Could Your Thyroid Be Sluggish?

Very often the driving factor behind weight gain, Dr Sandra Cabot and naturopath Victoria Taylor discuss sluggish (underactive) thyroid and the effect it has on your metabolism. Learn about the symptoms that often present with a sluggish thyroid such as tiredness, hair loss and puffiness and how you can use a thermometer or blood tests to check if your thyroid is working properly. Particular nutrients and extracts can assist your thyroid gland in functioning more efficiently, which you will learn about in this podcast.

Listen to this podcast and leave a comment below if you have any questions.

DR CABOT: Hello. My name is Dr Sandra Cabot and I’m here with naturopath Victoria Taylor and we’re talking to you about your thyroid. Could your thyroid be sluggish? It’s a common problem, isn’t it, Victoria?

VICTORIA: It is such a common problem. I see it in so many of my weight loss patients.

DR CABOT: Yes we do. And the signs of an underactive thyroid can be really quite insidious, very slow onset, gradual. And some doctors will say, “Well, your thyroid function’s still in the normal range and we’ll wait till it fails before we do anything about it.” But people can really battle with the symptoms for a long time and it can be treated. And really, it should be treated because the thyroid gland controls your metabolic rate and it really controls all the mitochondria in your cells. So, it’s very, very important to have it working at an optimal level.

VICTORIA: Yes. And if you’re waiting until it actually becomes a clinical case, you can be developing other illnesses while it’s still subclinical.

DR CABOT: That’s right!

VICTORIA: Because putting on weight and even to get to diabetes…

DR CABOT: …and high cholesterol. And we know that low thyroid can make fatty liver condition much worse. And it can affect your mental state, so that your thinking is much slower. It can make you depressed, tired. So, typical symptoms of a sluggish thyroid is just feeling sluggish, feeling tired, puffy, putting on weight, constipation, dry skin, dry hair, hair loss. Heavy bleeding in women, their menstrual period becomes much heavier. They could become anemic from that.

VICTORIA: Hair thinning! Now, isn’t that a biggie? Oh my goodness! So many people get upset about that one.

DR CABOT: Yeah, that’s right! And we want your thyroid to be working really well, if you want to have a healthy head of hair.

And also, another thing can be puffiness of the legs. Now, Victoria and I were doing a bit of research and we found a really interesting medical paper from the year 1953.


DR CABOT: So, it’s amazing what you find on the Internet going back 1953. And this was a paper from the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund in England and a lot of professors were involved. And they were talking about a condition called myxoedema. And that’s spelled M-Y-X-O-E-D-E-M-A, myxoedema. And this was a sign of a low thyroid, and typically it was recognized by puffiness in the lower limbs. So, from below the knee to the ankles. And it was particularly worse just under the knee, on the inside and the outside of the upper tibia, which is the big bone in your lower limb. And this makes oedema…

VICTORIA: So, on your shin, but on the inside of your shin.

DR CABOT: Yeah, on the inside. It can be a little bit on the outside too, like on the whole upper tibia. But it can go down to the ankles. And it’s not fluid retention, because when it’s flu retention, if you press it, it tends to leave a dimple. Right?


DR CABOT: But the myxoedema is more like a solid induration or swelling of the subcutaneous tissues in the lower limb, in front of the tibia.

VICTORIA: Doesn’t sound nice at all.

DR CABOT: No. Well, it’s inflammatory in origin. So, we know that having a low thyroid can increase inflammation in your body, in your whole body. So, this myxoedema is a sign you should definitely check your thyroid, if you’ve got this thickening in your lower legs. And of course, you can test your thyroid accurately with the blood test. And if your thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH is above four, then that’s not ideal. Ideal is around two and a half, but it does fluctuate from time to time.

Oh! The other symptom we didn’t mention is puffiness of the face.

VICTORIA: Oh, yes, yes, yes! Just that general puffiness.

DR CABOT: Yeah. General puffiness in the whole body and loss of the hair in the outer thirds of the eyebrows. The high cholesterol. We mentioned constipation and just general sluggishness.

VICTORIA: But when you’re talking about puffiness of the face that’s separate to the puffiness of your lower eyelids, that a lot of people…

DR CABOT: Yeah, this is a whole face and the upper eyelids, as well. So have a blood test. And the other thing you can do is measure your body temperature before you get out of bed, in the morning. And that is looking at your basal body metabolism or basal body temperature, which reflects your basal metabolic rate. And it’s really important because your basal metabolic rate is going to determine how easily you gain weight or lose weight. So, the basal body temperature is the lowest temperature attained by the body during sleep, and it’s measured immediately after awakening and before any physical activity is occurred.

VICTORIA: So, you can’t even get up and go to the loo.


VICTORIA: It has to be right…

DR CABOT: Right as soon as you wake up. Now, in people with an underactive thyroid, the body temperature falls below normal. An overactive thyroid elevates the body temperature. So, sometimes people with a real overactive thyroid have a low-grade fever.

Now, the metabolism in your whole body is completely dependent on enzyme function. And enzyme function is highly dependent on your body temperature.

VICTORIA: Oh! Round in circles!

DR CABOT: Yes! So, if your body temperature’s too low, all your enzyme functions slow down. So, your whole metabolism slows down. Now, if your basal body temperature is below normal, the enzymes in every cell of your body will be working too slowly.

VICTORIA: A bit like getting a 25-meter handicap in a 100-meter race.

