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8 Ways Infrared Sauna Therapy Can Enhance Your Health

What Can a Sauna Do For Me?

I am always looking for therapies that help people feel better and promote long-term health. At our New Hampshire location, we have recently invested in a Sunlighten Infrared Sauna, and it has been amazing! 

Infrared saunas are a useful tool for healing through their ability to penetrate human tissue and promote detoxification from deep within. If you have worked with me, you know I am a huge fan of detox! "Pee, poop, sweat, and breath" is a common phrase I preach to emphasize the areas of detox that can be extremely effective. Infrared saunas help mobilize toxins that accumulate throughout the years deep within tissue so your body can eliminate them. This week I wanted to share strategies on how to safely integrate infrared sauna sessions into your routine while at the same time highlighting the specific benefits you may see from sauna use. 

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Unlimited Sauna Sessions $99/Month at the GrassRoots NH Location!

How Should I Start?

Pre Sauna Session:

Hydrate with at least 8 oz. of water immediately before your session to prepare your body for an increase in core temperature.

Sauna Session:

Begin your session once the sauna reaches 100°F.

The optimal sauna experience occurs between 100 and 130°F. To get your body accustomed to infrared therapy, start with 10-15 minute sessions and gradually increase to 30 minute daily sessions in the optimal temperature range.

Don’t be surprised if you don’t sweat during the first few sessions.  Sweating will increase with regular use, removing toxins and leaving you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Post Sauna Session:

Drink at least 24 oz. of water to rehydrate. Mineral replacement is also important to consider when utilizing an infrared sauna. I like adding 1/2 tsp. of pink Himalayan salt to my water 1-2 times a day for added electrolytes and minerals! 

8 Reasons To Use Infrared Sauna Therapy

1. Infrared Sauna Detoxification

Sweating is good for you. It is the body’s safe and natural way to heal and stay healthy. Sunlighten far infrared sauna detoxification happens by heating the body directly, causing a rise in core temperature. This results in a deep, detoxifying sweat at the cellular level, where toxins reside.

2. Infrared Sauna Relaxation

Sunlighten saunas have been designed to promote exceptional comfort for greater relaxation and stress reduction.

Unlike traditional saunas which operate at extremely harsh temperatures, infrared is a gentle, soothing and therapeutic heat that promotes relaxation and improved sleep. Infrared sauna benefits include therapy that helps you relax while receiving an invigorating deep-tissue sweat, leaving you fully refreshed after each session.

3. Infrared Sauna Weight Loss

In the mood to lose weight? Sunlighten can help. Sunlighten infrared saunas promote weight loss by detoxifying the body and burning calories while you relax in total comfort.

4. Improved Circulation from Infrared Sauna Therapy

Heating the muscles with infrared rays produces an increase in blood flow similar to that seen during exercise. Regular infrared sauna use – especially in the mid-infrared range – can significantly stimulate blood flow up to twice the normal rate.

 5. Infrared Sauna Pain Relief

Infrared sauna heat penetrates tissue, joints, and muscles to relieve anything from minor aches and pains to chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia. Pain management professionals incorporate infrared sauna heat therapy into treatment plans to decrease pain and muscle spasms and to speed up recovery time.

6. Infrared Sauna Blood Pressure Reduction

Sunlighten infrared saunas induce a deep sweat to make the heart pump faster, which in turn increases blood flow, lowers blood pressure and helps circulation. Scientific evidence shows the infrared sauna benefits using a Sunlighten infrared sauna a couple times a week lowers blood pressure.

7. Infrared Sauna Skin Purification

The near-infrared wavelengths are the most effective wavelengths for healing the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin. Near-infrared treatments stimulate collagen production to reduce wrinkles and improve overall skin tone. Far infrared wavelengths target deeper down, removing toxins that can have a negative impact on your skin.

8. Cell Health, Muscle Recovery & Immunity

Stay healthy with the natural preventive properties of Sunlighten’s exclusive near, mid, and far infrared heat therapy technology, which aid in cell health, muscle recovery and overall immunity defense.

