RHR: Is it Possible to Get Off Thyroid Medication
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Is it Possible to Get Off Thyroid Medication?

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Revolution Health Radio podcast, Chris Kresser

As is often the case, when we look at a question like this, it becomes a lot more complex and it may seem initially, on the surface.  Let’s tackle issues number two through four first, because they’re actually going to inform the answer to the first question, which is, is it possible to get off thyroid medication?  In terms of diagnosing Hashimoto’s, it’s actually not quite as straightforward as just doing an antibody test and seeing what the results are.  I wish it were.  It would make my life a lot easier, for sure.  But the first-line test you do, typically what I do, is for antibodies. By antibodies, I mean thyroperoxidase and thyroglobulin antibodies, these are the two antibodies that tend to be elevated in Hashimoto’s.  Thyroperoxidase is elevated a lot more often than thyroglobulin.  It’s more sensitive to Hashimoto’s.  It’s not more specific.  So you’ll tend to see it elevated more frequently.

In this episode, we cover:

3:15  What Chris ate for breakfast
6:36  Are antibodies reliable in diagnosing Hashimoto’s?
14:50  Can you reverse autoimmunity?
19:13  3 issues that cause T4 to T3 conversion problems
30:46  Is it possible to get off thyroid medication?

Links We Discuss

Steve Wright:  Hey, everyone.  Welcome to another episode of the Revolution Health Radio show.  This show is brought to you by ChrisKresser.com.  I’m your host, Steve Wright from SCDlifestyle.com.  With me is integrative medical practitioner, New York Times bestseller, and healthy skeptic, Chris Kresser.  How are you doing, man?

Chris Kresser:  I’m great, Steve.  How are you?

Steve Wright:  I’m doing good.  I’m reintegrating back into life.

Chris Kresser:  I want you to tell everyone a little bit about what you’ve been up to these last couple weeks.

Steve Wright:  Okay.  Well, it depends on how the sound comes out.  I apologize, everyone.  They’re doing massive construction outside of my new apartment.  I’m in the kitchen right now, trying to find the best acoustics.  So I went on a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat.  That form of meditation retreat means absolutely no self-expressionno talking, no writing, no exercising.  You just meditate for approximately 12 hours a day.  The only people you can talk to are the teachers or the management staff.  That wrapped up about five days ago.  It was transformational.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, no doubt, but it was so worth it and so amazing.  I don’t think words can really express what I’ve gotten from it.

Chris Kresser:  I know what you mean.  It’s such a powerful, like you said, transformational experience.  It’s a big commitment to make.  But as you shared with us, I know from my own experience that there’s really nothing else like it.  There’s no other.  It’s such a precious gift to give to yourself.  I’m so glad that you did that.

Steve Wright:  Thank you.  I knew I didn’t know myself, but just getting to spend some time with yourself I think was so amazing.  I know that there are lots of different forms of meditation.  We’ve talked about it on the show a lot.  I can’t thank you enough Chris for pushing me in this direction towards meditation. It’s something I probably wouldn’t have done, had we not been friends for the last couple of years. So thank you for contributing to that.

Chris Kresser:  Oh, my pleasure.  You’re the one that made the commitment and did it.  It’s really amazing to see what comes out when you’re just sitting there on a cushion, you have no distractions, and none of our typical things that we do to distract ourselves from what we’re feeling or thinking.  It’s quite a valuable experience, isn’t it? Maybe we’ll put up a link to the Vipassana website that has a list of all the centers, in case people want to give it a shot.

Steve Wright:  Awesome.  Well, I think the Vipassana Association would love us sending some traffic their way.  Enough about meditation, Chris.  What did you have for breakfast?

What Chris Ate for Breakfast

Chris Kresser:  Today, I had cold-brewed coffee with some cream.  It was an intermittent fast day.  I just didn’t feel particularly hungry when I woke up.  I had kind of a late dinner.  I knew I was going to be recording.  So that was it.

Steve Wright:  Awesome.

Chris Kresser:  So we have a great question today.  I think it’s going to be relevant for a lot of people.  We’ll give it a second to play, and then we’ll answer it for the rest of the show.

Raven:  Hi Chris, this is Raven. Love your show. I wanted to know if you think it’s possible to get off thyroid medication? I do not have Hashimoto’s, I’ve always tested very, very low in antibodies, but have had a conversion problem for at least the past 10 years. Originally, when I was put on medication, my T4 levels were good, but my T3 was very low. Now that I’ve been on medication—I’m currently using Nature Thoid and some Cytomel—and I’m trying to lower the dose. My TSH does not kick back in, so it stays at a very, very low level (.07) even when my T4 drops way below the normal. Is there any way to gradually get off medication or should I just resign to my fate? I have felt some improvement, some ability to use less thyroid medication as I’ve been working to heal my gut, which of course, is not very surprising.  Still, I’d love some words of wisdom and insight. Thank you very much.

Chris Kresser:  Thanks for your question, Raven.  There are actually several different issues to address here in this question, probably at least four.  Hopefully, we can get through those in this episode.  If not, we’ll circle back and finish it off another time.

