Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thyroid, adrenals, and hormones - My Personal Battle


Disclaimer: the posts in this three part series are about my experience with some health problems. I am not a medical professional nor am I an expert on these topics. Seeing as how these issues are quite complex and certain treatments work for some but don’t work for others, I have chosen not to give specifics regarding my testing levels or my medications. I’m sure you can understand and respect that. The only reason I am sharing my story is because I desperately hope that it can help other people who may be suffering from the same thing(s). 

Thyroid, Adrenals, and Hormone Problems: My Personal Battle


We’ve all done it: had that gut feeling which we completely ignored, only to look back in retrospect and wonder why in the sweet hell we didn’t listen to it. 

I knew something was wrong with me for a couple of years, but I was:
  1. Scared
  2. In denial
  3. Busy
  4. Ignorant
  5. All of the above


Metabolic Damage


I have written about my battle with Metabolic Damage numerous times (here, here, and here) however I'm bringing it up again now because it’s directly related to my hormone and Thyroid problems, and it sets the framework. 

I prepped for a Figure show in 2008 and for 18 weeks in which I followed a nearly zero fat diet - to the tune of one TBSP of peanut butter per week and daily fish oil - while subsisting off of about 1,000 calories per day. (To put this into further context, I am 5’10” and was around 158 pounds.) The show was a blast and I took first place in my class weighing in around 138 pounds, but that was where the fun stopped. 

After my show, my weight immediately skyrocketed to about 176 pounds all on a clean diet. I impatiently spent the next year waiting for my weight to plateau, and then slowly decrease, all while trying not to lose my shit. 

It was challenging, but my weight eventually came back down and I felt pretty good... not 100%, but better. I thought the worst of it had passed, but it would come back to haunt me. More on this later. 

Dieting and training

Michael and I were planning to get married in November of 2010. Of course I wanted to look my best at our wedding so I made the rookie mistake that is all too common among soon-to-be-brides. In August, I increased my training frequency, duration, and intensity (oh yeah baby, the trifecta of training idiocracy), cut calories and slashed carbohydrate intake. 


Sleep Problems


Around the end of October 2010, I started waking up between 2-3am and would lay there for at least 2 hours before finally falling back asleep. This puzzled me because I’ve always been really good at sleeping - both falling asleep and staying asleep. I chalked it up to pre-wedding jitters and the fact that I had a cross-country move looming ahead. 

Fast forward 1.5 years to January 2011, and I was still having the same sleeping problem. At least 5 out of 7 nights I would wake up between 2-3am and lay there until 5am before drifting off again. 
I do not do well without adequate sleep - never have. I was in a foggy haze every day because I was so tired. I remember countless mornings crying out of frustration and exhaustion. I don’t take medication, but I had tried every “natural” sleep aid on the market, along with aromatherapy oils, warm baths, cool showers, meditation, music, sex, reading... nothing helped me sleep through the night. 

I finally went to a doctor - a Naturopath in Kentucky - and told him the issue. He advised me to take Melatonin. I told him that concerned me because it was a hormone and I didn’t want to take it; instead I’d rather get to the culprit of the issue. (Makes sense, no?) 
He told me, and I quote, 
“Oh. Well, I dunno then.” 
He shrugged his shoulders, slapped me with a $65 office visit fee, and sent me on my way. 

Everybody told me it was "probably just stress", but that didn't add up. I don’t have kids, my job is a friggin’ blast, my marriage is great, my life is heaven... sure, I have some stress, but I knew in my heart that there was more to it than that. 

Hair loss


“Jen... there is a lot of your hair in the shower drain. Like, a lot A LOT. Is that normal?”  My husband had just gotten out of the shower one day in the spring of 2011 and looked very concerned. 

For the past six months, I felt gobs of hair sliding down my legs as I rinsed out my shampoo; so much hair that it left me uneasy each time I showered but I kept trying to turn a blind eye to it. 
When I saw my stylist, I asked her if my hair looked thinner. We both decided that it probably didn’t, and then we proceeded to rationalize things. “Well, I have really long hair... and I have to blow dry it and curl it every time I style it... I don’t wash it every day, so it probably just seems like a lot of hair that I’m losing.”


