003 // What do my thyroid labs mean?
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In this episode of Health with Hashimoto’s:
What does your thyroid panel tell you? In this episode of Health with Hashimoto’s, you’ll learn how to interpret your thyroid lab results: TSH, T4, T3, reverse T3, etc. You don’t have to be confused by all the thyroid tests. Do you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis? Learn what your labs mean so that you can take appropriate steps to find Health with Hashimoto’s.
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Read the Transcript:
Did you just get your thyroid panel labs back? You have all of these numbers and letters, and you’re wondering what do they mean. Or maybe your sister, wife, mom, or friend just got theirs back. They’re asking “um, what’s going on?”
I am here to help you figure out:
- What is your thyroid?
- How does it work?
- What do all these numbers mean?
- Why are there more than one number?
- Why are there a whole bunch?
- Isn’t it just working or not? (It’s not.)
What is your thyroid?
Let’s go through what your thyroid is.
The first thing I want you to do is to picture a Rube Goldberg machine.
Do you know what a Rube Goldberg machine is? It’s one of those super complicated things to do a simple task. The one that comes to mind is Joseph’s Machines on YouTube. My kids love that channel because he’s always got funny, Rube Goldberg machines.
One of them is to pour cereal. You don’t just go to the cupboard, get out the box of cereal and pour it. No, with a Rube Goldberg machine, it is a huge, long, convoluted process to get the machine to pour a bowl of cereal. That’s kind of what your thyroid is.
When I was going to school initially in my four years of college, the thyroid system confused me. When I went back to school after working in the ER for seventeen years because I was sick of putting Band-aids on chronic things and I wanted to help people actually get better, I went back to school for holistic health and whole health education. Even then, the thyroid stuff totally confused me.
But when I started picturing it as a Rube Goldberg machine, ahh! It started to make sense! Hopefully, through this podcast, I can help you make sense out of all of these numbers in your labs. So that you can figure out what’s going on in your body.
Different reference ranges for thyroid labs
Now, the first thing I’m going to tell you, is I’m not going to address specific numbers. I’m just going to say “high, low, abnormal.” There are a couple reasons for this, and number one is because there are different sets of numbers.
An endocrinologist might follow a different system than a functional medicine doctor, and they might follow a different system than a conventional medicine doctor. There are different systems. So we’re just going to talk about high, normal, or low.
Every cell needs thyroid hormone to work: The light switch
So first thing in this Rube Goldberg machine is your body; every single cell in your body needs a little spark plug for energy to work. Right? If they’re not getting that, they’re going to hit the little light switch, and if they’re still not getting enough they’re going to hit the light switch again and again. And every time they flick that light switch up, it’s kind of like your TSH!
So if your TSH is really elevated, it means that your body has been flicking that light switch like, “hey? Hey! I need more energy. I need something. Help! Help me out.”That’s your TSH! If it’s elevated, it means your body is asking for more energy for more thyroid hormone.
You can have Hashimoto’s, or you can have problems with your thyroid and your TSH is normal. So I hope that your practitioner did a full thyroid panel. That includes more than just the TSH. Because you can be experiencing the crazy symptoms of Hashimoto’s and have a normal TSH!
What kinds of symptoms can you have if your thyroid isn’t working well?
The number One symptom is fatigue. It’s what most people experience. But because every single cell in your body is impacted by thyroid hormone. Well, every single cell has a different function in your body. Right? You have different organ systems. Everything works together. But what if it’s not working?
In Hashimoto’s, you can experience things like brain fog, joint pain, mood swings, depression or anxiety, panic attacks, losing your hair, carpal tunnel syndrome, acid reflux, infertility or miscarriages, hives, other skin problems, insomnia, (maybe you feel exhausted, but you can’t sleep,) vision problems, neck pressure (especially right in the front where your thyroid gland is.) there are so many different things that can be caused by your thyroid gland not quite working right.
If you’re experiencing those, and you went to your doctor, and you said, “I want my thyroid checked,” hopefully they did more than just your TSH! Your TSH is the little light switch. It is your body asking for more energy.
It’s important to know more than TSH value
Once you know your TSH, you also want to look at some other labs. Okay. So you’re back to the Rube Goldberg. Your body has asked for more energy. The next thing that you need to look at is your T4. If your thyroid gland is working, it puts out T4. That is the name of the inactive thyroid hormone.
Your thyroid gland makes T4. If your T4 is low, it means that your thyroid gland is not working awesomely. If it’s still working, congratulate it. It’s fighting hard for you. Yay, thyroid gland. I am all about not being a bully to ourselves. It’s really easy to be down on ourselves. Congratulate your thyroid like, “hey, I’ve been working you really hard. Thank you. Thank you for keeping up.”
Is your inactive thyroid (T4) converting to the active form (T3)?
Now, the next thing is T3. That’s if your T4 was converted into the form that every single cell needs. T3 is the active thyroid.
So if that’s low, it means there’s something going on that’s preventing it from converting from the inactive form to the active form.
What does your reverse T3 mean?
And now there’s another step in this Rube Goldberg, and this is a break system. It’s your reverse T3.