Steve Wright:  I’ve been doing a deep dive into this, Chris.  So I’m ready, man.  I’m ready to throw some curveballs your way.

Chris Kresser:  Great.  The first question was her main one, which is, is it possible to get off thyroid medication?  Another question or issue to talk about is, are antibodies reliable in diagnosing Hashimoto’s in the first place?  If they’re not, what is?  A third issue would be, what causes the problems that we see with conversion of T4 to T3?  So what causes T4 to T3 conversion problems in the first place?  The secondary question there would be, is medication the best way to treat those problems or causes?  Number four would be, what does a TSH of essentially zero, 0.07, and low T4 indicate when you’re taking thyroid medication?  As is often the case, when we look at a question like this, it becomes a lot more complex and it may seem initially, on the surface.

Are Antibodies Reliable in Diagnosing Hashimoto’s?

Let’s tackle issues number two through four first, because they’re actually going to inform the answer to the first question, which is, is it possible to get off thyroid medication?  In terms of diagnosing Hashimoto’s, it’s actually not quite as straightforward as just doing an antibody test and seeing what the results are.  I wish it were.  It would make my life a lot easier, for sure.  But the first-line test you do, typically what I do, is for antibodies. By antibodies, I mean thyroperoxidase and thyroglobulin antibodies, these are the two antibodies that tend to be elevated in Hashimoto’s.  Thyroperoxidase is elevated a lot more often than thyroglobulin.  It’s more sensitive to Hashimoto’s.  It’s not more specific.  So you’ll tend to see it elevated more frequently.

Steve Wright:  And elevated means anything above zero or lab range elevated?

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, I do use the lab range.  I know some practitioners will say anything above zero is abnormal, but I don’t actually think that’s true.  When you look at any kind of antibody test—even Cyrex Labs for their Array #5 multiple antibody screen or any of their gluten intolerance panels—you’ll see that a small amount of antibody production is actually not pathological or abnormal.  I don’t know what the scientific basis is for claiming that thyroid antibodies being anywhere above zero is abnormal or indicative of pathology, because I’ve never seen any research to back that up.  So I use the lab range.  If it’s getting close to the top of the lab range, I will definitely be paying attention, because the cutoffs are always somewhat arbitrary.  You know, they’re based on research and prospective studies, and I’ve seen some prospective studies that suggest to me that the lab range should be, perhaps, a little bit lower than it is.  Like with thyroperoxidase, usually 34 is the upper end of the limit or somewhere around there.  I’ve seen studies suggesting that if you have TPO antibodies above 30, you’re much more likely to develop hypothyroidism in the future.  So it’s possible that the lab range should be a little bit lower, but I don’t think it should be zero.  The problem with thyroid antibodies is, like almost any lab test that you can mention, they’re not 100% reliable as a way of diagnosing Hashimoto’s.  For example, in a study of 100 South Asian Indian people that had Hashimoto’s confirmed by histological analysis—meaning actually looking at the tissue and seeing for sure that they have Hashimoto’s—about 89% had TPO antibodies and 65% had thyroglobulin antibodies.  That means that 11% of people with Hashimoto’s would have been missed if you were only looking at TPO antibodies, and a full 35% of patients with Hashimoto’s would have been missed if you were only looking at thyroglobulin antibodies.  There are other studies that have actually even shown lower numbers.  It’s more like 75% to 80% have TPO antibodies, and as low as 40% or 45% have thyroglobulin antibodies.  So what we can say from these numbers is that anywhere between 11% and maybe 30% of patients, if you run TPO and thyroglobulin antibodies that have negative results on an antibody test, may still have Hashimoto’s, even if you run that antibody test multiple times.  So that’s really important for clinicians to understand, because I’ve seen a lot of patients who’ve been to the doctor a few times before they came to see me.  They said, “No, I don’t have Hashimoto’s.  I had an antibody test, and it was negative.”  Well, you can’t really conclusively rule it out just from an antibody test or two.

Steve Wright:  Did I hear you correctly there?  With these people, where you can do the antibody test like 10 times or 100 times, and they’re never going to show positive?

Chris Kresser:  I don’t know about 100, possibly 10.  I think it’s a lot less likely if you do multiple tests, which is why I always recommend that people do two to three tests over time at least, to see if we can catch it.  And I have seen that with patients, where they’ve come and they’ve had one or two negative tests.  I test them a third or fourth time, and we catch the antibodies elevated on the third or fourth time.  But even then, it’s not necessarily indicative that hypothyroidism is present or will ever be present.  So that’s another important thing to understand, that Hashimoto’s itself doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an under-functioning thyroid gland.  It means that your immune system is tagging the thyroid gland for destruction.  It doesn’t even necessarily mean that destruction of the tissue is occurring actively.  And those are all not necessarily connected.  They’re likely to be connected, but they’re not necessarily connected.  There are a certain percentage of patients, and I think it’s actually over 50%, who produce thyroid antibodies that don’t go on to develop frank hypothyroidism.  Of course, people with thyroid antibodies have a much higher likelihood of developing hypothyroidism in the future.  In fact, it’s over sevenfold; I think seven- and ninefold greater risk than people without antibodies.  But it doesn’t mean that if you have antibodies, that you a) for sure, right now, have hypothyroidism, or b) will ever develop hypothyroidism.  That’s important to understand as well.

