Two days after I went in for a routine gynecological exam, I got a call from my doctor.
I am in that broad time block of life called perimenopause, so the blood work requested was to also include my hormone levels. I had breezed through the medical history profile for new patients and neither of us expected any abnormal results.
Yes to exercise regularly. Yes to balanced diet. Yes to supplements. No to smoking. Yes to occasional glass or two of champagne. There was no box to mark for having at least a few good genes helping keep me slender and strong.
But a gut feeling made me request a check of my thyroid during the exam. She inquired as to whether previous doctors had ever suspected or treated me for a thyroid problem.
Mine was probably fine she assured me, since I wasn’t “presenting” any of the usual telltale symptoms of a thyroid problem: overweight, swelling in the lower legs, puffiness under the eyes, a bulge in the front of the neck as in a goiter, sleep problems, fatigue.
“The lab results indicate you are hypothyroid,” she said during that surprising phone call. “Your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level is very elevated.”
This means my thyroid is underactive. For who knows why, including possibly a genetic predisposition, my thyroid is straining to produce adequate levels of the chemicals needed to regulate metabolism. She was happy we found this out, because if left untreated the consequences could be heart disease, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, kidney damage. How underactive is underactive I wanted to know.
The normal TSH range peaks at 5.5 and mine was 19.5. Her solution was I start on a thyroid medication immediately.
Not being one to swallow a doctor’s recommendation for pharmaceuticals without first exploring alternatives, I suggested I try to correct the problem with kelp, a seaweed.
I knew kelp contains iodine, a mineral necessary for thyroid function. I’d also increase my supplements, eat more iodine-rich seafood, and do more yoga asanas like shoulder stands, poses that yogis claim improve thyroid function. I told her, if she was willing to allow me to try this for six months, I’d then come in for a recheck. If my TSH was STILL elevated, I’d happily get on medication.
Six months later I had more blood drawn.
Again the phone call from her, this time reporting my TSH level had elevated to 62.4.
I headed straight to the pharmacist.
Within days of taking the prescription Armour thyroid – one tablet a day not even the size of a breath mint – I could see a drastic difference.
My menstrual cycle, virtually always on time, had suddenly morphed over the previous 18 months into an unpredictable nuisance. Some months it started and stopped and started and stopped, ad nauseam. Come to find out, these annoying changes to my cycle, including excessive flow that at times alarmed me, were NOT the consequence of perimenopause as had been suggested by several female friends and doctors.
Not even something I just had to put up with until blessed menopause hit.
The first month on the thyroid medication, my cycle wasn’t the only thing that straightened right up. Dry skin and paper thin nails I had had for the past twenty years – a condition incorrectly attributed to living in a dry climate – also improved.
The thinning hair I blamed on becoming a mature woman was actually the result of my bum thyroid. And so it was with another symptom many women deal with that makes them sleep in their sexy socks.
Always being cold.
My hands and feet were so cold you’d have thought my bones were dry ice. And it had absolutely nothing to do with being female or that I am model thin. That dreadful chill went away, replaced by an internal warmth, reminding me why I dread winter and pine for summertime. All within days of being on the thyroid medication.
It’s a curious thing why my underactive thyroid wasn’t detected sooner, but it will be even more perplexing and unfortunate if you experience some of these same symptoms – especially if you are not overweight – and you don’t have yours checked right away. Whether the doctor suggests it or not.
— Giselle M. Massi © 2003
POSTNOTE on “The Skinny on Thyroid”
After much research and the support of spiritual guidance, in Oct. 2004 I decided to stop taking thyroid medication. Instead, I opted for a regimen of supplementation using specific herbs, vitamins and minerals. In addition, I made substantial adjustments to my dietary intake, increased my daily hydration, and have been dutifully adhering to my yoga asana practice.
I am having success with my program and intend to write a column in the near future about the details, that I will post here.
In the meantime, among the vast literature available on thyroid problems and solutions, here are two books I recommend:
“Thyroid Power: 10 Steps to Total Health” by Richard L. Shames, M.D. and Karilee Halo Shames, R.N., Ph.D. The latest edition contains updated info since the original 2001 release. Karilee has walked the walk of this increasingly common ailment.
“The Wisdom of Menopause” by Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D. www.drnorthrup.com
She is a courageous pioneer and visionary whose heart and knowledge are infinitely expansive.
— Giselle M. Massi © 2005