Near-infrared light therapy stimulates the circulatory system and more fully oxygenates the body’s cells. Better blood circulation means more toxins flow from the cellular level to the skin’s surface to improve cell health, aid in muscle recovery and strengthen the immune system.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Name Not a Solution

A Common Problem

Did you ever have one of those older relatives in your life that emphatically asked you whether or not you had your daily bowel movement (BM) yet? The ones that would swear the key to staying healthy is simply having a BM every day. This was the mentality not too long ago. Before we had all of our fancy testing and research revealing the importance of gut health, our ancestors knew that to stay mentally and physically fit, you needed to stay regular. Unfortunately, these words of wisdom that have been passed down from generation to generation have all of a sudden lost their meaning, leaving a significant portion of our population struggling with accomplishing one of the most basic tasks; having a regular BM. In today’s blog, I will explore a common problem many of you may suffer from, gastrointestinal dysfunction. I will highlight why it is important to have a healthy digestive tract while giving tips on how to get to the root of your symptoms. 

 A common diagnosis many of you are probably familiar with is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a problem affecting an estimated 20% of the U.S. population1. For those of you who are not familiar with IBS, this is the diagnosis the majority of people will receive from their doctor or gastroenterologist when they complain of bowel related issues. The table below lists the criteria needed to receive an IBS diagnosis.  

The problem with an IBS diagnosis is the fact that it doesn’t help resolve much of anything. Sure it allows your practitioner to place a new diagnosis code into your chart and prescribe a few prescriptions like Miralax or Imodium to cover up the symptoms, but it does almost nothing for answering the question why. Why am I having abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and change in stool frequency and appearance? This is the piece that all too often gets left out of an IBS diagnosis leaving people with a name to blame but no real resolution.  

How Should I Poop?

So let’s talk about how your bowel movement should be. What is normal? The majority of medical professional’s normal is any scenario that sits outside the criteria for abnormal, which would be constipation or diarrhea. Constipation is described in the medical community as having fewer than three bowel movements a week with diarrhea occurring when a person has frequent loose or watery bowel movements2, 3. Anything outside these definitions is typically considered “normal” and gains little attention from many health care practitioners. I don’t know about you, but if I am having any watery bowel movements or only having three BM’s a week, my life is miserable! At the beginning of each appointment, my patients all fill out a symptom tracker form which asks them to rate their symptoms for multiple body systems on a scale of zero to four.  This allows me to see what symptoms and problems people are having. It amazes me how many people come into the appointment claiming they have regular bowel movements on their symptoms tracker, then proceeds to tell me they have three bowel movements a week, or better yet, four bowel movements a day! Let me be the first to say, despite what you have been previously told or brought up to know; THIS IS NOT NORMAL! Ideally, you should be having one to two soft bowel movements a day that are smooth and snake like in appearance. There should be no pushing, straining, bleeding or discomfort; and if there is, something needs to change. One of my favorite pictures to show people is the Bristol Stool Chart. As you can see in the chart below, there are several ways your poop can present itself, but the one you want to shoot for is Type 4. If you vary too far in either direction, something is off.

 
 

The Importance of a Healthy Gut

The reality of bowel habits is the fact that they are a relatively good indicator of your overall digestive tract (gut) health. As research continues to develop and technology becomes more advanced, we are learning just how important the gut is to orchestrating general health. In fact, some are now calling the gut “the second brain” because of the enteric nervous system; a complex network of over 100 million nerves located in the lining of the gut that play pivotal roles with immune, neurological, and endocrine functions throughout the body. The gut is home to at least 70% of the immune system and is a significant player in detoxification which allows the body rid itself of problematic chemicals, toxins, and cellular by-products. Digestion and absorption of proteins, healthy fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins all depend on the health of the digestive tract. The gut is also the manufacturing site for over 90% of the body's serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in mood, memory processing, sleep, and cognition. One of the most rewarding aspects of my profession is to see people reverse depression, anxiety, insomnia, and a host of complications that many people have battled for years simply by addressing the gut. 

What Could Be Causing My Gut Problems? 

There are a variety of culprits to consider when trying to identify the root cause of digestive dysfunction. The three things I find most valuable when trying to determine the source of gut problems is a person’s story and symptoms (which is why the initial appointment is 80 minutes in length), targeted testing (both conventional and functional), and a physical exam. One of the most frustrating things about gut dysfunction is the fact that multiple problems can cause similar symptoms. That is why it is so important to know what you are treating before you treat it. I have seen many people spend a substantial amount of time and money inaccurately treating infections or conditions they assumed were present based on symptoms. Testing is a big investment in the beginning but can save you a lot of misery and frustration in the long run. 