Another test that your doctor can run—typically an endocrinologist will do this test—is a thyroid ultrasound.  So they’ll run an ultrasound on your thyroid gland and your neck area.  What they’re looking for typically are nodules, little bumps on the thyroid gland, especially if you have a multinodular goiter, like a little mild swelling with a lot of little nodules there.  That’s indicative typically of an autoimmune pattern, Hashimoto’s, or if you have hyperthyroid type of symptoms, Graves’ disease.  So if you really want to get the best view of whether you have Hashimoto’s, it’s good to combine antibody testing with a thyroid ultrasound.  Of course, you could do a biopsy, which would be the most accurate way of detecting Hashimoto’s, but that’s very invasive.  You know, sticking a needle in your neck and aspirating tissue there is not very appealing and is potentially dangerous.  Given the fact that Hashimoto’s is not fatal or not necessarily even debilitating—although it can be—it’s generally judged to not be worth the risk in the invasiveness of that procedure.  So it’s the thyroid ultrasound and the antibody testing.  In my practice, if there’s someone that’s had a negative ultrasound and they’ve had a few negative antibody tests, but I really still suspect that autoimmunity is a cause, maybe they have another autoimmune disease or maybe they just have the signs and symptoms of autoimmunity, then I will do a therapeutic trial of an immune-balancing regulating treatment and see how they respond.  If they respond really well to that, then that’s really all the evidence I need to help do an immune-balancing regimen from a functional medicine perspective.  So that’s the baseline here to understand in terms of Hashimoto’s, because there’s a lot of misunderstanding I think out there in both the conventional side and the alternative side about how to diagnose it and what it means if you actually have it.

Can You Reverse Autoimmunity?

Steve Wright:  Chris, the listener is asking about coming off medications.  But we’re talking about Hashimoto’s, and coming up and down in lab ranges that might not even be existent. We’re talking about treatments that sometimes we just use. The question I’m wondering is, “Is there a point where autoimmunity just stops?” Or are we always a little bit autoimmune? I guess what I’m trying to ask is, should people be thinking or should the goal be, to cure or reverse autoimmunity?  Or are we approaching a limit of infinity of what is actually possible inside the body?

Chris Kresser:  Well, I can tell you the conventional view, and then we can speculate and look at some alternative views.  The conventional view is that once antibody production starts to a tissue, it doesn’t stop.  That’s a good thing mostly.  If you get exposed to a virus or a pathogen—any kind of pathogen that we can produce antibodies to—that’s the way the immune system is designed to work.  If you get exposed then to that pathogen 20 or 30 years later, you have these memory cells that remember and can start producing antibodies to that pathogen again, even 30, 40 years later.  That’s the brilliance of our immune system.  So you only really have to be exposed once, and then you’re protected from that for a lifetime.  That’s when things are functioning well.  But that really clever system can backfire on us when what we’re producing antibodies to is tissue in our body, right?  Because once that antibody production starts, the immune system is designed to remember, so that it will always continue to do that.  So that’s the conventional view.  Then in that way of looking at things, autoimmune disease is not curable.  It’s only manageable.  What you can do is reduce the environmental triggers that provoke and exacerbate the inflammatory response that destroys the tissue that we’re producing antibodies to.  That’s why we talk so much about things like the autoimmune Paleo protocol and glutathione and things that promote regulatory T cell function.  Others have speculated more recently that things like intestinal permeability is a precondition for the development of autoimmunity, and that it’s possible, in certain circumstances, that healing the gut, reducing that permeability, for example, would stop the process of autoimmunity and essentially cure it.  I don’t really think we know enough about that yet to say whether that’s possible.  What I can say is it probably depends on the definition of cure.

So let’s think about something like celiac disease.  If you remove gluten from the diet and possibly other grains and dairy and cross-reactive proteins, that person could become completely symptom-free, right?  So is that a cure?  It depends how you define it.  Generally, if that person starts eating gluten again, they’re going to get very sick.  In the strict definition of a cure, that’s not really a cure, because a cure would be getting them to the point where they can eat gluten with impunity and not experience any symptoms at all.  So it’s not a cure, but it’s effectively managed to the point where they don’t even have symptoms at all, by making some relatively simple changes in their life—maybe not easy, but relatively simple.  That’s kind of the way I look at it, is that these conditions can often be managed to the point where the symptoms are either gone or not intrusive in one’s life.  But as far as that background autoimmune reaction, I haven’t yet seen a lot of evidence—either clinically or in research—that that can completely be cured to the point where there’s no change required.

Steve Wright:  Awesome.  Thanks for opening that wormhole.

Chris Kresser:  Sure.

Steve Wright:  Let’s keep rolling here.

3 Issues That Cause T4 to T3 Conversion Problems

Chris Kresser:  The third question we wanted to address was what causes T4 to T3 conversion problems.  If you recall, T4 is 94% of what the thyroid gland produces in terms of thyroid hormones.  Then that T4 has to get converted into T3, because T4 is not very active metabolically.  T3 is the thyroid hormone that really activates the cellular receptors and does everything the thyroid hormone is supposed to do.  So the thyroid gland produces most of the T4, and then elsewhere—not in the thyroid gland, but elsewhere around the body—that T4 gets converted into T3, which is the active form.

