Thyroid care and supplements — what has helped and what has NOT

October 27, 2017 thyroid supplement blog post Sarah Lentz
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Thyroid Support (or the Lack Thereof)

I've been trying different supplements that promise to boost energy levels or support thyroid function. And I've learned a few things so far -- though it takes some time to make a thorough assessment of any supplement.

For one thing, the ~$10 "Thyroid Complex" I was taking for a couple weeks -- the one I bought from Vitamin Shoppe (after reading a series of very positive customer reviews) -- has landed on my list of supplements that do NOT help me.

Whereas, even now, the Daily Reset Pack from Dr. Alan Christianson -- which costs $99 for a one-month supply (2 packs per day being the daily dose) -- has consistently helped, even when I only took one pack a day to make the one month's supply last two.

So, while I'd love to find a comparable supplement that costs no more than a quarter of that $99 price tag, I have to admit that I haven't found it yet.

As I'm working through my last box of daily reset packs -- and looking over the results of my latest blood tests -- I'm wondering what to do next. 

The Options

Knowing (as I do) that our clinic won't prescribe either natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) or supplemental T3, my options are to continue as I am with regular comprehensive thyroid panels, the usual synthetic thyroid replacement, and some form of over-the-counter thyroid support -- or to find a clinic and a doctor in our network who will prescribe something other than the standard treatment. 

I'm not liking my chances of finding one. I've checked online listings of doctors who will prescribe NDT or at least supplemental T3, and there are none close to where we live. 

So, where does that leave me? Pretty much where I've always been. 

Trying to find something that will make up for inadequate thyroid replacement -- and for the fact that my body isn't converting enough of the free T4 to the active free T3.

Which brings me back to the Daily Reset Packs, which I hope will help with my apparent conversion issue. 

Here's what the pack contains:

  • Fresh Start Essentials (multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplement). This accounts for 3 of the capsules in each pack, and it contains iron, selenium (an important mineral for thyroid support) and all the vitamins and minerals thyroid patients tend to run short on, including vitamin D. 
  • an Omega Ultra fish oil supplement (softgels -- 1 in each pack)
  • Sunny D capsules with vitamin D and vitamin K (so, if you're on dialysis, be aware of this; an increase in vitamin K can cause blood clotting, which you do not want, if you're on dialysis) -- 1 capsule per pack.
  • a Calcium + Magnesium capsule -- 1 per pack.

Test Results

While my TSH is now below the normal range, and my free T4 is in the upper middle part of the "standard range," my free T3 is at the low end of what's considered normal. But since it's still in that hallowed standard range, the doctor made no mention of it.

[He's not a thyroid doctor, after all. So, naturally, he recommended I go back to the endocrinologist. ]

Since my TSH value is too low, if I'm experiencing any symptoms that are thyroid-related, it stands to reason that they're probably hyperthyroid, right?

Honestly, the way I've been feeling lately, it's hard to tell just what's going on. It's possible that another visit with the endocrinologist could shed some light on it; it's equally possible that it'll be a complete waste of time and money. . 

Current symptoms:

  • extreme fatigue / low energy
  • nausea
  • lightheadedness / feeling faint
  • fuzzy, foggy feeling in head
  • heart feels like it's racing when I'm standing up (this could easily be due to excess thyroid / hyperthyroidism)
  • slowness and fuzziness in hands (especially left)
  • extra clumsiness & disorientation -- especially when standing
  • extra sensitivity to light and sound -- especially flickering light and sudden or jarring noises (it doesn't take much)
  • heat and cold intolerance (more than usual)

My vitamin D is at the low end of the normal range (one point above the lowest normal value), but it's still considered normal, so the doctor made no mention of it in his notes.

My kidney function, according to him, has slipped a bit, so he wants it checked in another month. But since my Urea Nitrogen level is still good, and my Creatinine level is just a bit above normal, I'm not worried. I doubt my nephrologist would be, either. Creatinine can fluctuate from one test to another in the same week. It takes more than that to make a kidney doctor nervous.

In all fairness, the doctor is doing what he's been trained to do, and he's not a thyroid specialist. It's not surprising he's inclined to send me right back to the same endocrinologist who basically said, "Everything's fine. Just keep doing what you're doing. And no, we don't prescribe NDT, and you certainly don't need any supplemental T3." 

[Do I know for certain that supplemental T3 would help? Nope. But I'd like to try it, anyway -- just as soon as I get my TSH back into the safe zone.]

Also, in fairness, those standard ranges and the numbers that stray from them can actually signify something worth a doctor's attention. I'm not saying they're unimportant. 

What I am saying is that those standard ranges for TSH and thyroid levels -- and the numbers that stray from them -- don't always mean what the non-thyroid-specialist doctor has been trained to think it means. 

They don't always mean what a thryoid-specialist doctor thinks it means, either.

And those of us who have lived with hypothyroidism long enough are tired of being told, "No, the numbers mean this, so what you're experiencing ...