The chart below lists a few of the more common sources of gut complications that I have come across when working with patients. These may be worth investigating if you are having trouble with your bowels. If time permits, is always best to start with the least invasive most cost-effective intervention first, diet. 

As you can see, there are many sources of gut dysfunction, and believe it or not, this list is only a small portion of the possibilities. IBS and digestive dysfunction are common issues in our society that can take an enormous toll on both your overall health and quality of life. Band-Aid solutions like Miralax, Imodium, and Metamucil are not acceptable long term solutions and do not have to be your fate! If you or someone you know is suffering from unresolved digestive problems and want to work to identify why they are there, please call GrassRoots Functional Medicine at (888) 644-7668 and set up an appointment. We have a new location in West Lebanon, New Hampshire and a second location in San Antonio, Texas. I would love to partner with you on your journey to optimal wellness. 

In good health, 

Dr. Seth Osgood DNP, FNP-BC, IFM-CP

 

About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.

Preventing and Reversing Autoimmunity-Step 1: Commit

 
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Root-Fix Framework to Preventing and Reversing Autoimmunity- Step 1: Commit

For those of you who missed it, last week I wrote the first of a nine-part series discussing my Root-Fix Framework for Preventing and Reversing Autoimmune Disease. In this article, which can be accessed by clicking the link above, we reviewed the growing epidemic of autoimmunity, a disease process personally affecting as many as 50 million Americans. We discussed what autoimmunity is, the background and significance of autoimmunity, why it happens, and the shortcomings of conventional management in today’s health care system. This week I am extremely excited to begin discussing the steps you can take to start regaining your health. Working with people from around the world with complex health conditions and autoimmunity, I have found that there are foundational aspects of each individuals healing journey that need to be addressed for true wellness to occur. Over the next several weeks I will elaborate on each step of the Root-Fix Framework that I have used to help people transform their lives regaining a state of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. When reading the articles over the next several weeks, it is important to remember that although most steps are prioritized in the preferred order of execution, everybody’s situation is unique and the order is not set in stone. It is also important to understand that in the majority of cases, we are addressing multiple steps simultaneously. 

Now I know I just said the priority of the steps is not set in stone, but I am going to make one exception to the rule as we discuss the first aspect of the Root-Fix Framework, commitment. Commitment may not be as exciting to think about as healing the gut, removing toxins, or killing stealth infections, but I am here to say that it is hands down the most important aspect of your healing journey. I am going to outline three areas of commitment you should reflect on before embarking on your journey to wellness: commitment to self, commitment to health, and commitment to something greater than you.

Commitment to Self:

Everyone who has traveled on an airplane with children has received the spiel from the flight attendant, "In the event of an emergency place the oxygen mask on yourself before putting the mask on your child."  Did you ever stop and think about why flight attendants are instructed to say this to every single parent flying on the plane? Why don't they just incorporate this into their general statements? The apparent reason is that the airline company knows that in the event of an emergency, the chances of a parent putting a mask on themselves before their child is slim-to-none. The reality is that as a society we traditionally tend to place the needs of others above the needs of ourselves, which is just second nature. We frequently overlook the logical aspects of these events letting our emotions direct us down a path of self-destruction. The reason I bring up the airplane example is that I will often see a similar situation unfolding in people suffering from autoimmunity, especially women. It may be your children, your spouse, a family member you are caring for, or even an employer. You continue to give 150% of your time and energy without consideration for the detrimental impact it is having on your well-being. Your health, happiness, and sanity take a back seat to the needs of others who benefit from your selflessness and generosity. Eventually, you can no longer compensate for the excessive burden of this lifestyle, and you become ill. Every ounce of the effort that was previously directed towards helping others is now completely consumed by just trying to get from one day to the next.

When recovering from autoimmunity or another chronic health condition, it is important to be a little selfish. You need to commit to yourself. Committing to self entails shifting your mindset to recognizing that your well-being is an absolute priority and you will never be able to fully deliver the best of what you have to offer to others until you are physically, emotionally and spiritually well. Committing to self is much easier said than done and it is a task that requires continuous evaluation. It often involves saying no to people who would traditionally expect you to say yes. It may even require the elimination of individuals and circumstances in your life that contribute to a toxic environment. Stress is an enormous trigger of autoimmunity that will be discussed in detail in the next blog. Committing to eliminating any and all unnecessary stressors from your life is an absolute priority to achieving optimal health.