What Raven is asking about, what we often see is people who have either normal or low normal T4, and then they have low T3.  What that indicates actually is that the thyroid gland may be functioning okay, but the conversion of T4 to T3 that’s happening all around the body is not working well.  That’s a really important thing to understand.  T4 to T3 conversion problems are not thyroid problems.  They’re not problems with the thyroid gland.  They’re problems that are caused elsewhere in the body that affect the thyroid system.  They affect the cell’s ability to receive T3 thyroid hormone.  They’ll manifest in hypothyroid symptoms, but they’re not actually a problem with the thyroid gland.  It’s crucial to understand that, because it completely informs how we address T4 to T3 conversion problems.  For example, giving the patient a whole bunch more T4 medication is probably not a great idea in that situation, because the T4 is not being converted into T3.  But that’s the standard treatment for a lot of thyroid problems, is just to give Synthroid or levothyroxine, which is a T4-based medication.  So what’s going wrong in this situation?  It’s usually three primary causes: inflammation, poor gut health, and very low-carb diets, if the person is in that world.  Inflammation and inflammatory cytokines can really mess with T4 to T3 conversion in several different ways.  Let me back up.  Inflammation can suppress T4 to T3 conversion.  It just inhibits that process, but it also messes with thyroid function in other ways.  It reduces the pituitary output of TSH, and it also reduces the cellular sensitivity to thyroid hormones.  So even if you have enough T3 floating around in your system, your cells can’t receive it.  And it doesn’t activate the cellular receptors, so you end up with symptoms of hypothyroidism, even if your labs are normal.  That’s inflammation.  Poor gut health.  20% of the conversion of T4 to T3 actually happens in the gut.  If you have poor gut health, disrupted gut microbiome, SIBO, parasites, leaky gut, then it’s entirely possible that that T4 to T3 conversion that’s supposed to happen in the gut is not happening or not happening well, at least.  Of course, gut problems typically lead to inflammation, so you get a little bit of a double whammy there when you have gut issues.

Steve Wright:  Chris, so with 20%, obviously, it’s probably not 0% to 20%.  Like, if you have a banged up gut, it’s zero then.  We’re talking about a range, so it’s some fraction of that.  Between the body and inflammation, we’ve lost 10%—is that enough that we’re going to be feeling that on a daily basis?

Chris Kresser:  I think it will depend on the person.  The more real-life scenario is probably, let’s say you lose 10% of the conversion in the gut.  But you have inflammation, because your gut is screwed up.  So that inflammation is also reducing T4 to T3 conversion outside of the gut.  So that’s maybe another 10%, 20%.  I mean, these numbers are just made up.   I have no idea.  I don’t think there’s ever been a study that shows exactly that.  Then let’s assume that your cells are less sensitive to the effects of thyroid hormone that you do have because of this inflammation.  Even though you maybe only have a 20% reduction of your T4 to T3 conversion, you’re not as sensitive to the T3 that you do have.  So you get all of these factors that combine to reduce the effectiveness of your overall thyroid system.  That’s probably more how it happens in the real-world scenario.  Then maybe you’re on a very low-carb diet, because you’re trying to lose weight or you’ve just been told that that’s a good kind of default approach.  The problem with that is insulin is required to convert T4 to T3.  We hear a lot of bad things about insulin, and certainly insulin resistance is not good.  But insulin is a vital hormone.  It plays a lot of important roles.  One of them is this conversion of T4 to T3.  And if you’re on a really low-carb diet—like a ketogenic diet—over a long period of time, you’re bound to have very low insulin levels.  This is in some people, not everyone.  I’ve talked about this a lot.  I’ve talked about it on Jimmy Moore’s show.  We’ve had a lot of discussion about this.  I want to be clear that this doesn’t happen to everybody.  But it’s more likely that someone who’s on a ketogenic or very low-carb diet will have low levels of T3.  So those are the three main issues—inflammation, poor gut health, and very low-carb diets—that can cause T4 to T3 conversion problems.  What that means, from a clinical perspective, is that just giving more T4 medication is not the answer.  And even giving T3 medication, although it can help, is not really the answer from a functional medicine perspective.  That’s because that’s kind of putting a band-aid on a problem.  And sometimes band-aids are necessary, they help protect the wound and help it to heal.  But you really want to address the underlying problem with functional medicine to get the best long-term result.  If you need to use a band-aid for a period of time while you’re doing that, that’s fine.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  I do that in my practice.  But not at the expense of addressing the underlying issue.

Steve Wright:  Yeah.  I think it’s always important to be thinking short-term, how can I have the best quality of life possible?  And then long-term, how can we get this whole thing handled?

Chris Kresser:  Exactly.  Another analogy we often use in functional medicine is a tree.  In order for a tree to have healthy branches and leaves, you have to take care of the roots.  But sometimes you need to do a little bit of pruning on the branches, in order for the tree to be healthy too.  So it’s not just that we are, at the exclusion of all else, focusing on the root cause, but it’s that we always want to do that at the very minimum.  Then on top of that, we may also need to address the symptoms specifically, just for someone to feel better and function in their lives.

