by Matthew Hogg BSc (Hons) (Nutritional Health)
Many doctors interested in environmental illnesses have found that their patients often have borderline levels of T4 and/or T3 thyroid hormones. They also frequently find that environmental illness sufferers have a low body temperature (normal is 98.7F), which can also indicate low thyroid function, even when hormone levels appear to be normal.
The thyroid is a small endocrine gland located in the front of the neck. It plays an important role in regulating the bodies metabolic rate, and therefore, energy production. The T3 hormone is the active thyroid hormone, it stimulates every cell in the body to use more oxygen and tells tissues to produce proteins.
Symptoms of low thyroid function include:
- Fatigue, exhaustion, feeling run down, sluggish, lethargic
- Depression, restlessness, moods swings, feelings of sadness, feelings of worthlessness
- Loss of interest in normal daily activities
- Poor concentration, poor memory
- Aches and pains
- Frequent infections
- Slow pulse and/or low blood pressure
- Dizziness, vertigo, and/or light-headedness with or without headaches
From this list of symptoms it is easy to see the correlation with those of environmental illnesses. This coupled with the findings of borderline hormone levels and low body temperature has led many physicians to try patients on thyroid hormone treatments with a good degree of success. Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum's treatment protocol for chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia includes thyroid treatment and his protocol has been subjected to controlled clinical trials in which its effectiveness was verified.
In environmental illnesses there are a number of factors that are suspected of causing problems with thyroid function. The main theories of what is happening in environmental illnesses, particularly chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, include some kind of dysfunction of the nervous, immune and endocrine systems. Many doctors believe that the pituitary gland is malfunctioning, which in turn would lead to disrupted thyroid function, as the pituitary is the gland that stimulates the production of hormones from the thyroid by releasing Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). Another possible problem could be with conversion of T4 to T3. Environmental illness sufferers commonly have nutritional deficiencies to some degree or another (termed functional deficiencies if the level is at the low end of the normal range) which could interfere with many processes within the body. The conversion from T4 to the active for, T3, uses an enzyme that is dependent upon zinc and selenium, two minerals that are commonly low in environmental illnesses, especially if there is a big gut dysbiosis element. Finally, again on the subject of gut dysbiosis, we know that yeast such as candida produce acetaldehyde, a very toxic chemical. If the body is chronically exposed to this chemical it can accumulate in body tissues and prevent T3 getting into the cells. This could be one explanation as to why thyroid blood tests come back normal when someone has hypothyroid symptoms and a low body temperature. The body would not know anything was wrong and would maintain blood levels of thyroid hormones as normal but the patient would experience hypothyroid symptoms.
A typical thyroid treatment regime for environmental illness patients
Although there are variations in the treatments employed by different doctors, the general principle of increasing thyroid function is the same. Dr. Sarah Myhill is a UK doctor that treats environmental illnesses. The following is her treatment regime for correcting low thyroid function in her patients:
"The treatment is to supplement with thyroid hormones. For the majority of patients, just T4 is necessary, but a minority fail to convert T4 to T3 and so both hormones have to be supplemented.
When the free T4 is low I prescribe thyroid hormones (i.e. thyroxine, also called T4) when the level of free T4 in the blood is below 14 pmol/l. My laboratory’s normal range is 11.5 – 23.0 pmol/l.
I usually start with thyroxine 50mcg (25mcg for a small person or child) and increase in 25mcg increments every month up to 100mcg (or 75 mcg in a small person or child) at which point the T4 and TSH needs rechecking. The aim is to get into the middle or upper half of the “normal” range. If I had a patient who was very small or debilitated or chemically sensitive I would start with 12.5mcg.
Thyroxine (T4) is relatively inactive in the body. To become active it needs to be converted to tertroxin (T3). This conversion is dependent on trace elements, particularly selenium and zinc, so it is vital that minerals are taken regularly.