 
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Commitment to Health:

As anyone who has battled autoimmunity can confirm, the road to recovery is more of a marathon than a sprint. It is filled with lots of ups and downs along the way. It is taxing on all fronts both emotionally and physically, but the result is far beyond that of what can be achieved by simply covering up symptoms with medications. The truth is that it often takes multiple insults over an extended period to get to the point where the immune system weakens and autoimmunity develops. For this reason, it would be unrealistic to think that recovery is going to occur overnight. It is a unique process that is different for everyone, but the result, which is wellness, makes the journey worth it. Committing to your health is another key aspect to recovery. You have to go into the process knowing that your life is about to change and sacrifices will likely be made. Committing to your health involves giving 100% to the process while understanding that it will not always feel as though you are getting 100% in return. It is also important to know that as much as you try to control things, you will never be in complete control. Adapting and overcoming the obstacles that will present themselves without completely stressing out is essential. Nobody is perfect, and you can't expect to be.

When it comes to your health, there are a few specific changes you can make to improve your chances of success. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine once said: "A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses" (1). I have come to realize through working with patients that one of the most useful tools to overcome poor health is the right mindset. If you do not believe you will recover, it will be nearly impossible to feel well again. With that being said, the people who stay optimistic, refuse to give up, and push through challenges, are the ones who defy the odds making miraculous recoveries. The power of optimism goes far beyond what I have witnessed in practice; it is also well documented in the scientific literature. A meta-analysis published in the Annals or Behaviors Medicine evaluated 84 studies and found optimism to be a significant predictor of positive physical health outcomes (2). It is easy to become hopeless and frustrated when you are pulled down by the grips of chronic illness, but having the mindset and support system that will lift you back up when necessary is critical.

Another commitment everyone should make on their journey to wellness is a routine. As much as we like to say we will implement change, we often get side tracked by the various aspects of life that tend to pop up unexpectedly. Plan out a routine, write it into your schedule, and follow it. It may seem crazy at first but writing things into your calendar and setting reminders is a great way to develop sustainable habits. Living a healthy lifestyle is time-consuming and requires preparation. You want to prep for success which is a big piece of committing to self as well. Some routines you will want to commit to on a daily basis: 7-8 hours of sleep, healthy eating, at least 30 minutes of physical activity, meditation/prayer, and uninterrupted time with family/spouse. Some commitments will be made on a weekly basis: meal prep, grocery shopping, social interaction with family and friends, hobbies you enjoy, massage, yoga, etc.  Finally, some commitments will be made on more of a long term basis: vacations, health goals, physical achievements, etc. As difficult as it may be, committing to a set routine can drastically increase your ability to transform intentional acts into long-term health habits. 

Committing to Something Greater than Yourself:

The final commitment I ask you to make when battling autoimmunity is committing to something bigger than yourself. Medical literature has become inundated with articles reporting positive links between spirituality and a host of complex chronic illnesses including autoimmunity. There is extensive evidence supporting the fact that increasing spirituality correlates with decreasing levels of medical utilization, health-care costs, morbidity and death. The unfortunate truth is that even though the evidence is robust, spirituality seldom gets attention in the health care setting because health care providers feel uncomfortable discussing the topic (3). There is no doubt in my mind the people of faith who decide to offload their burden onto a power greater than themselves, recover remarkably faster than those who carry the full weight on their shoulders. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (4). Whether your spirituality lies in the Bible or somewhere else, there is no doubt in my mind that entrusting your burden to a force bigger than yourself, whatever that force may be, is one of the most powerful decisions you can make on your road to healing and wellness.

Remember, things that seem impossible just take a little longer to achieve. You are worth every ounce of the effort it will take optimize your health, you just need to make it happen. 

In good health,

Seth Osgood MSN, FNP-BC, IFM-CP, EMT-P

About the Author: Seth Osgood is a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Seth received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.

My Exact Formula to Preventing and Reversing Autoimmune Conditions

 
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Background and Significance:

It is an unfortunate truth in today’s society that most people are impacted in one way or another by the effects of an autoimmune condition. Whether it is you, or a close friend or family member who has received a diagnosis, autoimmunity has an expanding reach with growing devastation. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), there are approximately 50 million Americans who currently suffer from autoimmunity, and it is listed as one of the top ten leading causes of death in female children and adults up to 64 years of age. To date, researchers have identified nearly 100 different autoimmune conditions and suspect at least 40 other conditions to have an autoimmune component1. These numbers have increased exponentially over the last twenty years. In 1997, 24 autoimmune diseases had been identified affecting an estimated nine million people within the United States2.

