-thyroid conundrum is at the root of difficult weight loss and ongoing sluggish thyroid problems in overweight people. Such people run out of energy and get in a really bad mood from cutting calories long before they reach their goal weight. And they easily gain weight back eating even moderate amounts of food.
The best way out of this trap is to understand leptin and to eat in harmony with the hormone. By following the Five Rules of the Leptin Diet you can readily improve thyroid function. This enables your metabolism to run faster while eating proper portions, permitting weight loss without inducing the thyroid-deteriorating starvation response that is invariably followed by weight gain. Those who consistently follow the Five Rules for a number of months in a row have the best results. Nutrients that support thyroid function and leptin function are also helpful tools, along with consistent exercise, to assist you in overcoming this thyroid and leptin rut.
If you have a question or comment for Byron about anything in this article, go the Byron’s new Thyroid and Leptin Weight Loss blog and ask him directly (www.byronrichards.com).
About the authorByron J. Richards, Founder/Director of Wellness Resources (www.wellnessresources.com), is a Board-Certified Clinical Nutritionist, a charter professional member of the International and American Associations of Clinical Nutritionists (IAACN) since 1991. He is a nationally-renowned health expert, radio personality, and educator. He is the creator and pioneer of The Leptin DietŪ and has been a featured expert consultant on Fox News Live, CBS Infinity television (national syndication), and The Wall Street Journal. Richards has appeared on hundreds of radio programs throughout the country. He is the author of Mastering Leptin (www.wellnessresources.com/products/mastering...), The Leptin Diet (www.wellnessresources.com/Books/leptin_diet....), and Fight for Your Health: Exposing the FDA's Betrayal of America(www.wellnessresources.com/Books/fight_for_yo...).
Richards encourages individuals to take charge of their health, stand up for their health rights, and not blindly succumb to propaganda from the vested-interests who profit from keeping Americans sick. As founder of Wellness Resources, Inc. of Minneapolis, MN, an independently-owned nutraceutical-quality dietary supplement company since 1985. He has personally developed 75 effective nutritional formulations. (www.wellnessresources.com)
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