If the dose of thyroid supplement became too high, then side effects would develop - hotness and sweating, anxiety, fine tremor, palpitations and possibly sleeplessness. In this event, stop the thyroid supplement immediately. Some of my patients do seem to get these symptoms of over-activity despite the blood levels being normal. I do not understand why this should happen. I suspect it is because the body has been long used to inadequate thyroid hormones and the receptors have become more sensitive. In this event try a lower dose and build up slowly. However some people seem never able to tolerate T4 even in these tiny doses.
Absorption of thyroxine varies with food. It does not matter very much if you take the thyroxine with or without food, so long as you do the same thing every day.
If a blood test demonstrates a deficiency, I first write to the patient's GP asking him to prescribe the treatment as described above. If he refused I could supply the tablets, but I would need to inform the patient's GP regularly of continued treatment.
If the blood tests show low T3
If the T3 is below normal, then I would prescribe T4 and generic thyroid together. Generic thyroid is a physiological mix extracted from the thyroid of a pig. If I prescribe generic thyroid on its own, the bloods usually come back showing high levels of T3 and low of T4. This suggests to me that what is right for pigs is not right for humans!
T3 is relatively short acting and so it needs to be given twice daily. It is also stimulating so should not be taken too close to bed time.
After three months the levels of T4 and T3 should be rechecked (the tablets should be taken on the day of checking). Blood for testing T3 levels needs to be taken 1-4 hours after taking the T3 tablets. Once the levels are stabilized, then checking only needs to be done once a year.
If you are taking thyroid supplements at any time, it is always possible that you could become thyrotoxic – not through any fault of the tablet but because the thyroid gland suddenly decides to. If you suspect this because you develop symptoms of toxicosis such as hotness and sweating, anxiety, fine tremor, palpitations and possibly sleeplessness, then stop the thyroid supplement immediately and get your levels rechecked."
This is a theory and treatment protocol pioneered by Dr. E. Denis Wilson. According to Dr. Wilson traditional medical theory regarding the thyroid only recognizes either a state of good health or a state of severe illness. He says that there are in fact a number of degrees in between in which the body is not functioning correctly and symptoms may be present:
1st degree: can correct the problems on its own under the present circumstances.
2nd degree: can correct the problems on its own under improved circumstances (such as diet, exercise, and rest).
3rd degree: cannot correct the problems on its own, but they can be corrected with restorative medical treatment since there is little, if any, permanent damage.
4th degree: cannot fully recover because there is permanent damage of part(s) of the body.
5th degree: cannot survive because of death or impairment of part(s) of the body.
Dr. Wilson and other doctors who recognize the syndrome suggest that the normal slowing down of the body's metabolism to conserve energy under stress may not revert back to normal in some cases after the stress has passed. In this case the body's metabolism is chronically slowed with low thyroid output. This is Wilson's Syndrome which can have consequences for many systems and organs in the body.
A very specific treatment protocol has been developed to correct Wilson's Syndrome based on getting the body temperature back up to the normal range. This is accomplished by taking precise amounts of T3 medication at specific times of the day based on repeated temperature measurements made by the patient. Doctors that treat the disorder say that with this protocol the thyroid can be induced to resume normal hormone output so that the treatment is only necessary for a matter of weeks or months if it is done correctly.
Research carried out at the Friedman Clinic, Montpelier, VT, USA, and published in March 2006, tested Dr. Wilson's T3 protocol to find out if it was effective. The researchers studied 11 chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients who had body temperatures below the normal 98.7F. They found using Dr. Wilson's protocol, all the patients improved in the five symptoms measured and all patients showed a concurrent increase in their basal temperature. The recovery time varied from 3 weeks to 12 months1.
For more background information on Wilson's Syndrome visit www.wilsonsyndrome.com
1. P R Health Sci J. 2006 Mar;25(1):23-9. Supraphysiological cyclic dosing of sustained release T3 in order to reset low basal body temperature. Friedman M, Miranda-Massari JR, Gonzalez MJ. Friedman Clinic, Montpelier, VT, USA.
» Related Article: Natural Hypothyroid Treatment
Useful Books - In association with Amazon