Oh man, this is going to be quite the post to write. I’m excited about it, because I think it will shine a light of hope for quite a few out there dealing with thyroid conditions that aren’t getting better with prescribed medications. But, I’m also a bit weary to write this because this is a very bio-individual thing and should NOT be done without supervision from a trusted healthcare provider.
Many people do really well with thyroid medications and are able to return to feeling ‘normal’ after finding the right dosage for them. Many require lifelong medication to get back to a state of health. I am not one of those people.
Here’s my story of why I quit my thyroid medication.
After being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis back in May 2015, I was immediately put on my first dose of thyroid medication — Cytomel, which is straight T3 — because my tests showed that my T4 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone) was in a good spot, but I was not properly converting it to T3 (the active form). I gladly accepted the prescription, finally feeling hopeful that I would get back to my old self and move on with my life after feeling pretty darn crappy for several months.
I began taking the prescription medication and feeling a little better. I went back a month later and got my thyroid hormone levels tested again. This time, I found out my T4 levels were now crashing too, and so I needed to add another medication to help my body out. This time I was given Naturethroid, which is natural desiccated porcine thyroid that provides the exact amounts of both T4 and T3 that our body is meant to produce on its own.
I continued on with these two medications and was feeling OK, accept my monthly blood tests kept coming back with mixed results. My doctor upped the dose and changed my medication from Naturethroid to Armour, a similar formula but with different fillers that some people absorb better. She was worried that I wasn’t fully absorbing the Naturethroid.
After that little change, things really began falling apart.
I began experiencing typical low thyroid symptoms — which for me shows up as lack of energy, fatigue, muscle weakness, weight gain — so I was SURE the medication wasn’t working and we would need to figure something else out. Yet, the next blood test my results came back showing both my T4 and T3 were HIGH! What?! I was so confused. Why was I feeling this way? My doc recommended a slight lowering of medications, and while I listened and obeyed, I was really annoyed because I just didn’t think this could be right.
Another month went by and another month of me absolutely thinking that my medication HAD to be off, that it must be a mistake and my levels HAD to be low. I was still experiencing pretty obvious hypothyroid symptoms, but then I was also experiencing some other weird new symptoms. Symptoms that to me, seemed like HYPER-thyroid symptoms. And other symptoms that I knew very well to be cortisol disregulation. This is when I knew things were really starting to come undone.
Here’s a list of what was I was feeling:
- I was completely intolerant to heat.
- I was shaky and jittery all the time, whether I had worked out or not.
- I was extremely, overly winded when just doing simple cardio activities.
- I had trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep.
- My muscles were fatigued just doing simple tasks.
- My digestion was running way too fast (i.e. diarrhea)
- I was having intense cravings that felt out of control.
- I was always hungry, even after eating a giant meal.
- I was gaining weight around my midsection.
I went to get yet another blood test to check my levels, really hoping to just get some answers.
THIS test changed everything for me.
My results came back, yet again, as having high thyroid levels. This time, I had a very obvious gut reaction. I was OVER IT. I just couldn’t keep going through all of this, mentally or physically. I felt like crap for way too long and was sick of not knowing why. I spoke with my friend Charlotte, who I knew had been able to put her Hashimoto’s into remission and get off medication, and I was inspired. I then knew exactly what I needed and wanted to do…
I needed to quit my thyroid medication.
**Please speak with your medical provider before considering taking yourself off of thyroid medications. Thyroid disorders are a serious condition and denying medical treatment can cause serious consequences.**
So, I cold turkey quit the very next day. I woke up that day and made the vow to myself that I would do whatever it takes to get my thyroid to function as close to normal as it was capable of doing. But, I also knew that what that actually meant was that I needed to heal my ADRENALS to give my thyroid the right environment to function on their own. Because…
My thyroid wasn’t the issue at all, my ADRENALS were.
The adrenals and thyroid have a VERY tight connection. As major players in the endocrine system, they are both ruled by an intricate hormone dance. So, when one piece of this puzzle is missing or wrong, the whole system is affected.
In my case, the stress-level — a.k.a my intense need for my body to call upon my adrenals and cortisol for a response — had been way too high for way too long. Why? Because when the thyroid hormone levels are high, this gives the signal to your body to run at a very high speed. The thyroid is like the engine of your body. When it releases hormones, it is like pushing the gas pedal. The more T3 (the active form of thyroid hormone) available to the body, the more the engine will rev, so to speak. Now, in order for the rest of the body to function at this high rate, the adrenals need to be able to keep up with this now constantly revving engine. Because this is how the body is designed to work, they will manage to keep up for awhile, pumping out cortisol to keep the body functioning at this pace. During this time for me, I felt good! I had tons of energy, I was starting to shed some of the weight I had put on, and I was able to workout at the level I was used to. I thought I was getting back to my normal self.
After awhile, I started rethinking that.
When your thyroid hormone levels are too high for too long, the adrenals can’t continue to keep up with the demand being placed on them and eventually just have to tap out. These little organs that sit atop are kidneys are meant to work during emergencies only (think running from a bear or being under a deadline at work) and then allowed time to rest and rejuvenate in between these times of stress. So, when there is a chronic, never-ending need for their service, they can only last so long before they tank without the proper rest they require to function. High thyroid hormones are one of these times, whether they are produced naturally or with medication. This is when all of the weird symptoms I mentioned above started creeping in, because my adrenals began to wear out from all of the work they had been trying to do to keep up with my overly medicated thyroid levels.
And, this is when my REAL healing journey began.
It all became so clear as to what my next step was. I needed to take the necessary, possibly very long road, to HEAL MY ADRENALS without the added stress of additional thyroid hormones, BEFORE I started worrying about how much, if any, thyroid medication I needed. Because no matter what, if the adrenals aren’t in a good enough spot to handle the additional energy required by adding thyroid medication — which most of ours are not, hence the need for thyroid medication in the first place — then the medications aren’t going to work no matter what the dose.
What a revelation! I’m so happy I listened to my gut and that I was confident enough in what I knew as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner to make the right decision for me. This isn’t to say that I will never go back on thyroid hormone replacement medication. I actually think there is a good chance that I will feel my absolute best with a little bit of medicated help someday. But, when I make that choice, it will be with the knowledge that I have taken the time to heal my adrenals and know they are up for the additional energy requirements.