What is Autoimmunity?

I am always blown away when I stop and think about the complexity of our Creator’s design of the human body which can be seen by observing the immune system. The immune system was originally designed with the primary responsibility of protecting the body against potential threats. These threats could be viruses, bacteria, fungus, parasites, or a host of other elements with a potential to inflict harm. People with healthy immune systems have the impressive ability to distinguish problematic pathogens that should be destroyed, from healthy cells and tissues that are meant to be preserved. When the immune system becomes overwhelmed or weakened for various reasons (toxins, stress, inflammation, chronic infections, etc.), it can no longer distinguish the body’s healthy cells from harmful invaders. As a result, it starts to attack everything in a heroic effort to preserve function. At this point, when the immune system begins to attack itself, this is when autoimmunity occurs.

 
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Why Does Autoimmunity Happen?

A leading theory about autoimmunity suggests that there are three primary elements necessary for the development of an autoimmune condition: genetic predisposition, impaired intestinal permeability (leaky gut), and environmental triggers3. We know that genetics is an important piece of autoimmunity and these conditions frequently run in families. Fortunately, we also know that just because you are genetically susceptible, this doesn’t guarantee you are going to have a problem. An analogy I always find helpful when understanding the influence of genetics is, “Genetics load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger.” What this means is that although genetics may increase your risk for having an autoimmune condition, the environmental factors dictate how one’s genes are expressed. Cleaning up the environment and lifestyle can drastically reduce your risk of having complications, even if your genetics are working against you. Parents, remember this for your children. If you are diagnosed with an autoimmune condition and have a child, especially a daughter, don’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best regarding their development of autoimmunity. Be proactive and make sure they are taking as many preventative measures as possible to reduce their chances for experiencing immune dysfunction in the years to come.

The second element required for the development of autoimmunity is impaired intestinal permeability or leaky gut. For those who are not familiar with leaky gut, there is only one single layer of cells (enterocytes) that separates the contents of the digestive tract from the blood stream. These enterocytes are linked together forming tight junctions between the individual cells. This allows for only the smallest of digested proteins and nutrients to pass through to the blood stream for distribution throughout the body. At the same time, this thin layer of cells serve as a protective barrier that prevents problematic particles, toxins, and pathogens that are digested from entering into systemic circulation. When this barrier becomes damaged, which can occur for a multitude of reasons (stress, toxins, food allergies/reactions, hormone imbalances, medications, antibiotics, infections, etc.), the tight junctions that once served as a barrier, now become loose and “leaky.” This allows foreign substances once warded off by the intact digestive cells, to enter the systemic circulation. In an attempt to defend the body against these problematic invaders, the immune system goes on the offensive triggering wide spread inflammation.

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The third and final ingredient for autoimmunity is the influence of environmental triggers. It is essential for all of us to recognize and understand the recent changes we have seen in our environment and the impact these changes are having on our health. In the last 20 years, we saw the number of autoimmune conditions increase from 24 to over 100, with the number of Americans affected skyrocketing from nine million to an estimated 50 million people. For all of the time humans have roamed this earth, what has changed in the past several decades that has led to such drastic immune dysfunction? The only logical answer in my mind is our environment. In the United States, there are over 80,000 chemicals currently registered with the National Toxicology Program (NTP)4. The impact that these chemicals have on our health is largely unknown. Our bodies that once endured intense physical labor on a daily basis while working outdoors in the fresh air and grounded to earth are now cooped up and sedentary with little to no exposure to sunlight. The majority of food is genetically modified, processed, and inflammatory, depleted of the essential nutrients our bodies require. Not to mention the fact that it seems as though being in a state of high stress and sleep deprivation is the new normal! All of these lifestyle factors and more, overwhelm the immune system and set the stage for dysfunction. As incredible and complex as the immune system is, it is only so strong and can only tolerate so much. When a combination of these factors come together with genetic predisposition and a leaky gut, it is much easier to see how and why autoimmunity ensues. 

How Is Autoimmunity Treated?