DR CABOT: That’s well said! Yeah. So, measuring your basal body temperature can pinpoint a thyroid problem, even if your blood tests for thyroid function look normal. And this is because even though your thyroid gland could be producing the right amount of thyroid hormone, it’s not being converted in your liver to the active form. Or it’s been converted to the wrong shape. Or you’re selenium deficient. So, there’s so many factors.

So, the basal body temperature’s got to be performed first thing in the morning when you wake up. And if we track it over 14 mornings, you can get an average. Now it’s best to use a mercury thermometer, the good old-fashioned mercury thermometer.

VICTORIA: My goodness! They’re a bit ancient!

DR CABOT: Yeah. You can buy them.

VICTORIA: What about an alcohol one?

DR CABOT: I prefer the mercury one. They’re better than the digital ones.


DR CABOT: So, try and get a mercury thermometer because you can find them still in many pharmacies. So, you have to shake it to reset it before you use it – get the mercury down. And you shake it after each recording in the morning, so that it’s ready to use the next morning. And it can take quite a bit of shaking.

VICTORIA: Okay. You can use those, apparently, there’s those fertility thermometers. Because they are really accurate.

DR CABOT: Yeah. Well they would be okay.

VICTORIA: So that’d be very good.

DR CABOT: Yes. So, remember, you got to take it immediately after awakening, as any physical activity can increase your temperature. So, you place the mercury thermometer under your arm. Do not move or get out of bed before taking the temperature. Accurately record the reading, so that we can look at it over 14 days. And if you’re a premenopausal woman, it’s important to only measure the temperature on the second, third and fourth morning of the menstrual bleeding. Because ovulation puts your temperature up and it might give you a false positive reading; that you got a normal metabolism. But for postmenopausal women and men, the temperature can be taken on any 14 consecutive days.

So, a healthy normal body temperature in a human is considered to be around 37 degrees Celsius, which is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. If your average basal body temperature reading is below 36 and a half degrees Celsius or 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit, then this is an indication that your thyroid could be underactive. The more your average body temperature is below 36.5 degrees or 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit, the more your thyroid is underactive. Any average temperature below 36 degrees Celsius or 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit suggests that your thyroid is starting to become underactive. And definitely you would need to have a blood test for TSH. And hopefully your TSH will be around two and a half. But sometimes we see people where their THS is five or six and they’re told that that’s still normal. But really, if they feel sluggish and they’ve got these symptoms of low thyroid, then they should look into, well, are they low and iodine? They could be low in selenium. So, they could try taking the Thyroid Health capsules. And if they’ve got a fatty liver, they could try even a small dose of thyroid hormone, whether it be porcine thyroid extract or the synthetic thyroid.

And it was interesting, wasn’t it Victoria? When we’re looking at this paper from 1953. What they used.

VICTORIA: Very, very interesting!

DR CABOT: Because predominantly they used porcine thyroid extract, which is just pig’s thyroid. Because pigs’ hormones are identical to human hormones, which is handy. Their progesterone is the same and all their enzymes are the same. So, we’re very close to pigs, genetically. So, they would use…

VICTORIA: Maybe not genetically, but enzymatically.

DR CABOT: And hormonally.

VICTORIA: And hormonally.

DR CABOT: That’s right! Well, we’re closer to monkeys, but hormonally we are very close to pigs. Well, I like pigs.

VICTORIA: I like pigs.

DR CABOT: They’re very intelligent.

VICTORIA: Well, pig milk is the closest to human milk. But I wouldn’t like to be creating a milking machine for a pig.

DR CABOT: Well, that’s interesting!

VICTORIA: It is. It’s closer than camel milk, which is what they’re using now for children that have got…

DR CABOT: Dairy allergy.

VICTORIA: …dairy allergy. They can’t even take goat milk. They can take camel, but porcine milk (pig milk) is better.

DR CABOT: Well, they were using varying doses of porcine thyroid, and they were starting with a very low dose in people that have had an underactive thyroid for a long time. They would start with a very small dose because the patient would otherwise get side effects. And then they would build up to between 100-200 milligrams of porcine thyroid extract daily. But interestingly, 65 milligrams of pig’s thyroid extract is equivalent to 100 micrograms of synthetic thyroid hormone, or T4.

And today we still use pig’s thyroid extract in people that cannot tolerate synthetic thyroid hormone. And some patients can’t tolerate synthetic thyroid hormone. They don’t feel well on it. So, they can always use the pig’s thyroid extract. And they usually to get very good results.

So back in 1953, the symptoms were the same but the treatment was a little bit different.

VICTORIA: Yes, apparently from this article, it says that the artificial hormone was just a few years earlier. So, it may have been very early 50s or late 40s when the synthetic hormone was developed. And the hormone is such a simple one, it’s quite surprising.

DR CABOT: Yeah. Thyroid hormone is very simple. It’s made from tyrosine, iodine, and it needs selenium to work. So, a very simple protein hormone. But yet a deficiency of this hormone is very common.

VICTORIA: Definitely!

DR CABOT: And thyroid disease is the most common order immune disease of all. So, there you go! It’s interesting to know about your thyroid, particularly if you’re struggling with your weight, lack of energy, puffiness, etc.

So, Victoria and I hope you have enjoyed this podcast and feel free to send us an email if you have any questions.

VICTORIA: Yes. Thank you! Thank you so much for listening.