Too many patients, as documented in an on-line study of 12,000 individuals conducted by the American Thyroid Association published in June 2018, (https://doi.org/10.1089/thy.2017.0681) , complain of persistent symptoms of hypothyroidism despite what their doctors believe is successful treatment with levothyroxine (brands include Synthroid, Unithroid, Tirosent, Levoxl). We believe something needs to be done to resolve this conflict between patients and their doctors.
Recent discoveries reviewed by Antonio C. Bianco, M.D., Ph.D. at the recent American Thyroid Association meeting, reveal how genetic differences influence the effectiveness of thyroid hormone replacement. Dr. Bianco’s lecture focused on studies pinpointing inborn differences in the way people metabolism thyroid hormone to explain why t3 treatment of hypothyroidism is probably required by some to restore normal functioning of their brain, muscle and heart.
The most frustrating problem for people with hypothyroidism is being unable to convince their doctor that treatment with Synthroid, Levoxyl or similar pure t4 product, isn’t working. Continued symptoms of fatigue, weakness, inability to concentrate or think clearly, and inability to lose weight despite really trying, result in tension between the doctor and the “complainer”. When assessing the adequacy of thyroid hormone replacement therapy most doctors rely on the blood tests known as the Thyroid Function Panel. Typically this includes a measurement of t4, t3, t3RU, and TSH. Some panels may also include free t4 or free t3 measurements. If the hormone levels on these tests are “within normal limits” the doctor will often insist that the treatment is a success but it is the patient who fails to recognize this. A minority of endocrinologists know many of these “failures” can be turned into success by the addition of t3, the less utilized but much more powerful form of thyroid hormone.
Most of the biological effects of thyroid hormone in the body are due to the action of t3. The most common forms of thyroid hormone replacement however, involve giving t4 in the form of Synthroid, Levoxyl, levothyroxine etc. The t3 required by our tissues is produced by specific enzymes which convert t4 to t3 in the cells of the liver, kidney, brain, muscle, heart etc. These converting enzymes are known as deiodinases and under normal conditions they are responsible for about 80% of the body’s t3. The process
by which t3 is produced from t4 is known as peripheral conversion.
It has long been the contention of the leaders in thyroid disorders that based on their arithmetic, t4 replacement is sufficient to provide all the t3 the body needs via peripheral conversion and giving t3 supplementation doesn’t make good medical sense. Now, based on the new information provided by researchers like Dr. Bianco, the “arithmetic guys” will, in my opinion, need to revise their thinking finally allowing the way for acceptance of t3 replacement approaches.
I will continue the explanation of the new breakthrough in genetic control of thyroid hormone replacement treatment in Part 2 of this post.