Are Low Iron Levels Sabotaging Your Thyroid Hormones?

Low iron thyroid

Iron Basics
Low iron is one of the most common things I see in women who walk through my door. It’s also one of the most common tests we run and we do this by looking at ferritin levels (a measure of iron stores in your body). The normal reference range for ferritin is anywhere from 10-291 ng/mL for women. Most often, if you’re not clinically anemic and your ferritin is within this range, you won’t be alerted to abnormal ferritin levels (even if they as low as 12, for example). However, recent studies show that women have improved energy and feel best with ferritin levels > 50, even if they’re not anemic.

Symptoms of Low Iron
Symptoms of low iron can include fatigue, low energy, hair loss, feeling cold, weak or brittle nails, palpitations or shortness of breath, brain fog and more. Many of these symptoms are also symptoms of low thyroid function or hypothyroidism. If you’ve been previously diagnosed with hypothyroidism and are still experiencing many of these symptoms, take the guess work out and have your ferritin levels checked.

Side note: If you experience heavy menstrual periods, are vegan/vegetarian, or have digestive disorders (such as celiac disease) that affect nutrient absorption, it’s also important to have your ferritin assessed on a regular basis.

The Iron-Thyroid Connection
Women are more likely to have low iron levels and we’re also more likely to have hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Disease (Lucky us!). We don’t usually think of iron as being essential to thyroid function, but it is!

Our thyroid needs adequate iron levels to produce the active hormones T4 and T3. If our body is low in iron, the enzyme responsible for this can be reduced in activity up to 50%. Iron is also essential to another key enzyme, which converts T4 into T3. (T3 is our most active thyroid hormone). If you are already on medication for your thyroid (such as Synthroid) having adequate iron levels is still important for converting the medication into active, usable, thyroid hormone.

There’s more: a very common symptom of hypothyroidism is low stomach acid, which decreases our ability to break down foods and absorb nutrients. Thus, a very common symptom of hypothyroidism is (you guessed it) low iron levels!

Low iron –> hypothyroidism –> low iron –> vicious cycle

So What Should My Ferritin Be?
For optimal energy and thyroid function, ferritin levels should be at or above 80 ng/mL. Hair loss or thinning can occur at levels less than 40. Anything below 30 is what I call “scraping the bottom of the iron bucket”. If your ferritin is really low, your thyroid won’t be functioning properly no matter what other medications or supplements you are taking. Most women I test ferritin levels on are somewhere between 20-50, and many are in need of some sort of iron support or supplementation. If you’ve been on iron in the past and have experienced digestive upset, constipation, or nausea, there are better supplements out there that don’t have these unwanted side effects and are more effective in bringing up iron levels.

That said, we also don’t want too much iron, as this can be harmful to the body. So supplement wisely and make sure to re-test your levels on a regular basis.

The Recap: 

  • Many symptoms of iron deficiency and hypothyroidism overlap. What you thought were low thyroid symptoms (such as fatigue and hair loss) could in fact, be due to low iron!
  • Your thyroid requires adequate iron levels for TWO key enzymes that are vital to hormone production and activation.
  • If you have low thyroid function or hypothyroidism, have your ferritin levels assessed and get a copy of the results. Use 80 ng/mL as a guide to optimal levels, although different people feel best at different levels.
  • Ask your Naturopathic Doctor about testing your ferritin levels and if needed, the best iron supplements to increase your levels quickly without causing you digestive upset.

Want more info on the thyroid tests you need? Check out my last blog post here

Take care!

Dr. Katie

 

 

The Thyroid Tests You Need (and what they mean!)

The thyroid Tests You Need (2)

Last week I had a patient come in with a story that I hear way too often. She had recently been to her family doc for a number of concerns including fatigue, weight gain, and constipation. She has a history of hypothyroidism and so had some blood work done to test her hormone levels. However, when her blood work came back everything was reported as normal. Understandably, she was both frustrated and confused about what was going on in her body. Sound familiar?

If you’re convinced your thyroid isn’t functioning properly but all your lab work comes back “normal”, you might not be getting the whole picture! These are the thyroid tests you need to fully assess thyroid function.


TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone)
What it is: TSH is the most common hormone that is tested to assess thyroid function. Often this is the only test done which is just not sufficient, especially if you are experiencing symptoms of low thyroid function.

What it does: TSH is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain and tells our thyroid to secrete more thyroid hormones (T4 and T3)

Why it’s important: TSH is a general measure of thyroid function. NDs like to see this value in a very narrow range, from about 1.0-2.0. The conventional medical system uses a range from 0.30 – 4.0, but we often see people with symptoms of thyroid dysfunction within this range.

Free T4 (Thyroxine)

What it is: T4 is the main hormone produce by the thyroid gland. Free T4 is the amount of available or ‘active’ T4 in the body. Although there is more T4 in the body than T3, only around 10% of the T4 we have is metabolically active.

What it does: T4 is converted to T3, which is used by the cells of our body to increase metabolism and energy.

Why it’s important: Indicates if the thyroid is producing hormones at the right level.

Free T3 (Triiodothyronine)
What it is: The most active thyroid hormone and the best marker for monitoring thyroid function, clinical symptoms, and treatment.

