Metabolism and Thyroid Hormone Replacement

Posted by Medical Board on August 30, 2015 in Hormones Men Thyroid Health Women Last updated on February 6, 2020

The body’s metabolism drives several physical processes including how quickly food is processed, how fast the heart beats, the amount of heat created—even the speed at which an individual can think.  Without a properly functioning thyroid however, the metabolism slows down.

Hypothyroidism—Underactive Thyroid Due to Hormone Imbalance

As many as 10% of all women suffer with some degree of thyroid hormone deficiency.  While causes for this condition do vary some common medical reasons for hypothyroidism may include:

  • Inflammation of the thyroid gland—This can cause damage, or death to thyroid cells, rendering them unable to sufficiently produce enough thyroid hormone to sustain the body.
  • Autoimmune thyroiditis—This is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.  It is inflammation to the thyroid, caused by the body’s own immune system.

The Effects of Hypothyroidism

Hormone imbalance symptoms include the following:

  • Fatigue, loss of energy
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Coarse, dry hair
  • Dry, rough pale skin
  • Loss of hair
  • Cold intolerance (individuals are frequently colder than others around them)
  • Muscle cramps and aches in muscles
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles
  • Decrease in libido (sex drive)

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Thyroid Replacement Therapy—Treatment for Hormonal Imbalance

The body relies on two major thyroid hormones, T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4, tetraiodothyronine to regulate how it uses energy.  While the T3 hormone is actually more active in the body than T4, the standard treatment for hypothyroidism is synthetic T4 replacement hormone.  This is because T4 converts to T3 in the bloodstream due to an iodine reaction.  When this occurs, T3 carries the metabolic “message” to all other cells in the body. 

  • Synthetic T4 hormone replacement is the most common treatment for the lack of thyroid hormone, allowing the body to perform the natural process of conversion to T3.
  • T4 is most often taken orally in pill form daily.
  • Dosages of T4 hormone vary for individuals.
  • While synthetic T4 is the most common thyroid hormone replacement, other forms such as animal T4 is also used.
  • Synthetic T3 is sometimes used in specific situations, such as following thyroid surgery, in anticipation of radioiodine ablation in case of cancer.
  • The T4 hormone remains in the body approximately 7 days after ingestion (of the replacement supplements), as opposed to T3, which disappears after 24 hours.
  • A thyroid hormone imbalance can be detected by a simple blood test.  The ultimate goal of medical practitioners is to normalize thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels to alleviate symptoms.
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