Now that we have identified the significance of autoimmunity, what it is, and how it happens, let’s look at our medical model's standard of care for treating autoimmunity. Depending on the diagnosis and where the autoimmunity is occurring, the current medical therapy for autoimmunity traditionally focuses in on removing the organ that is affected or shutting off the immune system altogether. Although in some extreme cases pharmaceutical and surgical interventions may be necessary, this should not be the standard of care for everyone. As mentioned before, I am a firm believer our Creator knew what he was doing when he designed our body. To just start removing parts and pieces when other less invasive options exist, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. In addition, shutting off the immune system which protects us against life-threatening infections and diseases like CANCER, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either. If you want to see something scary, just take a minute to read the side effects of some of the immune suppressing drugs! Much of the time the sides effects are worse than the problem you are trying to treat. Now again, for advanced disease, these treatments may be necessary to get symptoms stabilized, but we always should be working to identify and correct the roots causes of why autoimmunity is occurring in the first place.

I have worked with people from around the world with complex autoimmune conditions and have seen some pretty miraculous transformations without the use of dangerous pharmaceutical therapies or invasive surgical procedures. If we can prevent or even reverse the progression of autoimmunity through altering lifestyle, optimizing physiology, and removing inflammatory triggers and avoid shutting off the immune system altogether, why wouldn’t we? Common sense would tell us that we will never be able to correct a problem until you address why it is there in the first place. Throughout the next several weeks, I will discuss each component of the Root-Fix Framework to Preventing and Reversing Autoimmunity. I will also provide practical tips on what you can do to identify and overcome the obstacles and imbalances that may be interfering with your ability to achieve optimal wellness.

Root-Fix Framework to Preventing and Reversing Autoimmunity:

  1. Commit
  2. Prioritize
  3. Detox
  4. Digest
  5. Fuel
  6. Fight
  7. Clean
  8. Balance

If you would like to schedule an appointment to identify and overcome the root causes of your autoimmune condition, contact GrassRoots Functional Medicine to set you an appointment at one of our two locations in San Antonio, Texas or West Lebanon, New Hampshire. We also offer Telemedicine consults for those who can't make it into one of our physical locations. 

 In good health,

Seth Osgood MSN, FNP-BC, IFM-CP, EMT-P

About the Author: Seth Osgood is a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Seth received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.

11 Labs Your Doctor Should Order to Ensure Optimal Thyroid Health

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Many people are aware of the various problems that suboptimal thyroid function can have on your overall health. A common question I receive from people concerned about their thyroid function is, “What labs should I have ordered to see if my thyroid is where it is supposed to be?”. Frequently, when you have your thyroid markers assessed at your primary care physician or endocrinologist, they will often complete a very basic analysis and then proceed to make general assumptions about the thyroid based on one particular marker, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). Although TSH is an important lab to assess, it gives an incomplete picture of what's going on with the thyroid and how it's interacting with the rest of the body. Today I will share the top eleven laboratory markers I find essential when assessing your overall thyroid health. I will also share the optimal adult ranges I shoot for in my practice to help people improve thyroid function.

1. TSH- Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) [Lab Range: 0.40-4.50 mIU/L, Optimal Range 0.4-2 mlU/L]

The hypothalamus is a structure in the brain that is considered the control center for the body’s endocrine system. When the hypothalamus detects low levels of circulating thyroid hormones, it releases thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) which then signals the anterior pituitary gland to release TSH. TSH proceeds to travel down to the thyroid gland where it binds to thyroid cell receptors and stimulates the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones (primarily thyroxine or T4)1. This is a tricky lab to interpret and confuses many people. It is important to remember that when TSH levels are low, it is suggestive of thyroid levels that are high. In contrast, when TSH levels are elevated, this indicates an under-active thyroid or hypothyroidism. A simple way to keep the interpretation of this lab straight is to remember what TSH stands for, "THYROID SIMULATING HORMONE."  It STIMULATES the THYROID to make more HORMONE when circulating hormone levels are low. Although this is a great indicator of what the brain thinks is going on from a thyroid standpoint, it doesn't tell us much about the amount of hormone that is freely available for the cells to use for metabolism. It is not uncommon for people to have TSH levels within normal range with hypothyroid symptoms. It is also important to note that the brain is a pretty intelligent design. I frequently see patients on thyroid hormone replacement with a suppressed TSH who are told by their practitioners that this is "normal" when on natural thyroid hormone. I don't think that is the case. When the thyroid is truly balanced, all of the thyroid markers should be within optimal range. If one or more labs are not normal, this indicates something is out of balance. Before accepting a suppressed TSH as "normal," be sure to look at the big picture ruling out nutritional deficiencies, toxins, infections, or other stressors that may be preventing your thyroid from functioning at full capacity. 

