Why You Can’t Rely Solely On Thyroid Blood Tests
Published October 10, 2010
Just about everyone with a diagnosed thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition has received thyroid blood tests to confirm they have such a condition. Some of the common tests include the TSH, T3 and T4 tests (both free and bound), TPO, TSI, etc. And while thyroid blood tests do a relatively good job of diagnosing an existing thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition, they do have some limitations.
Although I do think anyone who is suspicious of having a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition should obtain blood tests to help confirm this, there are three primary reasons why you shouldn’t solely rely on such tests:
Reason #1: Thyroid blood tests aren’t completely accurate. In other words, there are people who have a thyroid problem, yet have negative lab results. Sometimes this is due to the reference ranges, as different labs have different ranges. So for example, someone with a TSH of 4.0 might be considered hypothyroid according to one lab, and normal according to another lab. But reference ranges also don’t tell the entire story, as someone with a TSH of 2.5 is considered to be normal by just about any lab. But how about if the person has what is considered to be a normal TSH, but still has thyroid symptoms?
Well, some doctors will say that the TSH isn’t completely accurate, and as a result it is a good idea to look at the thyroid hormone levels, such as tests for the free T3 and free T4. I agree that obtaining multiple thyroid blood tests is better than relying on just one, but there still are situations where people will have negative lab values for all three of these tests, but will still have thyroid symptoms. Many medical doctors will tell the patient they have psychological issues, which for a small percentage of people might be true, but the majority of people will have actual symptoms, and sometimes these can be severe, even with negative lab values.
Reason #2: Thyroid blood tests usually don’t tell what the cause of the condition is. With most thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, the malfunctioning thyroid gland isn’t the actual cause of the condition. As a result, while the thyroid blood tests usually tell us whether or not someone has a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition (although as you learned in reason #1, they don’t always do this), they don’t tell us what the underlying cause of the disorder is. This is a big reason why most endocrinologists and other types of medical doctors simply recommend thyroid hormone for people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, or anti-thyroid drugs/RAI for people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease. They simply aren’t taught how to find the cause of most thyroid conditions, and so the only thing they know how to do is give their patients prescription drugs to manage the symptoms, or radioactive iodine in hyperthyroid conditions to obliterate the thyroid gland.
Reason #3: Positive thyroid blood tests won’t prevent health issues from developing. Even though thyroid blood tests aren’t always accurate, in many people these tests do diagnose thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions. However, by the time someone receives a positive blood test, they already have a “full blown” thyroid condition. So while blood tests can be very valuable in diagnosing many thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, wouldn’t it be even more valuable to have tests that can help determine a problem before it actually develops into a thyroid condition?
Fortunately, there are tests that not only can help to determine the cause of the health issue, but they also can detect a problem before it develops into a full blown thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition. Once again, I’m not suggesting that the following tests should replace blood tests, but in my opinion they should be used in combination with conventional serum tests.
Here are three tests that someone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition might also benefit from receiving, as well as someone who doesn’t currently have a thyroid condition but wants to prevent such a disorder from developing, as well as other conditions:
Test #1: Adrenal Stress Index. This is a saliva-based test that can help to determine the health of the adrenals. While many labs perform one-sample cortisol tests, usually first thing upon waking up in the morning, this test requires four saliva samples taken at certain intervals throughout the day. This allows the healthcare professional to get a much better idea as to how one’s adrenal glands are functioning. In addition to looking at the cortisol levels, this test also will evaluate the DHEA, 17-OH Progesterone, and Total Salivary SIgA, which is a valuable test that isn’t performed by all labs that do saliva testing. Some wonder whether or not saliva-based testing is accurate, but research has shown that it is very accurate, although this does depend on the lab you use. I recommend the lab Diagnos-Techs, although there are other quality labs out there as well.
