When you go to an endocrinologist for a thyroid screening, your blood will be tested to see if your TSH (thyrotropin-stimulating hormone) and T4 (thyroxin) levels are normal, too high, or too low. If your TSH levels are heightened and your T4 levels are decreased, this is a sign that your thyroid gland is under-producing thyroid hormones and that you have hypothyroidism.
If your thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones, your doctor will recommend hormone replacement therapy to fight against the ill effects of a lowered metabolism, such as weight gain, depression, and difficulty during menstruation. Hormone replacement therapy may sound invasive or complex, but it just means that you will have to take thyroid hormone medication to maintain normal metabolic functions.
If, however, your TSH levels are somewhat high but your T4 levels are normal, your doctor may not prescribe hormone therapy yet. In this case, you are said to have subclinical or borderline hypothyroidism. Your thyroid gland is still functioning, but it is at risk of developing hypothyroidism.
Some patients who do not change anything about their diets or activity levels may never develop full hypothyroidism. For example, subclinical hypothyroidism can often be developed during pregnancy or other times of hormonal changes, and it will often correct itself over time.
However, this is not always the case. If you have developed subclinical hypothyroidism, your doctor will most likely want to schedule follow-up appointments for further screenings to keep an eye on your thyroid’s activity. In between these screenings, you have a choice. You can do nothing and hope for the best – in which case you have a good chance of developing full-on hypothyroidism – or you can change your lifestyle and help your thyroid get back to normal.
It is important to look at your regular activity level. Do you sit at a desk for work 40-50 hours per week? When you get home, do you sit down on the couch and watch TV, or do you head to the gym to get your blood pumping, work off some stress, and give yourself a boost for the evening?
Whether your job is active or not, you can lead an active lifestyle, and this will greatly help your thyroid health. Your thyroid gland governs your metabolism, but it is not the only factor in your metabolic rate. If you carry around extra weight and eat simple carbohydrates, you are making your thyroid work overtime. It will eventually give out on you.
If, on the other hand, you regularly exercise, you are helping your thyroid gland out. You can especially help your thyroid by doing strength training. You do not have to get really big and bulky, but muscle burns calories at a more efficient rate than fat. Building more muscle will increase your basal metabolic rate, which will help your thyroid stay healthy, too.
It can be surprising to learn that your healthy diet is slowing your thyroid gland down. That is not to say you should be eating processed junk food instead because that will also hurt your thyroid. However, some health foods are goitrogenic, meaning that they take up iodine and actually fight against thyroid function.
If you are worried about your thyroid, you may need to reduce your intake of foods such as soy, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale. Instead, enjoy seafood, almonds, red meat, citrus fruits, and non-cruciferous vegetables. Ask your doctor about a thyroid healthy diet.
If you follow these tips, you might surprise your doctor with your next thyroid screening. Staying active and eating the right foods can seriously decrease your likelihood of developing hypothyroidism and needing hormone medication.