- Symptoms of Low Thyroid
- An Introduction to Thyroid Hormones
- The Thyroid Feedback Loop
- Traditional Thyroid Testing
- Blood Tests for Thyroid Function
- The Thyroflex Test
- What Happens When I Have a Thyroflex Test?
The thyroid gland is incredibly important because it affects every single cell in your body.
It has the job of regulating the speed of your entire metabolism, which is reponsible for the conversion of calories and oxygen into energy - it can be likened to the accelerator pedal of a car.
It’s often thought thyroid health is simply about whether you gain or lose weight, but its effects are more far-reaching than this.
The thyroid gland influences all the physical and chemical processes which are involved in the way our bodies operate.
We aim to provide you with both insightful information and evidence-based content, all orientated towards the Personalised Health approach, with actionable knowledge and tips to help you on your journey to optimal health.
In this article, we’ll look at an innovative test, called the Thyroflex test, which can help detect whether the thyroid is functioning optimally.
The symptoms of a struggling thyroid make for a long list.
In fact, because it plays such an important role in our metabolism, if the thyroid is not functioning optimally it can affect every organ and system in our body, including the heart, nervous system, bones and digestive system.
Symptoms of low thyroid function include:
- weight gain
- muscle cramps or weak muscles
- low sex drive
- poor memory, difficulty in concentrating and foggy thinking
- puffy hands or feet
- cold sensitivity
- low or fluctuating mood
- dry skin or hair
- brittle nails
- skin problems
- menstrual disorders or poor fertility
Because of the wide range of symptoms, thyroid problems are impossible to diagnose from checking symptoms alone as they overlap with many other health conditions.
The thyroid gland uses iodine to produce an inactive hormone called thyroxine, also known as T4.
This must be converted to a form which can be utilised by the body before it affects our cells.
A substance called T3 (triiodothyronine) is the result, which differs because it’s had one atom of iodine removed.
T3 is at least five times more biologically active than T4 (1).
The conversion of T4 to T3 happens within body tissues such as the liver, digestive system, skeletal muscle and within the thyroid gland itself.
This needs the help of a special enzyme.
T3 then goes on to attach to special receptors inside our cells.
From this we can see it is the levels of T3, not T4, which are important as this is the hormone which is affecting our cells.
Both T3 and T4 travel in the blood, primarily bound to special types of carrier proteins, and it’s only so-called ‘free’ T3 which can cross cell membranes into our cells (2).
Making the situation yet more complicated is the fact that sometimes T4 is not properly converted to T3.
Instead, the system goes awry and a substance called reverse T3 is produced instead.
This is a very similar molecule but the iodine atom is removed from the wrong location.
Because of this reverse T3 is not biologically active, so reduces the total amount of T3 which is available.
In some cases the body may produce antibodies against its own thyroid.
These can cause inflammation in the thyroid gland and so interfere with it's functioning and hormone production.
This condition is called Hashimoto’s, and it’s more common in women over the age of 50.
Levels of female hormones also play a role - high levels of oestrogen in the body, as are often seen in PMS and other menstrual irregularities, can reduce the amount of ‘free’ thyroid hormones available (3).
The thyroid gland doesn’t simply produce thyroxine when it feels like it; it operates on the instructions of another hormone called TSH which stands for thyroid-stimulating hormone.
You might also see TSH referred to as thyrotrophin, and it’s produced by the pituitary gland.
The pituitary gland is in turn instructed by a hormone called thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) which originates from a tiny gland in the brain called the hypothalamus.
Once the level of thyroid hormones in the blood increases, this causes a decline in the release of TSH so its level then falls.
Thyroid hormone production then reduces in line. This is an example of a negative feedback loop.
The thyroid does not exist in the body in isolation, and its function is affected by many other hormones.
For example, stress can affect the levels of thyroid hormones not only by affecting the function of the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland but also by tending towards inflammation which interferes with the conversion of T4 to T3 (4).
The health of your liver can also affect this conversion process.
Most of us know we have a reflex point at the front of our knee, which is often measured by doctors as part of a routine consultation, and our reflexes can tell us a great deal about our health.
Many years ago doctors used the speed of our reflex response to assess thyroid function.
The reflex traditionally used was the Achilles tendon reflex which is situated behind the ankle.
This reflex response measures the rate of relaxation of the calf muscle.
This muscle can’t relax as well in those suffering from hypothyroidism (having an underactive thyroid gland), so the reflex is slowed.