Okay.  The last piece we need to talk about is what’s the significance of a TSH of zero—or 0.07 I think it was for Raven—and low T4 when you’re taking thyroid medication, particularly thyroid medication that has T3 in it.  Typically, with a TSH of zero, it either means you have hyperthyroidism, if you’re not taking thyroid medication, but if you’re taking thyroid medication, it means your dose is too high.  That’s because if you recall how the thyroid system works, the pituitary is a gland in the brain.  It’s like the control tower that’s constantly monitoring the levels of all hormones in the body, and in this case thyroid hormone.  When thyroid hormone levels are high or higher than what the pituitary thinks they should be, it will reduce the output of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).  That’s the signal that it sends to the thyroid gland to tell it how much thyroid hormone to produce.  So if thyroid hormone levels are high, TSH will drop, because the pituitary is basically saying to the thyroid, “Hey, we’ve got more than enough as it is, s don’t make any more.”  On the other hand, if thyroid hormone levels are low, then you’ll see TSH go up, because the pituitary, at that point, is shouting at the thyroid gland, “Hey, kick things up a little bit.  We’ve got low levels of hormone.”  So when you see a level of zero, that means the pituitary is like slamming on the brakes and saying, “No more thyroid hormones.  This is too much.”  That’s a sign that your thyroid medication is too high typically.  So you’ll want to speak with your doctor about modulating the dose of the medication, so that your TSH range is back in that normal range of 0.5 to 2.5.  That’s the functional optimal range for TSH.

In terms of low T4, that’s also typically a reflection that you’re taking thyroid hormone, particularly T3, because if you think about it again, the way that the body protects itself from too much hormone is it would tell the thyroid to produce less thyroid hormone.  Then the thyroid itself would produce less thyroid hormone, which is T4.  So seeing this pattern is very typical when someone is on thyroid medication.  Now I do want to say that if TSH is normal or at the low end of the range—like 0.5 or something like that—and T4 or free T4 is slightly low—maybe 0.8 for free T4 or maybe 5 for total T4—that’s not necessarily a problem.  That’s indicative that you’re taking supplemental T4, T3 combination or just T3 alone, and it’s not a problem.  What determines whether it’s a problem is the TSH level.  So if the TSH is at zero and T4 is low, I would say that’s a clear indicator that the medication dose is too high.  If the TSH is normal and the T4 is slightly low, I would say that’s probably not an issue.  Of course, we have to say that before you make any changes to your medication, make sure to speak to your doctor.  Don’t take this as medical advice.  I’m just sharing with you what the research says about these numbers and what this means.

Steve Wright:  What happens if TSH is above 2.5, like 5 or something?

Chris Kresser:  If TSH is above 2.5, it means your dose is too low or you’re not addressing other fundamental problems, like the gut issue, the inflammation, and some of the other things that we talked about.  That’s probably a topic for a separate show.  But the lab range for TSH, as I mentioned, is too broad.  It’s usually 0.5 to 4.5.  But more recent studies have shown that the normal range for a healthy, functioning thyroid, the TSH range is 0.5 to maybe 2.2, at most 2.5, but definitely not 4.5.

Is It Possible to Get off Thyroid Medication?

Okay, let’s wrap this up.  I know we’re probably going a little longer than normal today.  Let’s circle back now to Raven’s main question, and a lot of people’s main question.  I hear this all the time.  Is it possible to get off thyroid medication?  The answer, after everything that we just went through, is it depends.  It’s always the answer, and it’s true.  It depends, of course—I hope you can see this now—on what’s causing the problem.  In Raven’s case, if she truly doesn’t have Hashimoto’s, it’s possible that fixing the gut and reducing inflammation, if that’s what’s causing the low T4 to T3 conversion, would be enough to resolve the problem, and she wouldn’t need to continue to take thyroid medication.  Or maybe in another situation, if we found out that Raven was iodine deficient and that was the real cause, or selenium or zinc deficient—I’m going to add this back to T4 to T3 conversion problems.  Selenium deficiency and zinc deficiency can also cause problems with T4 to T3 conversion.  If we find that she’s deficient in selenium and zinc, we restore those nutrients, the T4 to T3 conversion improves, no more need for thyroid medication.

Steve Wright:  Since you just opened the wormhole again, do you want to throw neurotransmitters in there too?

Chris Kresser:  That will just take us too far down the rabbit hole, so we’ll come back to that.

Steve Wright:  Okay.