I used to only be able to wrap my hair tie around my hair 3 times, but now it goes around 4 times. There is no imagining there. 

No energy


“I don’t have any pop. No power. I can’t explain it. It’s like my body has nothing to give”, I was telling Mike as we were walking out of the gym over the summer. I was exhausted, and the kicker was that I was barely working out. My training was going downhill quickly because no matter how much I wanted to train, my body was not cooperating. For the first time in my life, I was physically unable to “just push through it”. It wasn’t a mental thing or lack of wanting to - I think I’ve proven throughout my training career that I’m pretty strong in the self-will department - I just simply couldn’t summon the energy to do hardly anything; all I wanted to do was lay around, which is unlike me. 


Digestion


My stomach was bloated and hurt all of the time. I had been completely gluten-free since November of 2011 with minimal dairy and sugar, but something was still off. No matter what I ate, my stomach immediately ballooned out and felt like I had swallowed a big boulder. 

Brain fog


I’ve always been a book worm. English class was my gig, and I was accruing college credits for advanced English while I was still in high school. I love to read and write, and reading comprehension has always been a strength for me. I could zip through multiple paragraphs and recite every detail of what I glanced at. That all started to change about three years ago. I noticed I was having a really difficult time concentrating. I’d have to read and re-read paragraphs over and over again, only to get to the bottom of the page and be unable to recall what the beginning said. 

I’ve also always had a laser sharp memory. I was picking up the old rotary phone and dialing up my entire family to chat with when I was just four years old. Yes, four! I memorized everybody’s phone numbers and would call them before my parents got out of bed. Again, about two years ago I started forgetting the simplest things. I couldn’t remember the words to a song that I had sung along with on the radio at least a hundred times. I’d space out appointments that I was looking forward to, and ask my husband the same questions over and over again, unable to recall his answer or if he ever answered me at all. I remember talking to Michael one morning and telling him that I was scared. My brain wasn’t working like it used to. I thought I was going crazy! 

PMS


For the last two years, I have been plagued with PMS symptoms like I’d never experienced before. Debilitating cramps, extreme bloating, and fatigue like you just can’t imagine. For 7 days a month, I felt like I physically couldn’t stand up. It was that bad. I’d melt into the couch and be completely worthless. The most interesting part of this is that I had an IUD for birth control (The Mirena, not the copper one. This is an important detail), which meant I never actually had a period, however I suffered all of the awful PMS symptoms. 

What Took So Long? 

I’m sure as you are reading this you are wondering what in the hell took me so long to get to a doctor, and I don’t blame you. Looking back I realize that I was straight up in denial. I knew something was seriously wrong, but I was hoping it’d just fix itself. 

I kept thinking that if I just trained harder, got my diet even tighter, meditated more, etc etc, that everything would fall back into place. I tried to rationalize everything and was worried it was just a bunch of psychosomatic bullshit. 

Another contributing factor to all of this is that I don’t believe in modern day medicine. I feel like, for the most part, doctors treat people reactively, instead of putting an emphasis on being proactive. They never inquire or advise about the importance of a healthy diet or exercise, quality sleep or stress control, they just throw prescriptions at everything after only visiting with you for 15 minutes. They don’t get any background or lifestyle information, which is key to a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.  I also don’t take medication unless it’s an emergency, which doesn’t make me a good fit to see an MD. 
This left me unsure of who to go to that would care enough to get to the bottom of things, so I did what so many other people do with thyroid/hormonal problems: I ignored them, which only made things worse. 

A Perfect Example


I had been to an Endocrinologist in Las Vegas after my Figure show when I was going through that whole messy rebound and he ran a basic thyroid panel (TSH and T4), both of which showed within “normal range” and he declared that my thyroid was fine. He also told me that, “You bodybuilders need to be careful, or all of that muscle will turn into fat” (probably similar to how your grass can magically morph into asphalt if one isn’t careful). I politely thanked him for his time, rolled my eyes, and hightailed it outta there. That basically marked the end of the faith that I had in many doctors. 

