TSH – Why It’s Useless
(Important note: STTM is an information-only site based on what many patients have reported in their treatment. Please work with your doctor. This is not meant to replace that relationship or guidance, and you agree to that by reading this website. See the Disclaimer.)
What is the TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) lab test?
This particular lab test has been around since the early 1970’s and touted by doctors as the “gold standard” blood test to ascertain your thyroid state, or to know whether you are adequately treated on your thyroid medications according to the TSH “normal” range.
What have Endocrinologists or many medical-school-trained doctors stated about the TSH?
- The TSH lab is a reliable physiological marker of thyroid function (i.e. whether you are hypo or hyper)
- It’s an accurate guide for your medication supplementation amount.
- The lower your TSH while on desiccated thyroid, the greater your chance of osteoporosis or heart attack.
- There’s an optimal place to be on the TSH range when on meds, such as between 1 and 2, or ‘fill-in-the-blank’.
But, reported experiences of patients for many years have found ALL THE ABOVE to be totally false!
Summary: many of us have gone years with a so-called normal TSH yet obvious and worsening hypothyroid symptoms. Additionally, many of us report continued symptoms if we are forced to remain in the so-called “normal” range. When optimal on NDT or T3, we note a TSH below range and report an IMPROVEMENT in bone density and heart health! Ultimately, it’s about the free T3 and free T4 as explained on the Lab Values page for diagnosis and treatment!!
What is the real TSH?
The actual Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is synthesized and secreted by your pituitary gland…i.e. it’s a “pituitary” hormone, not a thyroid hormone. It’s a messenger released by the pituitary glandto knock on the door of the thyroid to meet the demands of one’s body. And if one’s thyroid gland becomes diseased or disabled and fails to do its job adequately (called hypothyroidism), the TSH knocks and knocks on the door, thus will go high.
Or, if the thyroid gland gets on its exercise bicycle and overproduces thyroid hormones (called hyperthyroidism or Graves disease), the TSH lab will theoretically go low to show that the TSH in your body isn’t knocking.
When was the TSH lab test developed??
The TSH lab test was developed around 1973, using approximately 200 volunteers to establish the “normal” range. Over the years, additional population studies have been done to back up the range. The “normal” reference range is intended to represent the range of values for those in a so-called “healthy population without a thyroid problem”. The lowest and highest readings to create the range are usually thrown out.
But the question has become: how do they really know that those in the so-called healthy population weren’t already on a slide into hypothyroid? How many millions of hypothyroid patients have been told they were “normal”, even when symptoms persisted that doctors dismissed? Dr. David Derry of Canada was practicing medicine when the TSH lab was introduced, and he made the profound observation:
“The consensus of thyroidologists decided in 1973 that the TSH (lab) was the blood test they had been looking for all through the years. This was about two years after I started practice. Having been taught how to diagnose hypothyroid conditions clinically, I was in a position to watch to see what the relation of the TSH was to the onset of hypothyroidism. What I found was many people would develop classic signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism but the TSH was ever so slow to become abnormal, rise and confirm the clinical diagnosis. Sometimes it never did. Finally I began treating patients with hypothyroid in the normal manner I was taught. I could not see why I had to wait for the TSH to rise for me to be able to treat them.”
If patients and informed doctors don’t dose by the TSH, what do they dose by?
Summary: Patient reports on what happens when optimal on Natural Desiccated Thyroid or T3 means are these: removes hypothyroid symptoms, improves mid-afternoon temperature, gives a good heartrate and blood pressure, puts the free T3 around the upper part of the range, and the free T4 around mid-range.
Why does my doctor proclaim I am “hyper” on NDT or T3 simply because my TSH falls below the range, yet I feel great?
Because that’s where it also falls for those with Graves disease, the hyperthyroid side of the thyroid problem coin. And with Graves disease can come bone thinning and heart problems due to the excess release of thyroid hormones. Our situation, though, is totally different. We are simply giving ourselves back the physiologic dose of thyroid hormones we need, whether NDT or adding T3 to T4, or just T3 for some. Thus, it seems to cause the lab result of this man-made test fall below the erroneous “normal” range. And with it comes better bone strength and heart health–both of the latter repeatedly observed and discovered by many thyroid patients! And we feel great! (If we don’t and have problems, it’s more about what NDT of T3 is REVEALING.
Does being a smoker affect the TSH lab test?
Yes, smoking will lower your TSH, patients have noted, which can hide the fact that you can be undiagnosed hypothyroid, or undertreated. See an interesting research study on smoking and your TSH here.
What about a low TSH and hypopituitary–isn’t this its best use?
This is one area we have found the TSH to be of value! i.e. when we see an extremely low TSH (usually close to zero or below range) along with a low free T3, it usually points to hypopituitary, aka a problem with our pituitary gland. The latter is usually due to a diseased pituitary gland, or an adenoma, or a problem with the Hypothalamus, which is the organ that sends it’s messenger to the Pituitary. (The Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Thyroid glands make up with is called a Feedback Loop.) It might also be useful for those who had thyroid cancer and who need to keep their TSH very suppressed.
What is the bottom line about the TSH lab test according to the widespread reported experiences of thyroid patients worldwide?
Summary: the best use for the TSH lab tests pertains to what it is: A PITUITARY HORMONE. i.e. it’s good to reveal if we have HYPOPITUITARY i.e. having a low TSH and a low free T3. Otherwise, it can take years to raise high enough to reveal our hypothyroid state.
For thyroid diagnosis and dosing….the man-made TSH lab gets an “F” on the thyroid report card, as do doctors who repeatedly use it to diagnose or dose by without giving credence to the free’s, obvious and continued symptoms, and more.
**See Chapter 4 in the Revised STTM book for more pertinent information on the TSH.
A further note from Janie: I have observed that at least 50% of thyroid patients who come to thyroid groups or forums have a VERY “normal” TSH, even as low as the one’s…with raging hypothyroid symptoms. It seems to take years for the TSH lab result to rise and reflect their hypothyroid state. Not only has the man-made TSH lab been a total failure for diagnosis of hypothyroid for many, it fails the patient even on thyroid supplementation! We can only hope that doctors will start paying attention to “clinical presentation”!
Remember that STTM is an information-only site based on what many patients have reported. Please work with your doctor. This is not meant to replace that relationship.
- Want to order your own labwork?? STTM has created the right ones just for you to discuss with your doctor. Go here: https://sttm.mymedlab.com/
- Want to read more about the TSH and it’s fallacy according to a beloved doctor?: http://www.thyroid-info.com/articles/david-derry.htm
- HERE’S INFORMATION ABOUT NDT and the EQUIVALENT TO WHAT A HEALTHY THYROID PRODUCES: It’s stated that “estimates of average normal secretion for euthyroid humans are 94-110 µg T4 and 10-22 µg T3 daily.” And that is approximately equivalent to 3-5 grains desiccated thyroid. And when you get close to or in that range of desiccated thyroid, you WILL have a suppressed TSH lab, which tells you how inaccurate the established man-made TSH range is. http://www.thyroidmanager.org/chapter/chapter-2-thyroid-hormone-synthesis-and-secretion/
- Need help interpreting your lab results? Go here.
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