Chris Kresser:  So if the cause of the thyroid problem in the first place can be addressed, then yes, you can get off the thyroid medication.  But what if Raven does have Hashimoto’s, and what if she had it for 20 years before she developed hypothyroidism, which is entirely possible and often common?  And what if, over that period of time, the immune attack against the thyroid gradually destroyed the thyroid tissue, which is where thyroid hormone gets produced?  In that case, it’s probably not possible and not even desirable to get off of thyroid medication, because thyroid hormone is so essential to every cell in the body that any potential downside of taking thyroid hormone replacement—either like a pharmaceutical approach, synthetic, like Synthroid or levothyroxine and Cytomel, or bio-identical porcine thyroid source medication like Armour or Nature-Throid or desiccated pig thyroid that you can buy over the counter—that would all be advisable over the long term in a person like that.  That’s because they need the thyroid hormone to function well, and their thyroid gland is compromised.  And as far as we know, that tissue doesn’t grow back.  So in that situation, in that person, it wouldn’t be possible for them to get off thyroid medication.  It wouldn’t even be a goal that they should be thinking about.  So it really depends on the situation, as I hope you can see from today’s show.  Raven, I hope that answers your question.  I hope everybody else got something out of that as well.  It was a lot of information in a short time, but hopefully, that helps.

Steve Wright:  I think the wrap up there was great, Chris.  We didn’t start the show like that because it would have led to a five-hour show.  But the thyroid is part of the HPA TG axis.  The thyroid is right in the middle of that large acronym of basically all of your hormone structures.  So if you’re someone who’s bent on getting off your thyroid medication or stay in this, you’ve got to think about that whole chain, because they all interact together.  We’ve only touched upon that topic today.  It sounds like Raven has a lot to work with.

Chris Kresser:  I hope so.  Thanks again, everyone, for listening.  Steve, good to have you back.  We’ll see you next week.

Steve Wright:  Thanks, Chris.  For listeners looking for more information in-between episodes, make sure you go to Facebook.com/ChrisKresserLAc and Twitter.com/ChrisKresser.

107 Comments

Join the conversation

  1. Hi, I was wondering if you have a number for how many has a converting problem versus producing problem (90 / 10)? and how this can be established by f.x. a blood test?
    Thank you so much, hope I am not repeating something already asked for 🙁

  2. This is brilliant! I have had a long frustration with being on Levothyroxine – 10 mg – yet I have never had ANY symptoms – not even when I was put on this medication 15 years ago. I was put on it based on a single standard blood test and kept on it due to my TSH levels being somewhat high in the past. I have been healing my gut and infection issues this past year. Yet, I never find a discussion of non-symptomatic thyroid issues. My body temperature is always so well regulated – I am not tired – I have tons of energy – I can’t match myself to any of the described symptoms. I am very healthy (except for the gluten issue and the work to improve my gut functions). I can paint a tincture of iodine on my skin and have no reaction other than it absorbs fairly quickly. My prior Dr. said I probably have Hashimoto’s as that is normally the reason, yet this doesn’t make sense to me. My new Dr says maybe I should just try going off the medication. I don’t know what to do.

  3. Dear Chris, I am 60 yo female and have been on thyroid medication for 2 years now. Presently taking a compounded medication T3 20 mcg/T4 60 mcg taken 2 x day. My lab was TSH 0.02 (range 0.4-3.0 ulU/ml) T3 2.9 (range 2.5-3.9 pg/ml) T4 0.9 (range 0.8-5.ng/dl). After listening to your info here it looks like my dose may be too high. Also I have a positive reverse T3 at 12. After reading Jack Kruse & Leptin resistance I was thinking that could be my problem. But you didn’t mention that as a problem for conversion. I don’t think I am too low carb, but am following Paleo diet, and am overweight about 15-20 lbs. I take Selenium 3 x week.
    I guess my question is should I lower my dose a little? How can I fix my gut? How do I find a savvy practitioner who understands all this? (southern Oregon). Also, I don’t have a lot of energy to exercise, and my mother had Crohn’s disease.
    I eat a little fermented food, and presently don’t take probiotics….seem to make be bloated, etc. Thank you, Lee

  4. Hi Chris.
    Please comment on a situation in which a person has normal thyroid function but high peroxidase antibodies and some symptoms which sound like hypothyroidism. Will treatment with low-dose thyroxine help to alleviate symptoms?
    Thanks
    Di

  5. Hi Chris,
    Thank you so much for addressing my question, your response was extremely helpful on a number of levels! You are right on; I’ve had severe gut symptoms for years (Metametrix gut profile and OAT show some problems, most intriguingly Aspergillus) and in my attempts to cure them I have, among other things, tried SCD and gone every low carb, as starchy food tends to exacerbate problems. Emotional stressors have undoubtedly also played a role.

    I did not realize how unreliable antibody testing is, and I am so glad you made it clear to me that I may be over educated, as I have no symptoms of being hyper. Many thanks for this, your show, and all the other ways you continue to contribute so greatly to the health and wellbeing of so many!

  6. Chris,

    what is your opinion on thyroid reboot ? My naturopath wants me to take nature thyroid starting with half a pill 6 mg and gradually adding half a tab up to 6 tabs a day and then gradually decrease it back to half pill. I have read tons of literature on thyroid but never came across this method, therefore would really appreciate your opinion.

    thanks bunch,
    Olesya

  7. What about the dessicated bovine thyroid glandular sold OTC? I was using Armour 60mg, switched to Levothyroxine because electrodermal screening showed the Armour to be stressing my body, and developed severe insomnia. I’ve been off Levo for 3 or 4 weeks. Now I am giving the OTC glandular a try but have read differing opinions whether it will help. I’m taking 400mg first thing in the morning; also, ashwaganda and Thyrosol later in the a.m.