This is called Woltman’s sign.
Nowadays, GPs measure thyroid function by means of a blood test which measures the levels of TSH and free T4.
A normal TSH reading assumes normal thyroid function and T3 levels whereas a high level of TSH is believed to indicate a struggling gland and low T3 levels.
If we think about the negative feedback loop this seems to make sense.
However, as we’ve seen, T3 is the most important measurement, and a test for this may not be offered, at least initially.
T4 is inactive, so levels of T4 don’t tell us how much is being converted to the active T3 molecule.
Equally, if the T3 present in our bloodstream is measured, this won’t necessarily reflect whether the hormone is affecting the receptors within our cells.
As we’ve seen, blood levels of thyroid hormones don’t always represent what’s happening inside our cells.
So you can see the picture is slightly more complicated than even measuring levels of T3 in the blood.
Many factors in our lifestyles can affect how well thyroid hormones are transported into our cells. If thyroid hormones aren’t getting inside your cells, blood levels remain normal or high, TSH is not elevated and it seems as though nothing is wrong.
But the T3 is not able to affect your cells, so you will be experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Many other factors such as age, gender and stress levels can influence blood levels of TSH (5).
This means many cases of thyroid disorder are going undiagnosed despite patients being told their TSH levels are normal.
They are however still experiencing symptoms of low thyroid.
It’s worth noting TSH is measured against a normal range for the population, which in the UK stands at between 0.27 and 4.2 milliunits per litre (Mu/L).
Free T4 is considered normal if it’s between 12 and 22 Picomoles Per Litre (pmol/L).
However, it must be borne in mind that these reflect normal levels for the population as a whole, and individual genetic and biochemical differences may mean you naturally fall outside these norms.
The Thyroflex test can be a useful and simple indicator - it can be thought of as a signpost to see if your thyroid might not be functioning properly and as a result decide if you should have a full thyroid panel.
The Thyroflex is a non-invasive test which measures the speed of a reflex in your forearm, rather than measuring hormone levels.
The reflex used is called the brachioradialis reflex.
The test uses a small hammer type device which is attached to a computer.
When the hammer connects with your reflex point a message is sent up your spine to the brain, then back down the spine and along the arm again, provoking a reflex response of an upward flex of your wrist.
This happens in a matter of milliseconds.
As we’ve seen, thyroid activity directly affects the speed of our reflexes.
If the response time is slow it is a sign of low thyroid functioning but conversely, if the response is very fast, it’s a sign your thyroid is overactive.
You wouldn’t notice this variation in reaction time yourself as it may only vary by a few milliseconds, but it can be picked up by the device.
So it’s effectively measuring both the speed of your neurotransmitters and your reflex speed.
By measuring reflex speed the test provides information about what’s actually happening in your body cells, in other words it measures how your thyroid hormones are functioning at a cellular level.
The test takes into account the effect of other factors on the thyroid, which can include stress hormones and sex hormones.
Your resting metabolic rate is also measured and your symptoms assessed in conjunction with these reaction times to determine how well your thyroid is functioning.
Resting metabolic rate tends to be depressed when the thyroid is struggling.
Clinical trials of the test were carried out over three years on over 2000 people.
The system has now been used on over 3 million people.
The manufacturers of the test state it’s 98.5% accurate.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of low thyroid, particularly if blood tests have come back within the normal range, this test may be useful.
On the other hand, if you have already been diagnosed as hypothyroid, the test can help tell you whether you are on the optimum replacement hormone dosage because it can tell if the hormone’s message is influencing your body’s cells as it should.
You’ll be seated and a small strap will be placed around your hand.
The therapist will identify the reflex point on your arm.
A special metal hammer will then strike the reflex point and feed your results back to the computer.
The test only takes around five minutes and the results are available immediately.
If you would like to find out more about how well your thyroid is functioning, the Thyroflex test is available at Amchara’s retreats in sunny Gozo, Malta and in beautiful Somerset.
A test in conjunction with a personalised health consultation can help your therapist assess whether any other tests may be appropriate for you, for example, to test levels of reverse T3 or thyroid antibodies or the functioning of your stress glands.
Our experienced practitioners can help guide you towards dietary and lifestyle strategies to help your journey towards optimal health.
We’re dedicated to providing you with both insightful information and evidence-based content, all orientated towards the Personalised Health approach.
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We would love to know your thoughts.
Cathy Robinson BScDipNutMed
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