Picture your kid and your kid has been going, going, going, going, going, going, and he’s ready to drop. Think of a toddler or preschooler, and you know that if they sit down, they’re going to fall asleep. He has been going! He is exhausted! But instead of sitting out on the couch, he goes to the refrigerator and pulls out a Red Bull: caffeine, sugar, stimulants, artificial coloring, all these things that are going to hype him up and keep him going.
Now, as the parent, are you going to let him do that or are you going to say “No, let’s let’s sit on the couch for a second and read a book” because you know that he’s so exhausted that when he sits down, he’ll get halfway through the book and fall asleep. You’re not going to let him have that Red Bull, because you know what he actually needs is rest.
Your reverse T3 is that parent figure. It’s like, “No, we’re not going to have a Red Bull. We need to rest. There’s stuff going on in our body, and I need to heal. I need some time to just be. Can we not have more energy right now?”
Do you need to rest?
That’s your reverse T3. If your reverse T3 is elevated, you need to pay attention. It is your body crying for help like. “Can we please rest?” Honor, that.
Your body is telling you through your thyroid labs what it needs. So let’s give it what it needs.
Is that toddler, preschooler, or elementary school kid gonna sometimes going to throw a fit because they want the Red Bull, because there’s something exciting going on, and they really want to do that thing?
Yes, absolutely. Are you going to feel the same? Possibly.
You might be saying, “but you don’t know my list of commitments, Esther! I wear so many hats. I cannot drop the ball. I need more energy. I cannot rest.”
Rest is not optional
I have bad news for you. If you don’t choose to rest, illness will make you rest.
You can only go so long. If you don’t listen to the cries for help. Eventually, something will make you stop.
It’s better—hard!—but better to cut down on those commitments and prioritize rest and healing.
If your reverse, T3 is high, listen to that as a cry for help from your body.
Antibodies mean your immune system is confused
Some other labs to look at are your antibodies. There are two different antibodies, and as far as I know, they always go together. If one is up, the other is up. So are your antibodies up? If your antibodies are elevated, that means your immune system has gone on haywire, and it is attacking you.
If you listened to the last episode, you know I talked about a story about a preschooler girl who’s been working so hard on this craft project, and it just isn’t working. She can’t get her crayons, scissors, glue, and everything to work just how she wants, and she’s so frustrated, and she cries. Right? You’re not going to yell at her. She’s trying her hardest, and it’s just not working. You’re going to have compassion on her.
That’s your autoimmune system. It’s working so hard and it is not doing a good job. It started attacking you. Have compassion on it. Figure out how you can support your immune system. Because you can. And we’re going to go over that in future episodes. There are a lot of ways that you can support your body as a whole.
Many opportunities to help your thyroid
Now, when I talk about your whole health, we’re going to go through your body, mind, spirit, diet, environment, because they all go together. Every single thing—like the breathing which I talked about in the last episode. When you take a deep breath with your diaphragm (that’s your belly) instead of letting your shoulders and your ribs help you take a deep breath, take a deep breath with your belly that tells every single cell in your body to switch from the fight and flight mode to the rest and digest mode. It impacts your body, lowers your stress, it impacts your mind because it’s lowering your stress. It impacts your spirit even because you’re moving out of fear into rest. It impacts your diet because your diet is not necessarily just what you eat. It’s what you’re able to digest, and it impacts everything around you.
When you are looking at the world through stressed eyes. It looks different than when you are looking at the world through eyes of rest. Everything goes together.
Vitamin D is not part of a typical thyroid panel
So we talked about the antibodies. The other thing that I hope that your practitioner checked when they did your lab panel, is your vitamin D level. Your vitamin D level is not a thyroid level. In future episodes, we’re going to go through the triggers of autoimmune conditions. There’s always three things present when you have an autoimmune condition.
- There’s always a genetic predisposition.
- There’s always a gut component.
- And there’s always a trigger.
Out of the eight most common triggers, one is your vitamin D level. So as long as you’re getting your blood working done, see if they can check your vitamin D level.
Now, if they didn’t, you can go back and ask them if they can, or you can even do a mail-in lab. You get online, you order the lab work, they send it to you in the mail. They have a little lancet (a little finger poker,) you clean off your finger and you use that lancet. Then you squeeze out a couple of drops of blood and put them on the special little paper. You put it in the envelope and mail it back. Within about two weeks you have your vitamin D levels. It’s easy-peasy!
Vitamin D can help you figure out one simple thing of how to progress on your road to health with Hashimoto’s.
One step at a time
I will see you in the next episode where we’re going to talk about more simple things you can do because, let’s face it, there’s a lot of things you can do when you have Hashimoto’s, and diving into all of it all at once is not good for your stress level. When things are not good for your stress level, they’re not good for your immune system. So we’re going to dive into that in the next episode.
If you’re ready to join my program designed to help you make small and sustainable changes, check out the Abundant Energy for the Weary Mom program.
Do you have a question you’d like covered on a future episode of Health with Hashimoto’s? If you’re on Instagram, send me a DM @EstherY.RN