    • not sure the Levo was to blame for the insomnia — it continues, marginally improved. but my free T3 and 4 were still low, even on Levo.

  8. Excellent article. Chris, could you please expand on the TSH range below 0.5? I was under the understanding that the thyroid would be suppressed while taking thyroid supplement, particularly t3/t4 or desiccated thyroid – and that the TSH could not be used as an accurate measure. I’m of course no expert, but I would love to know more on your thinking.

    • Exactly, Clare. I thought the same thing. My TSH is at 0, and my Free T3 and T4 were both at the low end of the range. Very low end. I’m on Armour. My doctor is pretty knowledgeable about natural hormones replacement and health, at least as much as possible living in NJ, drug company capital of the world. I don’t want to be at the low end of the range, so he upped my dosage to 90 mg. 2x a day, and the numbers went up just a bit, but I don’t feel any different. I mean, I feel great. I sleep wonderfully, eat no processed foods, eat Paleo, etc. Point being, I don’t understand how the TSH of 0 means I’m on too much thyroid hormone if my numbers are all low. And how doesn’t a common prescriber of Armour thyroid know this? If I experiment and lower my meds, I’m pretty sure I’m going to screw up my body.

      • Excellent points… I’m on Dessicated Porcine Gland for 14 years (Hashimoto) and have increased the dosage over the years. I feel great when my TSH is below 1.0 Anyway, last year it was at ZERO to my surprise and the endo did an ultrasound and found a nodule so they did a biopsy and found zero cancer. Anyway, they wanted me to increase my dosage so my naturopath increased it by 1/4 grain and it is now at 0.24 I still feel great, but the endo said being at ZERO is what put me at risk for the nodule.

  9. Great breakdown Chris! I really wished you talked about low T3.

    I was put on Armour when my TSH was 13. I’m on 2 grains a day. Ever since, ALL of my thyroid numbers are low… TSH (0.04!), T4 Free (0.8-1.0) and T3 Free (2.5-2.6).

    I’ve even taken several antibody tests through the years and every time, my antibodies are super low… below 12.

    Would love your thoughts on this scenario.

    Thank you!

  10. I have many many health problems and reading your emails makes me so mad as I’m sure a lot of my problems are all interrelated,but the tests that need doing and the professionals that can do them and will give you the tome of day to discuss them are NIL.Please Chris I live in Australia in NSW 2Hrs from Sydney in a Suburb By the sea called Shellharbour.Can you give me the name/s of anyone reputable alternate practitioner that I can visit that can treat my health concerns as a whole instead of a thousand pills for different things.I’ve been following you and am absolutely certain that most of my problems are interrelated.Any names would be a god send regards…….

    • Hi i am also interested in finding a good practitioner. I also live in Australia on the NSW Sth coast. My initial level of TSH was 123mIU/L with my free T4 <5.0 L. My microsomal.ab and Thyroglobulin Ab were high at 229 and 406.
      I take 100mcg of oroxine per day and my last TSH level was 2.1. This was 3 mths ago but I now feel like I am crashing again with tiredness. I am interested in getting off medication. I have changed my diet and noticed a profound difference initially and can't help but think that my latest bout of tiredness is because of the excesses of Christmas. Any info would be appreciated. Regards Joy

      • Hi, Joy, it’s possible that you have uncovered adrenal exhaustion. That’s what happened to me after I started on Armour Thyroid- I felt WAY better for about two months and then started crashing until I spent at least two-three months basically in bed. My MD/ND/endocrinologist sent me here: http://www.adrenalfatigue.org. I bought the book, followed the directions and have been getting better since then though it is a slow haul, that’s for sure. Here’s another source for you: http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/adrenal-info/

        Good luck and I hope this helps.

        • I have been diagnosed with Hashis for over 16 years. Have taken all the meds, but 18 months ago I began serious work on healing my gut. Homemade kefir absolutely transformed my life! Find out lots about this healing food at http://www.CounterCultureWellness.com.

          I have weaned myself off my thyroid hormones and been without them now for 18 months! TSH is bit high, so I will have it monitored, but I do feel amazing…no more hair falling out, no more dry skin. Still a bit of brain fog when I eat cruciferous veggies, which is so weird really, but otherwise I am so happy to be off the meds.

          Coconut oil has also been a really helpful item. The body is complex for sure, but healing is its main desire! Just remarkable really! 🙂

  11. Hi Chris. I had radiation treatment to my throat/neck area for cancer many years ago and that damaged my thyroid. Will my thyroid function get worse over time or is there a chance of it becoming stable? Thanks for any help.

    • Yes! I’d like to know about this as well. My thyroid was damaged in a similar way. A fractional dermatological laser caused my thyroid to swell, grow nodes and my thyroid function was seriously crippled. There are many other people who lost thyroid function this way. Will it get worse? Can it get better since this is a different form of damage to the thyroid than what Hashimoto’s causes. Thanks!