The A-Ha! Moment


In summer of 2012 when we were living in Salt Lake City, it was my dibilitating PMS that finally motivated me to seek out a Naturopath I had heard about that specialized in women and hormones. She sat with me for 90 minutes, frantically typing on her laptop as I told her my entire story. The extreme dieting and training over the years, the brain fog, PMS, freezing cold feet, lethargy, hair loss, digestive issues, etc. 

We had my hormones tested, ran a basic thyroid panel, and did a food allergy test, and ohhhh buddy... just as we suspected - things were (medically speaking) totally effed up. 



What transpired? 

In part two, I'll chat about the outcome of my labs, treatment plan, what worked and what didn't!

In the meantime, if you have questions about the thyroid, chances are good that Chris Kresser has it covered here

29 comments:

  1. Wow, I could have written that story myself! Right down to the mistrust of physicians and ignoring the (now obvious) signs. Thyroids are tricky. Don't beat yourself up too much about missing the signs. They're so easy to miss! Every one of those symptoms could have a variety of different causes and we have no real reason to suspect they're related or part of a bigger picture. As women, our hormone situation is complicated even when it's behaving normally! Like they say, hindsight is always 20/20. I'm still working on my treatment plan and finding my new normal, so I'm looking forward to reading what worked for you and what didn't :)

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    1. Hey Theresa,
      You are right - all of these symptoms snuck on me one by one, and seeing as how I think I am Superwoman, I was hopeful that they'd all self-rectify.

      It's such a huge process of trial and error! Part Two coming soon! :)

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  2. I don't know if you hesitated over whether or not to share this, but I really want to thank you for doing so... and can't wait for part two!

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    1. I had a ton of trepidation about sharing all of this so thank you for the feedback! :)

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  3. Thanks (again) for sharing. Just this morning I saw one of those dumb ass "motivational" don't stop, keep going memes and thought of you. And me, haha. Not happy you went/are going through this but am glad to know that it's not all in my head and that it happens to fitness professionals as well.

    jess

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    1. Those "Don't stop, never quit" etc etc posters make me want to freak out. That mindset is exactly what got me into this mess! ARGH! haha!

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  4. I can't thank you enough for writing this post!! I have been dealing with the symptoms of thyroid issues for a few years now. After doing the basic TSH and T4 test, everything came back normal. Just like you I also went to see and Endocrinologist. I left that office cry. All she told me was to eat less and sleep more. Thanks. And that's where I am at today. Getting those tests every 6months. I am SO looking forward to reading part 2 :)

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    1. Hi Caroline!

      So sorry to hear that you are going through the same thing. I think it's absolutely crucial to run a very extensive thyroid panel to see what is going on. It amazes me how difficult it is to get some doctors to dig deeper.

      I hope you are on the right track! :)

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  5. Takes a long time to actually figure out what is going on. Thank you for being strong and encouraging other women to get real answers. The go, go, go mentality in our industry is not helping women. Taking an honest look and taking care of yourself ( as a trainer) is a crazy life lesson that will only make you stronger in the long run.

    Stacey

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    1. Thanks Stace!

      That damn go, go, go mentality put me in a very bad place for awhile, but hopefully it can help us shed some light on the topic for other people!

      xo

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  6. Wow, this is fantastic Jen. I have no doubt you will help others by posting this. My story is very similar to yours. I knew something was wrong but I was in denial about getting tested. I was scared that there was something very wrong with me. I know I have damaged my metabolism by how I have behaved in the past and I wish I could go back in time and stop myself. I have had some terrible experiences with doctors since being diagnosed with PCOS and I've managed to treat my hormonal issues on my own, all with natural methods. I can't wait to read the rest of your story.

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    1. Thanks Tara!

      I know you can relate to all of this. What baffles me most is that I'm always preaching to other people to tune inwards and really pay attention to how they are feeling. I guess I wasn't the best at taking my own advice, but live and learn!