What it does: T3 is “the gas” that acts on the cells of the body to increase metabolism, energy, and growth. When your T3 is low, you will likely be feeling symptoms of hypothyroidism regardless of what your T4 and TSH levels are.

Why it’s important: Indicates if T4 is converting properly to T3, and if there are high enough levels of active thyroid hormones present in our cells. This is a widely overlooked test that absolutely needs to be included as part as a thorough thyroid panel. I find this lab value best correlates to how patients are feeling day to day.

Reverse T3 (RT3)
What it is: RT3 is the inactive form of T3, which is formed from T4 under certain conditions (such as stress)

What it does: This is “the break”, as it blocks T3 from doing its job correctly.

Why it’s important: Can be increased due to factors such as stress, obesity and inflammation. If RT3 is high, other thyroid lab values can be normal but you can still be symptomatic.

Thyroid Antibodies (TPOAb, TGBAb, TSI)
What they are: Antibodies are produced by our immune system and attack the thyroid gland directly, affecting its ability to function. These include Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPO Ab), Thyroid Stimulating Immunoglobulin (TSI), and Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TGB Ab).

What it does: The presence of these suggest inflammation and destruction of the thyroid gland, as part of an autoimmune thyroid condition, such as Hashimoto’s or Grave’s disease.

Why it’s important: The presence of antibodies indicates an autoimmune (and therefore, inflammatory) process. Current statistics state that autoimmune hypothyroidism is responsible for up to 90% of all cases of hypothyroidism in women! Autoimmunity is essential to rule in or out, as this greatly changes the way we as Naturopathic Doctors treat thyroid conditions.

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Our Thyroid Hormones

Other:
The thyroid is greatly affected by other hormones, nutrients, and vitamins. Other lab tests that may be important include Vitamin D, ferritin (iron stores), estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol. Stay tuned for future posts on how these factors directly affect thyroid function.

If you suspect your thyroid isn’t functioning properly or are currently on thyroid medication but still aren’t feeling well, a full thyroid panel investigating all of the above values can not only help reveal what’s really going on but can also guide the best treatment protocol for you and your body.

Got questions? We’re here to help.

Dr. Katie

Managing Menopause Naturally: Herbs and Hormones

I was working with a patient for many months. We were trying to get her night sweats under control so that she could sleep. The lack of sleep was disrupting her daytime life with fatigue and brain fog. After many trials with many herbs, I brought up the possibility of bioidentical hormones to manage her menopause symptoms. She wanted to know if they were safe. After reading the results of the Women’s Health Initiative study back in 2002 she had concerns. They had shown a relationship between hormones and increased cardiovascular and cancer risks.

A wonderful article published in Integrated Healthcare Practitioners goes through what we currently know about the research.

While it concludes that we need more research done, especially comparative studies, it does point to some small studies done that support the use of bioidentical hormones over synthetic versions. They show less side effects and better safety profile for bioidentical estrogen and progesterone.

So what order should therapies occur in to treat menopause symptoms naturally?

  1. Follow good nutritional guidelines – a whole food, plant based diet.
  2. Move your body – daily exercise is helpful for symptoms and for prevention of cardiovascular disease and fracture risk.
  3. Herbs and vitamins – often these are enough to keep symptoms at bay. Sage, Black Cohosh and Soy all have evidence to support their use.
  4. Bioidentical hormones – when other interventions cannot provide the relief needed, adding some progesterone with or without estrogen can yield fabulous results.

How long have you been suffering with menopause symptoms? Is it time to get your sleep, sex and sanity back?

To see if naturopathic medicine could help your menopause symptoms, book a free meet-the-doctor session using our online booking system, or call the office at 705-792-6717

Our newest tea has arrived!

We are thrilled to announce that our latest tea is now available to purchase at Rooted.

Fertili-tea is a custom blend that was formulated by the doctors at Rooted to help enhance your hormones and optimize fertility.

Simply Tea and Chocolate packaged it for us and it includes:

  • Green tea
  • Ginseng
  • Chaste tree
  • Red Raspberry leaf

 

Enhance your fertility with our new tea

Rooted is pleased to announce our newest tea.

Designed to balance hormones for optimal fertility, this tea includes:

  • Green tea
  • Vitex
  • Raspberry leaf
  • Ginseng

What a delicious way to help enhance your fertility

Rooted Fertility Tea

Rooted has a new PCOS tea blend

There are many different hormonal imbalances involved in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome  (PCOS).  As such, different herbal blends work for different types of PCOS patients.

Dr. Whitney and Dr. Kerri show off their new PCOS tea at the Bridal Show.

Dr. Whitney and Dr. Kerri show off their new PCOS tea at the Bridal Show.

Our tea blend is geared to those women with high androgens (high testosterone and high DHEA) which is what often causes the acne and hair growth.

Spearmint tea helps lower the DHEA, the total testosterone and free testosterone.

Green tea helps to increase the sex hormone-binding globulin which helps to mop up the extra testosterone.  Green tea has also been linked to a two-fold increase in fertility.

The studies to reduce the hormones were done over two months so don’t expect to drink just one cup every once in a while to see the changes.  Two cups per day is required for this therapeutic effect.

That said, it’s a tasty tea that can be enjoyed by anybody anytime.

PCOS blend is available at Simply Tea and Chocolate downtown Barrie and at Rooted Naturopathic Clinic

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