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Barnes Basal Temperature Test

The Barnes Basal Temperature Test (BBTT) is a simple test anyone can undertake at home in order to assess their thyroid function. It is most often used to detect undiagnosed hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) but will also provide evidence of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).

 

The test gets its name from the doctor who first proposed it - Broda Barnes MD in the 1970s book, Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness. Dr. Barnes is seen my many in the field of integrative, functional and alternative medicine as the grandaddy of the thyroid field and the man responsible for ending the suffering of many thousands of patients with underactive thyroids who had not been diagnosed because their blood tests appeared normal and they were dismissed by their doctors as healthy despite their persistent symptoms. Most doctors even today only test thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels and sometimes thyroxine (T4). Normal levels of these however may not confirm healthy thyroid function as thyroxine must be converted to triiodothyronine (T3) which must efficiently bind to cell receptors for the functions of the thyroid to be expressed. Conversion of T4 to T3 is influenced by many factors including levels of selenium and other nutrients in the body and the presence of toxins. Receptor function can also be affected by pollutants and other factors.

 

Dr. Barnes put his many decades of experience into a succinct and easily-digestible form in his book and explained the proper rationale for the test based on his clinical experience and the medical literature.

 

The thyroid gland can be seen as the gas/accelerator pedal of a car. It controls the body's rate of metabolism; the speed at which every physiological event in the body takes place. As a consequence of the thyroid's functions it influences body temperature. Dr. Barnes felt that by measuring the basal body temperature (that when the body is inactive) a good indication of the thyroid's functional status could be obtained.

 

He recommended that you measure your left underarm temperature for ten days in a row first thing in the morning before doing anything else at all (going to the toilet etc). Movement and activity of any kind raises body temperature and invalidates the results. The thermometer should be shaken down at night before going to sleep to avoid having to do so in the morning (unless of course it is a digital thermometer). Menstruating women should start this ten-day period on the third day of their cycle. Many health care practioners who recommend the test now suggest a longer time period but Dr. Barnes felt 10 days was enough for an accurate assessment of thyroid function.

 

The underarm temperature is actually lower than that measured under the tongue so 36.6-36.8C is considered normal in the BBTT. Anything below 36.6C is considered an indicator of possible underactive thyroid function while anything above 36.8C could indicate an overactive thyroid (although of course it may be a sign of infection and fever or other problems).

 

Although the BBTT can be a good indicator of thyroid function it is not infallible and should be taken in the context of symptoms, medical history and blood tests.

 

 

 

 

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Maff Reviewed by Maff    November 27, 2009
Last updated: March 27, 2010
#1 Reviewer   -   View all my reviews

Useful when you feel sick but blood tests are norm

Many people today suffer from the chracteristic symptoms of hypothyroidism yet when they go to their doctor and have blood tests carried out everything appears normal. Modern doctors have been trained to rely more on bloodwork than what their patients are telling them about their symptoms so the patient is usually dismissed as being healthy or perhaps given some antidepressants.

The problem is that one-off blood tests for thyroid function are notoriously unreliable and not only that but doctors often fail to test for T3 - the thyroid hormone that actually does the work.

The Barnes Basal Temperature Test (BBTT) is relatively simple to carry out at home and is a resonably reliable indicator of how well your thyroid is function. It can be considered a better test than blood tests because it tests one of the end results of thyroid function - body temperature regulation. Instead of just knowing levels of various thyroid hormones in the blood it tells us if they are actually doing their job at the cellular level.

In my personal experience I have ME/CFS which has been linked to thyroid dysfunction and I have many of the typical hypothyroidism signs along with the symptoms of ME/CFS. After blood tests had repeatedly come back normal, including T3 levels, I decided as a trial I would try a low dose of T3 medication myself having obtained some from the internet (Please don't do this - see your doctor). Surprise surprise I quickly felt more like myself than I had in many many years. It was like someone had flicked a switch and turned my brain back on. Everything seemed brighter, more interesting, I had motivation etc. I decided to stop the medication trial and try the BBTT. Sure enough after a month of readings my average basal temperature was around 35.5C indicating a quite significant degree of hypothyroidism according to Barnes.

With my blood tests appearing normal (including T3) I can only assume that there is a problem with the thyroid receptors on my cells - perhaps from oxidative stress and inflammatory processes that are part of ME/CFS. Confirming this is not something that can be done routinely outside of a research setting unfortunately!

My experience however demonstrates that the BBTT is a very useful tool that can identify treatable hypothyroidism even when it has been previously ruled out by blood tests.

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Would you Recommend? 
 
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Reviewed by Edith    December 13, 2009

Gave me my life back!

Before taking this test at home I had been to my doctor's office more than 10 times over a period of 5 years as I began to develop all the symptoms of hypothyroidism after menopause. I had the doctor run thyroid tests, which at first was just TSH and T4, but after reading on the subject I got him to do T3 as well. Even then all the tests came back within the normal ranges and I was told I was fine. Why don't doctors listen to what their patients tell them any more?

In desperation I searched the internet and joined a cuople online forums and heard that you can still be hypothyroid despite normal blood results and that this temperature test was actually a more accurate way to assess if the thyroid was actually doing its job. I took the test as described in Dr. Barnes' book and sure enough my temperature was consistently at 35.0-35.2 which indicates hypothyroidism. This gave me a great deal of validation after my doctor's dismissive attitude so I sought out a naturopathic doctor who put me on Armour Thyroid (extract of pig thyroid with all the hormones) and I have never looked back. I gradually got better over a few months until I felt like myself again, no more weight gain, fatigue, depression and all the rest!

I would recommend anyone who feels they have the symptoms of hypothyroidism take this test. It's basically free and non-invasive so what have you got to lose. It could make a world of difference to your health!

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