  12. I originally had Graves disease that later shifted into Hashimoto’s. Because my GP has had trouble recently regulating my thyroid ( it was widely fluctuating), he sent me to a new endocrinologist. The endo suggested I stop my bio-identical thyroid T3 and T4, as he feels they are not standardized qualitatively. I agreed (should have done my research before, and for that I take responsibility)! to try trial, and started Synthroid and Cytomel. Within hours, and over the next few days, I developed a systemic inflammatory response with muscle and joint pain, oedema and brain fog. This was verified upon examination. I called the pharmaceutical company for Cytomel, and the pharmacist told me that their inactive ingredients came from various international sources, including China and India, were not standardized quantitatively, and gluten was possibly in the mix. As I am gluten and lactose intolerant ( and also discovered there is lactose in Synthroid), I shifted myself back to the bio-identical T3 and T4 and within 24 hours noticed a marked difference as the inflammation has started to subside. Why aren’t these medications given with warnings?

    • Synthroid also has acacia tree bark as a filler. I am highly allergic to this filler!
      The only way to find out what is all in your medication is to google the name of your medication and ingredients. You may be surprised what you find.

  13. Hi Chris,

    This post is timely for me. Thank you. I’ve been trying to manage my hashi with a functional medicine doctor for one year. Have cut out gluten, done gut healing, supplementation etc. I feel great right now but my tsh is suppressed to .016, RT3 is at 33, Free T3 is 4.2 and T4 free is at 1.56. My doctor is not concerned but I going to get a second opinion on this because the TSH is so suppressed. Do you have any ideas or suggestions based on these numbers? Thank you very much.

  14. Thanks again for another excellent post Chris! I am very interested in knowing more about how neurotransmitters fit in with all of this. I have ‘functional hypothyroidism’ (too much reverse T3). We’ve addressed gut issues, nutritional deficiencies (was low in iron & zinc) but recently found lead toxicity. We’re addressing that with chelation but I’ve had problems with balancing my neurotransmitters for years (too much Glutamate & Dopamine), wondering how that fits in?

  15. Just a quick question: why do patients want to stop taking their thyroid medication if it is working? I don’t think my medication works perfectly, but I surely like how I feel on my medication versus off and really don’t want to go back to the days of chronic sleepiness, sluggishness, cold hands and feet, constipation, etc…

    • Amy, I’d like to know why too. I’m not on meds yet, but my TSH is 4.4 and rose since Jan. I’m just learning that I’ve had classic hypo symptoms for decades. I’m anti meds in general, but I do look forward to finding a great doctor who will determine and prescribe the right meds for me. Being hypo this long has surely strained the rest of my body and it’s not good for long-term health. But hearing from others who want off makes me wonder: are others experiencing side effects that should make me be wary? Isn’t continual monitoring and retesting imperative to avoid this?

    • I’ve been in Thiamazole for a couple of years now and it has kept my hypothyroidism condition at bay. My Dr. however is asking me to make a decision between surgery or radiation as staying on this med. for longer period of time will have adverse effects. Reason enough for me to try to get off the meds and find a natural approach. Surgery/ radiation are not really options to work with

  16. Wow, thank you, Chris… I finally understand more about my thyroid!

    I was on .05 mg and .075 mg of Levothyroxine on alternating days. My TSH went from 1.02 to 2.24 and my eyes started to feel gritty. I also had an increase in PVC’s. I decided to go back to .05 mg daily and my eyes are fine again and the PVC’s have settled down. Since 2.50 is the top range you recommend, Chris, I was nearly there at 2.24. (Note: The labs here in Canada put the “normal” range at 0.30 – 5.50 mU/L.) I suppose my doctor thought that 2.24 was a better level than 1.02! Now I know better!

    By the way, should all symptoms of hypothyroidism disappear with medication? I never actually noticed any improvement when I started taking medication about 20 years ago. And since then, the outer third of my eyebrows has virtually disappeared (a symptom of hypothyroidism that’s not often listed). Note: I didn’t go to the doctor complaining of symptoms of hypothyroidism; I just mentioned that my mother had hypothyroidism and her mother had a goiter. When I look at the VERY long list of symptoms on http://hypothyroidmom.com, though, I did/do have a number of them. But back then I didn’t realize that cold hands/feet, severe menstrual cramps, Candida, constipation, etc., etc. had anything to do with hypothyroidism.

  17. I write from the southern tip of Africa. I was hospitalized 8 months ago for severe headaches following a sprinting session. I was diagnosed with pituitary adenoma and was given “radio therapy” or targeted radiation to shrink the adenoma. The symptoms leading to this treatment have vanished. My problem is that in Africa, ironically, Ancestoral Health, and doctors who can relate to it are almost non-existent. My endichronologist wants me to see a CW nutritionist, and I refuse. My blood work shows my sugar to be in the higher range of normal (just below diabetes 2). My cortisol is high, blood pressure normal. Dr. Chris, I am desperate for advice from someone of your stature and background. I am even willing to pay for long distance treatment. I was obese, and lost 65 lbs, but still weigh 260lbs. I lost the weight by going Paleo last September. I am currently working to heal my micro biome with fermented foods, kefir, SBO Probiotics. I am sorry for being so long winded, but I desperately need help here in Africa. Many thanks.

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