      Here is to a healthy 2013 for us both! ;)

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  7. I found myself nodding along in agreement through this whole post. I, too, have been where you have...no energy, brain fog, digestive issues, bad doctors, weight gain, etc. What gave my life back was going to a naturopath who ran many tests on me, just as yours did. We found I was gluten intolerant in addition to having thyroid, adrenal, and hormonal issues. After beginning treatment, everything in my life slowly improved except for my weight, something I strugged with for the next 3 years. I began living a Paleo lifestyle in November 2011 and lost the weight just as quickly as I had put it on-45 pounds in 3 months. I had set out to try it just for a month as an experiment, but the benefits have gone beyond weight loss. My skin is clearer, my mood is improved, I have more energy, and my sleep quality is better. It is a lifestyle I will continue to live the rest of my life.

    When I was very sick, I felt hopeless, alone, and in a dark place. Not only did it affect me, it affected my marriage, my friends, and my co-workers (who were constantly frustrated with me screwing things up at work because I couldn't focus or remember anything). There are so many women who are facing these same challenges, and it saddens me that the medical community as a whole doesn't seem to care. I have shared my success with many others; whether my approach is right for them isn't for me to stay but I encourage them to give it a try. When it comes to improving our health, what do we have to lose? Looking forward to part 2!

    Jen

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    1. I'm so happy to hear that Paleo has turned your life and symptoms around! That is fantastic news. I really believe that fueling our bodies with high quality nutrition is paramount in the healing process.

      I'm hoping the more of us that speak out and shed light on this topic it may bring some doctors around to look at things differently.

      Cheers to a healthy 2013!

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  8. ugh...I am going through this right now! I went to a new Dr. and he was clueless, didn't seem interested in my diet, my training regimen or anything that could be affecting why I have been feeling like a 95 year old woman every day. I am going to have bloodwork done this week, with a new Dr. to check on my thyroid(which I have been on medication for since I was 12)I am so beyond feeling like this...Can't wait to read part 2!!

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    1. Hi Erin,

      So glad you are getting some extensive thyroid testing done. Our thyroid levels fluctuate quite a bit, and I believe that if somebody is on medication it is crucial that they test their levels somewhat frequently to ensure that the dosage doesn't need to be tweaked.

      I hope you get to the bottom of things, and Part Two is posted!

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  9. sounds just like my story too... although my thyroid is ok - my adrenals are shot... just starting my journey back to hormonal health. Its been 2 months but i'm frustrated with the slow progress. Then i think to when this all started for me (15+ years) and i realize this will be a long journey.

    thank you for sharing... it makes my long journey a little less frustrating to know someone has gained their health back from a place where i am right now :)

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    1. Hi Jena,
      my pleasure!

      Adrenal health seems to be pretty wonky among far too many people nowadays. I attribute it to too much coffee, not enough sleep, too much stimulation & stress, and overdoing the workouts.

      Progress is painfully slow while trying to nurse the adrenals back to health. I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but take it easy as much as possible - baths, leisurely walks, restorative yoga, and anything that makes you smile. Be self indulgent. It's good for you ;)

      And don't let me lead you astray - I'm not sure what my cortisol levels currently look like. I am re-testing them in a couple of months and of course I'll keep you all posted! :)

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  10. I am very interested in the conection with PCOS. I have this. I can so relate to the hair falling out. Scary, when you already have fine thin hair. Ahh!
    Good article.
    Laurie, Canada

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    1. Hi Laurie,

      To my knowledge, I don't have PCOS, and I know I don't have Hashimotos, so unfortunately that is a bit out of my scope. My friend Tara was recently diagnosed with PCOS and you can read more about this on her blog if you'd like at: http://www.sweatlikeapig.com/tag/pcos-and-leanness/

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  11. Jen very good article, I have same problems, when is Part 2 coming?
    Anonymous- could you please tell more about a "Paleo lifestyl"

    Thank you Lady's

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    1. Hi there!

      The Paleo Lifestyle is basically a caveman type of diet. If a caveman didn't eat it, then neither can you. It's got moderate amounts of meat and eggs, plenty of vegetables, and moderate amounts of fruit, nuts, seeds, and starchy carbs like tubers. All whole, unprocessed foods found in their most natural state.