2. Free T4- [Lab Range: 0.8-1.8 ng/dl, Optimal Range 1.1-1.6 ng/dl]

Thyroxine or T4, is the primary hormone produced by the thyroid gland and is formed when four iodine atoms (which is why it is called T4) combine with the amino acid tyrosine. T4 is transported throughout the body bound to proteins produced primarily in the liver. The T4 hormone that is unbound and freely available for the body to use is called Free T4. Although T4 is the most abundant hormone produced by the thyroid, it is significantly less active than its counterpart triiodothyronine (T3). If you are lucky enough to get your practitioner to check another thyroid test, it is usually Free T4. The problem again is that this marker by itself is a poor indicator of how much active thyroid hormone is available for the body to use at a cellular level. 

3. Free T3- [Lab Range: 2.3-4.2 pg/ml, Optimal Range 3.0-4.2 pg/ml]

The thyroid gland produces significantly lower amounts of Triiodothyronine (T3) when compared to T4, but the T3 is what does the majority of the work. As with Free T4, the Free T3 represents the amount of active T3 hormone that is unbound to protein freely available for the cells to use for energy. T3 is the hormone responsible for the majority of the metabolic effects the thyroid has throughout the body. Since the thyroid doesn't produce a significant amount of T3, the body has to convert circulating T4 to the active T3 through what is called the deiodinase system. Deiodinase is an enzyme that selectively removes iodine atoms from T4 to create the different thyroid hormones including T3 (three iodine atoms)2. This process of conversion from inactive T4 to active T3 occurs in multiple tissues and organs throughout the body but is most pronounced in the liver, gut, skeletal muscle, brain and the thyroid gland itself. It is not uncommon for people to have low Free T3 levels with normal TSH and Free T4. This is incredibly frustrating because your doctor will often tell you there is nothing wrong with your thyroid! As frustrating as this can be, they are not completely incorrect in their statement. When TSH and T4 hormone are within optimal range, and Free T3 is low, this typically means there is a problem with hormone conversion, not necessarily a problem with the thyroid itself. Remember, conversion occurs in the liver, gut, brain, skeletal muscles, and the thyroid. If there are problems within these systems like infections, inflammation, stressors, or deficiencies, the conversion does not occur. The Band-Aid approach is to take T3 hormone by itself. Although this may be necessary at times to help you feel better, it is still important to search for the root cause of why conversion is not naturally occurring. 

4. Reverse T3- [Lab Range: 8-25 ng/dL, Optimal Range 8-15 ng/dL]

Reverse T3 (RT3) is a critical marker to evaluate and is often elevated in the scenario where Free T3 is low. The difference with RT3 is that it is an inactive thyroid hormone. Although it is not entirely understood, the theory is that the body converts T4 to RT3 in times of psychological, emotional, or physiological stress in an attempt to conserve thyroid hormone. Nutrient deficiencies can also play a part in poor thyroid conversion specifically low selenium and zinc. The problem with the body’s conservation of hormones is that when the RT3 levels increase, the Free T3 (active thyroid hormone) levels typically decrease. This leaves people feeling fatigued, cold, with brain fog, constipation, and all of the many other symptoms of hypothyroidism. Although I generally look at a ratio of T3 to reverse T3, a general rule of thumb is to have RT3 levels less than 15 ng/dl with optimal Free T3 values. If RT3 is elevated, you need to identify and correct the stressors that are influencing the body. 

5. Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies- [Lab Range: <9 IU/mL, Optimal Range <9 IU/mL] & 

6. Thyroglobulin Antibodies- [Lab Range: ≤1 IU/mL, Optimal Range ≤1 IU/mL]

Thyroid peroxidase (TPO) is an enzyme made in the thyroid gland and aids with the production of thyroid hormones. Thyroglobulin is a glycoprotein produced predominantly by the thyroid gland and also acts as a substrate for the production of T3 and T4 hormones. When the immune system places antibodies (or flags to tell the immune system where to attack) on these thyroid components, it is an indication that an autoimmune thyroid condition is occurring. Normally, the immune system has self-tolerance with the ability to distinguish the body’s own tissue from problematic pathogens (disease causing bugs). When autoimmunity occurs, this indicates the immune system has gone rogue and can no longer distinguish problematic pathogens from normal cells and tissues.