A. can't possibly be thyroid-related," or

B. are more likely hyperthyroid symptoms -- or something else," or

C. could just be what you expect to feel (i.e., it's all in your head)."

Maybe you've seen the glazed look that comes into a doctor's eyes when you tell him the last doctor you saw dismissed all your concerns and offered you a prescription for Xanax. 

In hindsight, that probably wasn't the best way to start a conversation with a new doctor. I did because I wanted to give him some idea as to why I dreaded doctor appointments (my husband set it up, God bless him).

It wouldn't be the first time I told a doctor about similar symptoms, and I wasn't expecting much. 

My dad had to argue his case with his doctors when he became a dialysis patient and went through many of the same things dialysis patients go through (the peripheral neuropathy, the heart valve replacements, the eventual need for a new dialysis access when the access in one arm and then the other became unusable, ...). 

He wasn't afraid to tell anyone what he knew -- and what they needed to know. Some of them listened better than others. Some were dead certain they knew better -- no matter what he told them. They were better at repeating what they'd been taught than at listening and adapting their standard care to his particular needs. 

This is reason enough for each patient to be his or her own most vocal advocate. Don't expect your doctor to look beyond the most obvious or concerning symptoms and the standard protocol for dealing with them.

Because most of them have a short period of time in which to assess your symptoms and decide what to do about them. They honestly don't have time within their allotted fifteen minutes to carefully and thoughtfully consider every symptom you mention. 

And this is one reason why my primary care doctor is a Physician's Assistant. Her appointments are longer, so she has more time to listen -- and she's a great listener.

I'd rather work with her on my thyroid care than bother with the endocrinologist who pays more attention to the test result numbers than to my own testimony regarding my experience with TSH values above 1.5 (or even 1.0). 

In the meantime

For now, I'm taking 150 mcg of levothyroxine (no more alternating with 175 mcg), plus the following supplements:

I'm taking the coconut oil more on faith than because I'm noticing a difference. I wish I could provide a more helpful review. I've read plenty on how coconut oil can help improve thyroid function and overall brain function, but I can't say for certain that it's actually helping. 

If I ever fix whatever's causing the mind-numbing fatigue, maybe the coconut oil will get its chance to shine. Who knows?

I still have days (more frequent, lately) when just sitting upright is about all I can do without getting lightheaded and queasy or wanting to lie down and go back to sleep. 

Last week, I almost passed out behind the wheel on my way to work, which is why I went to the doctor for more blood tests. I know how my head feels when I'm about to black out. It's not a good feeling, but it is a memorable one.

The day after that (after my doctor appointment), I switched from being a regular kitchen helper / "lunch lady" to being a substitute kitchen helper, so I can say "No" if they call and ask me to work on a day I just . . . can't -- for one reason or another.

I've already called off more than once because I was sick or had sick kids at home (or because we were all sick). I get sick more frequently than I used to. I don't know how much of that I can blame on my thyroid and how much is something else.

But every time I get a piddling low-grade fever, my nervous system goes nuts, and my hands don't work as they should (especially my left). Neither does my head.

Now that I'm a sub, the manager can find a regular replacement for me, and I can be the sub who helps out when that regular (or another at a different school) calls off -- rather than the regular who calls off and leaves her kitchen short-staffed (which completely sucks, by the way, and it's not fair to the wonderful ladies I work with). 

Besides that, I'll have more time during the day -- and hopefully more energy -- to find work-from-home jobs. I still want to take that captioner's test for Rev (steps 5 and 6, which take the longest and which I can't pause if I'm needed for something else). I also plan on applying for other writing, editing, and transcription jobs, using a couple ebooks from the Work at Home Super Bundle

I've applied to several freelance writing and editing jobs over the past couple weeks, and some in particular have me hoping they'll say, "Hey, you're in! Here's your first assignment."

Soon would be great.

I don't need perfect, but I'd like to know that I won't pass out behind the wheel -- or come close to it again. I'd love it if the sunlight flickering through the trees when I'm driving didn't mess with my head and make me shaky and bring on those stupid brain shivers. And I'd love to not feel so tired all the time.

Some days are better than others. And some days are worse. Today is one of the better days. 

I hope the same for you.

Are you struggling to get through the day with barely enough energy -- even with "normal" labs? Or do you take health supplements every day in the hopes that they'll help you feel more human, but they're just not doing enough?

Maybe getting tired of people replying to your description of your symptoms with questions like, "Have you thought of giving up gluten?" or "Are you getting enough sleep?"?

[Not saying it's a bad idea to give up gluten -- just tired of being asked and then given a look when I admit I haven't given it up entirely, as though my symptoms are therefore my own fault and that giving up gluten would fix everything. It wouldn't fix the fact that the gluten-free cookies I've tried so far are nasty. Don't ask me to give up cookies that taste good. It's not happening.]

Whatever you're going through right now, thank you for being here, and I hope to read something from you, too. 

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Here's the latest update on thyroid care & supplements -- what has helped and what has not -- and the latest blood tests. #hypothyroidism #selfcare

By Sarah Lentz

Writing and designing book covers are two of Sarah Lentz's favorite things. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, their four kids, and two messy but adorable guinea pigs.

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