      Part Two is posted and I hope to have Part Three up tomorrow. Here is Part Two: http://www.jencomaskeck.com/2013/01/part-two-thyroid-adrenals-and-hormones.html

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  12. Minus the PMS issues, this sounds very similar to me. I had Thyroid tests done and they too came back normal. I can't read a book and comprehend anymore to same my life, feet are constantly cold, losing lots of hair, my weight did the same thing and I have been beating myself up for almost 8 months over it. The doctors think I'm crazy, but I know my body and something is not right, I just don't know what type of doctor to see to get it figured out.

    Thanks for sharing I'm waiting for Part 2!

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    1. Hi Jen!

      The severe PMS was due to my estrogen and testosterone levels, which we believe stemmed from my IUD.

      What kind of thyroid testing did you have done? Did you have extensive testing? If not, I'd highly recommend you go back and run TSH, Total T3, Free T3, Free T4, Total T4, Reverse T3 and even thyroid antibodies.

      Part Two is posted! http://www.jencomaskeck.com/2013/01/part-two-thyroid-adrenals-and-hormones.html

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  13. Hurry part two! Just today had a conversation with a fellow instructor who is suffering from fatigue and wants to get back into the gym cuz she just feels like...well....shit! I immediately asked if she had her thyroid checked recently (she has a history of thyroid issues) and then asked her if she had any interest in training with my coach for strength if she wanted to get in the gym...ironically, my trainer is the one who posted THIS very article on fb today. fate? i think so!

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    1. Hi Renee!

      I hope that these articles help your friend and I hope she gets to the bottom of things asap!

      Part Two: http://www.jencomaskeck.com/2013/01/part-two-thyroid-adrenals-and-hormones.html

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  14. Hi! Great article! Some of the symptoms you mentioned are frighten similar tot hints I've been experiencing, I think I may be in the denial phase. ;) I'm currently living in Salt Lake City and would love to get the name of the naturopath who helped you

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    1. Hey there!

      Sorry you are in SLC but I'm excited that you'll be able to see my doc! She is excellent, and her and I spent an obscene amount of time together over the last few months. No offense to her, but I hope those days are over! haha! ;)

      Shoot me an email and I'll give you her name and contact info! JenComasKeck@gmail.com

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  15. Hi Jen,

    My story sounds very much like yours. I have recently gained 15 lbs over a short period of time after going through a very stressful graduate program. It was only near the end of the program though- last September through December of 2013 that I put on the weight. I started doing a paleo diet and heavy weight lifting to help with the insomnia that I was struggling with. Looking back at that now, I see it was probably the wrong decision because my adrenals were already taxed from school stress. At first I started to see some great tone in my body, but then, I started to gain bulk and my clothes no longer fit. Since January, I have stopped lifting weights so much-- mostly not by choice but because I was so exhausted that I'd get to the gym and want to take a nap instead of exercising. I love exercising but literally have had very little energy to do it. I am super broke right now, but luckily, I will be graduating and working within the next 6 weeks! However, I did speak to a naturopath once here in California where I'm completing a medical internship. He told me the following and I wanted your thoughts on it

    1. My problem is primarily adrenal and not thyroid. I should cut back on all types of exercise and limit myself to slow walking for 20 min a day (that seems like way too little exercise)
    2. I need to take adrenal supplements
    3. I need to get more sleep- like 9 hours a night instead of 7-8. This last part would be great but I have a hard time sleeping. Like you, I wake up at 2am almost every night and struggle to sleep after.

    So, here are a few questions I have.

    1. I want to sweat but according to Dr, I shouldn't push myself too hard physically. In your opinion, would Bikram be too strenuous
    2. I really want to lose the 15 lbs I've put on. I go back and forth between focusing n just eating a clean diet or restricting my calories a la Weight Watchers to lose these 15 lbs.
    3. What protocol did you follow to detox your liver?

    I am planning on going to another naturopath as soon as I start working full time and make some $$. In the meantime, I have to trouble shoot on my own :S

    Best,

    Becky

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