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Mental Health

The Little-Known Thyroid Glitch Causing Fatigue That Doctors Often Miss

Many cases go undiagnosed.


Is a sneaky thyroid glitch draining your energy? It’s often hard to tell why you’re feeling so fatigued, especially if your sleep schedule is competing with work, chores, and other important to-do’s. However, there are a few tell-tale signs that a thyroid issue is causing your exhaustion and brain fog. We spoke with Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, to learn more about something called “cellular resistance.”

Understanding Cellular Resistance: a Little-Known Thyroid Issue

Cellular resistance to thyroid hormone is an unrecognized cause of fatigue for millions of women, says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD. In order for thyroid hormone to do its jobs, it has to get into cells and be converted into T3, its active form, he says. This requires energy in the form of ATP, which is produced by cellular structures called mitochondria. But when stress and other factors damage mitochondria, their production falters so thyroid hormone can’t work effectively. The result: Even when the body is producing enough thyroid hormone, women suffer exhaustion, brain fog, and pain, Dr. Teitelbaum notes. This resistance isn’t on most doctors’ radar, so he estimates 90 percent of cases go undiagnosed.

Complicating matters: The thyroid can respond to a drop-off in ATP production by increasing its output of reverse T3, a hormone that blunts thyroid function to worsen symptoms.

Doctors can run tests to measure thyroid hormone levels. But the tests don’t gauge cellular resistance, so doctors familiar with the condition diagnose it based on symptoms and tests that detect high levels of reverse T3. And while severe cases may require medications, the steps here can reverse resistance to restore energy.

Cutting back on sugary foods is key, as sugar damages mitochondria. Instead, opt for berries, grapes, greens, broccoli, carrots, and nuts, which help repair mitochondria.

Taking red ginseng boosts energy by 67 percent in 28 days, according to a study Dr. Teitelbaum conducted. The form HRG80 contains compounds that boost mitochondria to remedy resistance. The study-backed brand: Terry Naturally HRG80 Red Ginseng Energy Chews 100 milligrams (Buy from iHerb, $24.76).

One-Minute Quiz

How do you know if a thyroid issue is draining your energy? If you experience fatigue and two or more of the symptoms below, cellular resistance to thyroid hormone could be the cause.

  • Fuzzy thinking
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Joint pain
  • Weight gain
  • Blue mood
  • Constipation
  • Rough or dry skin
  • Muscle aches

Be sure to talk to your doctor if you think a thyroid problem is at the root of your fatigue.

Do you need to switch your thyroid medication?

Switching to a natural thyroid medication may help you feel better, suggests research from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. When scientists put hypothyroid patients on either desiccated thyroid extract (DTE) or levothyroxine, twice as many preferred DTE. Levothyroxine contains a synthetic form of the T4 thyroid hormone, while DTE supplies natural forms of T4 and T3, the gland’s most energizing form, explains Fred Pescatore, MD. “The majority of my patients prefer DTE because they feel so much better on it. They have more energy, less brain fog, and they find it easier to lose weight.” His advice: If you are taking levothyroxine for hypothyroidism and you’re unhappy with the results, ask your doctor about switching to DTE.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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