Due to incomplete blood tests and outdated ranges used in diagnosing thyroid conditions, millions of women fly under the radar. Instead, they are put on anti-depressants, told to go on “800-calorie diets” or are sent off to a shrink.
Z Living sat down with Magdalena Wszelaki – known to tens of thousands as the Thyroid Diet Coach – to find out how to keep this from happening to you:
How ignorant are people these days about thyroid problems in general?
Most of us are, as it’s not part of our medical pop culture, the way the heart, brain or liver are. Having said that, our knowledge of the thyroid also comes from our doctor’s ignorance on this topic – what to test for, what ranges to use and how to read the lab work.
What are some common side effects of an unhealthy thyroid?
You can think of the thyroid as your “gas pedal” and a metabolic traffic controller of our body. When these functions are down, this is when we start feeling fatigued (no matter how much we sleep), depressed, experience unexplained weight gain, anxiety, infertility, miscarriages, hair loss, dry skin, body pains and aches, brain fog or a low libido.
What are some common misdiagnoses that are associated with thyroid problems?
A number of factors play into the realm of misdiagnosis which is really disheartening to see so many people struggling with weight, depression, anxiety and infertility who walk around mis- and un-diagnosed. A few things contribute to the ongoing misdiagnosis:
- Incomplete lab work – Most doctors and this includes endocrinologists who are supposed to know this, only test for two thyroid markers: TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and total T4 (thyroid hormone). These markers alone are not indicative of the thyroid’s health – many people have a “normal” TSH yet, they are highly symptomatic. The T4 hormone is an inactive hormone (it cannot be used by the body) and it needs to be converted to T3, the active form, for our body cells to use it. Most doctors still don’t test for T3 which is mind-boggling to me. This is just the start. Many people, me included, always had “perfect thyroid markers” until we tested for the autoimmune aspect (see below) which revealed that my own immune system was attacking the thyroid.
- Outdated ranges – When you get your lab work, there is a range. For example, the TSH range is 0.5 to 5.0. Despite the fact that thyroid marker ranges have been revised and narrowed by the ATA (American Thyroid Association), most doctors are ignorant of the change. A healthy TSH range they should be looking at is 1-2. This means that currently, if a person’s TSH is 2.8, she will be told that her thyroid is OK and advised to take anti-depressants, eat less and exercise more. A functional or in-the-know doctor would immediately diagnose her with hypothyroidism. But, this is not the case for millions of people and it really hurts to see that.
- Autoimmune aspect – In my world, this is THE most important aspect of thyroid conditions. 90% of thyroid issues (both under- and overactive) are the result of an immune attack on the thyroid. This means it’s NOT the thyroid that is the problem – it is the immune system. If you stop the attack, the thyroid has a change to revive itself (if it is not too damaged by then). People who have an autoimmune version of thyroid problems either have Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease. Modern Western medicine does not have a pill to calm down the immune system, this is why doctors do not like to test for it as it will open a can of worms. To confirm a diagnosis, a patient can test for TPO, TBG or TSI antibodies – all are standard blood tests any doctor can order.
- How did you get so passionate about this?
My own struggles and fights with the medical establishment. I was your classic “You have no thyroid problem” gal and then when my TPO antibodies confirmed a ranging case of Hashimoto’s, I was sent home with “There is nothing we can do for you.” What do you then do? I dove like mad into research and found that not only I can manage my symptoms but actually reverse the autoimmune condition. Which I did. This is how I started my nutrition coaching practice (Thyroid Diet Coach) 5 years ago.
What are some possible treatments for thyroid problems?
Let me focus on the autoimmune aspect of thyroid problems since they constitute 90% of all thyroid problems (even though many people don’t even know that this is what they have). There is a brilliant physician called Dr. Fasano from the University of Maryland who teaches doctors on the root causes of autoimmunity. He uses an analogy of a 3-legged stool for an autoimmune condition to “stand”: genetics, antigents (like bacteria, yeast, infections, etc) and gastrointestinal (GI) problems. He says that the easiest thing to fix is the GI part – which, in essence, is out gut. It’s not surprising that most people with autoimmune and thyroid conditions also have a weak digestive health – chronically experiencing pain, bloating, constipation, gas, acid reflux or diarrhea. Since 70% of the immune system lives in the gut, it’s paramount to work on fixing the gut as the starting points to healing the thyroid and autoimmunity.
How important is diet and lifestyle in the recovery process?
Like I explained in the previous question, the starting point of healing the thyroid and/or the immune system is our gastrointestinal health. This is when a good diet and lifestyle choices come in. When I work with a person to fix her gut, we first and for most look into her food intolerances. The common triggers are gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn and sugar – they can create havoc in the gut. If you want to try to help yourself right away, this is what you can do: get off these trigger foods for 2-3 weeks and watch what happens. It can be hard to give up our staple foods but it can also be one of the most rewarding things you will do for yourself. Many people immediately experience lifting of major symptoms; weight, depression, fatigue and brain fog. A good diet can also be healing for the gut with probiotic-rich food, food rich in glutamine like bone broths or good dietary fats. But, it does not end with food – how we live our lives can be profoundly impactful on our hormonal and autoimmune system. I feel like the two most underestimated lifestyle choices that can make or break us is how we respond to stress and how well we sleep. Stress produces a potent steroid hormone called cortisol which also modulates the immune system (among many other things). There is no healing when we are stressed. Deep and uninterrupted sleep on the other hand is the time of healing and detoxification. As you can see, these are not modalities and topics your average doctor would talk to you about to help you heal your thyroid. The mantra I would like to leave you with is: “The smartest healthcare you can choose is self-care”.
For more information on Magdalena – The Thyroid Diet Coach – visit her website, as well as her Facebook page, or make an appointment to see here here in New York by contacting her at Magdalena [at] ThyroidDietCoach [dot] com.