Test #2: Hair Mineral Analysis. This is an excellent test to help prevent the development of certain conditions, including thyroid disorders. The reason for this is because a hair analysis detects problems at the cellular level. As a result, it can tell you whether you have certain mineral imbalances that need to be corrected, which can help to prevent a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition from developing in a healthy person. This test will also evaluate the heavy metals aluminum, mercury, cadmium, lead, and arsenic. This is an excellent testing method for children, as it is easy and non-invasive. However, just as is the case with saliva-based testing, finding a quality lab is important to obtain accurate readings. I use Analytical Research Labs because they are one of the few labs which don’t wash the hair sample right before analyzing it, which can affect the results.
Test #3: Male or Female Hormone Panel. This is another saliva-based test that will help to determine whether you have a hormone imbalance, which can also lead to a thyroid condition. This is especially helpful for determining whether a person has estrogen dominance, as the female hormone panel will measure the levels of the hormones progesterone and estradiol, along with testosterone and DHEA. An expanded panel includes the pituitary hormones FSH and LH. The male hormone panel will measure the hormones androstenedione, testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, estrone, progesterone, and DHEA, with FSH and LH being measured in the expanded panel.
By the way, I’m not suggesting that everyone who has a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition should receive all three of these tests, as what test or tests someone receives should be based on their individual condition. The same concept applies for someone who doesn’t have a thyroid condition but wants to determine if they have weak adrenals or another issue that can lead to the development of such a condition, as well as other health problems. Each of these tests can be extremely valuable, but I also realize that most people don’t have an unlimited budget, and therefore even if they can benefit from receiving all three tests, they might only be able to afford one or two of them.
Using Tests To Monitor One’s Condition
All three of these tests, along with the thyroid blood tests, are good for continuously monitoring one’s thyroid condition, especially when following a natural treatment protocol. So for example, it’s great when someone begins a natural thyroid treatment protocol and after a few months of treatment notices changes in their blood tests, and then eventually see their positive blood tests become negative. When I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, just about all of my thyroid blood tests were positive, and it was a great feeling to see the values improve over time, and I of course was very excited once they normalized.
The same concept applies with these other three tests I listed, as it’s nice to perform at least one or two follow ups to see the changes. For example, my first Adrenal Stress Index test consisted of low cortisol levels in the morning and early afternoon, plus a depressed DHEA, and it was nice to see these values normalize when doing a follow-up test. Plus, in addition to experiencing symptomatic relief, this also serves as objective proof that the natural treatment protocol is working.
How frequently should one perform a follow up test? It depends on the individual, but for the blood tests it probably is a good idea to get them tested at least every other month. As for the other three tests I mentioned (adrenal testing, hair mineral analysis, and hormone testing), doing a retest three to six months later is a good timetable. Some people actually prefer to do the follow-up testing more frequently, as they can’t wait to see the improvement in these tests. So some people will want to have these tests taken every month or two. Testing the blood every month is fine for those who want to do it (or are advised to do so by their endocrinologist), but I think retesting every month might be a little bit extreme for the “alternative” tests, but either way, it is exciting to see the positive changes.
Of course there are some patients who don’t receive positive changes, and these tests are important for this too, as if someone isn’t responding as expected, I obviously want to discover this so I can find out the reason why. Sometimes a person will be feeling much better from a symptomatic-perspective, but won’t show much improvement with the blood and saliva tests. With the first follow up blood tests I don’t think this is a big deal, as it does take some time to see changes, but obviously the ultimate goal is to eventually see all of these tests normalize.
In summary, I definitely recommend for anyone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid disorder to receive blood tests to help diagnose their condition, as well as to monitor their improvement when following a natural thyroid treatment protocol. But unless if your goal is to take prescription drugs for the rest of your life to manage the symptoms, then it’s a good idea to utilize the other tests I mentioned to determine the cause of your condition, which in turn will help to restore your health back to normal, whenever this is possible of course.
Other Articles You Might Like To Read:
Thyroid Blood Tests vs. Saliva Testing
Stop Treating The Thyroid Gland!
Combining Natural Thyroid Treatment Methods With Conventional Treatment Protocols
Thyroid Antibodies & Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions
Using Bioidentical Hormones To Restore Thyroid Health