7. RBC Zinc- [Lab Range: 9.0-14.7 mg/L, Optimal Range 13-14.7 mg/L]

8. RBC Selenium- [Lab Range: 120-300 mcg/L, Optimal Range 255-300 mcg/L]

9. Vitamin A- [Lab Range: 38-98 mcg/dL, Optimal Range 68-98 mcg/dL]

There are multiple nutrients involved with thyroid production and function. Zinc and selenium are two essential nutrients that are vital for the production of thyroid hormones and the conversion of inactive T4 to active T3. Zinc and vitamin A, along with exercise, help to improve cell sensitivity which allows the cells to take in the active hormone to use for metabolism. Vitamin A also activates the gene that regulates TSH production. When evaluating zinc and selenium labs, it is important to get red blood cell (RBC) markers. RBC levels tell you where the nutrients have been over the last few months as opposed to standard levels that just let you know where you are that day. My favorite test to evaluate nutrition status is the Genova Nutreval. This is a highly comprehensive nutrition panel that uses both blood and urine to assess vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, and heavy metals among several other markers. Testing for deficiencies is an excellent way to make sure your thyroid and other organs have the nutrition that is necessary to function at full capacity. If you are low in specific nutrients, check out the Nutrient Specific Food Guide on my website which gives you a list of foods that are high in specific vitamins, minerals, fats, and proteins.

10. Ferritin- [Lab Range: 20-345 ng/mL, Optimal Range 70-150 ng/mL

Ferritin is one of the most common lab values I come across where levels are low, and people are miserable. Ferritin is a protein that stores the majority of the iron that is not being utilized within red blood cells or muscle cells. Iron is essential for thyroid hormone production, but beyond that, low iron levels also contribute to many of the symptoms that often get blamed on low thyroid function. Having extreme fatigue, hair loss, shortness of breath, a weakened immune system, among several other problematic symptoms can all be seen with low iron. I typically find that people with a ferritin below 50 ng/ml are symptomatic, but I shoot for optimal levels between 70-150 ng/mL. Another thing to know about ferritin is that it is also what we call an acute phase reactant. This means that if you have systemic inflammation your ferritin will often be elevated. Too little or too much iron is not a good thing. This is why it is important to get a full iron panel that includes ferritin to make sure you are within that ideal range.

11. Iodine Random Urine- [Lab Range: 34-523 mcg/L, Optimal Range 100-300 mcg/L]

Iodine has to be one of the most controversial thyroid labs out there. For starters, there is no perfect test available for iodine. The iodine test I tend to rely on in my practice is a urine iodine level. I find this to be fairly accurate and reproducible. Without adequate iodine, the thyroid progressively enlarges and develops a goiter or nodules in an attempt to keep up with demand for thyroid hormone production. What is confusing about iodine therapy is the fact that some practitioners believe that very high super physiologic doses of iodine are essential to treating various thyroid disorders whereas others completely disagree with this approach. How do I approach iodine therapy? As I explained above, we know that iodine is essential to thyroid hormone production. With that being said, I am a strong believer that our Creator knew what he was doing and designed a pretty spectacular piece of art. My goal with therapy is to use laboratory testing to guide iodine replacement in an attempt to achieve optimal levels, and preferably with food sources. 

It is important to remember that the thyroid is extremely complex and true balance often involves assessing and treating multiple factors. Sometimes the thyroid hormones are not being produced in adequate amounts. In other instances, they are not getting converted appropriately; and sometimes the hormones are present and in the correct forms, but receptor sensitivity issues prevent the hormones from traveling into the cells. I hope you find these ranges helpful in assessing your thyroid health. Remember that this is just a piece of the puzzle. When it comes to thyroid health, each person can have optimal levels that vary slightly depending on the individual situation. If you have a thyroid problem that you want to get to the root of, I would love to partner with you on your journey to optimal health. If you are interested in setting up an appointment, contact GrassRoots Functional Medicine at (888)-644-7668 or by completing a contact form at https://www.GrassRootsFunctionalMedicine.com/contact/.

Wishing you good health, 

Seth Osgood MSN, FNP-BC, IFM-CP, EMT-P

About the Author: Seth Osgood is a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Seth received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.