My body composition before and during thyroid therapy

This post is a brief outline of my physical “Thyroid Therapy Transformation,” a glimpse into my personal life and how symptoms and body composition changed in response to changes in thyroid therapy and diet.

You can see my favorite colors are pinks and blues. And it also shows many hairstyle transformations, ha ha!

This post will be supplemented later with more detail on my laboratory results in the latter phases of therapy.

The main points are that

  1. Thyroid therapy changes might not change your body as much as many people assume they will.
  2. Diet changes can make a huge difference in some people in spite of significant thyroid therapy struggles.
  3. Even if you lose weight while on thyroid therapy, your health may be in danger if your FT3 is chronically low.

I enjoyed getting thinner. But ultimately, health matters more than body shape, and sufficient FT3 is necessary for health.

2001 photo. Pre-diagnosis, before therapy

Pre-diagnosis I was living with severe hypothyroidism, with fatigue and brain fog. I was diagnosed in 2003 by my TSH alone.

I’m not a Hashimoto’s patient. No goiter (no thyroid swelling) despite a TSH of >150 at diagnosis was an early sign that my hypothyroidism was either Blocking Hypothyroidism or Atrophic Thryoiditis (thyroid gland atrophy), but most doctors don’t know this.

Atrophic thyroiditis is an autoimmune thyroid disease caused by TBAb antibody (TSH receptor-blocking antibody) and other autoimmune factors, not by the TPO antibody found in Hashimoto’s. I’ve always had normal TPOAb over 4 lab tests since I was first tested in 2016.

My form of hypothyroidism is different and more rare than Hashimoto’s.

2005, 2011 photos. During LT4 thyroid therapy

As you can see, my body composition didn’t change much from before to during Synthroid (LT4) monotherapy. I just got more and more overweight.

My TSH may have been normalized, but nothing changed in the body composition department.

I chose T-shirt images to show the weight gain in my arms. Around my neck were “rings” — skin creases that were caused by fat.

I didn’t have any hair loss, ever. I’ve always had a very thick head of curly hair. Dryish skin, yes. Cold intolerance.

I was diagnosed with sleep apnea within a year after LT4 therapy began. My husband witnessed this as loud snoring and a sudden stop in breathing, then gasping for air. I refused CPAP therapy and just tried to sleep on my side instead of my back, which helped.

Mentally, I struggled with slow cognition — for example, finding myself rewriting the same paragraph for an hour, not being able to complete the mental process.

Emotionally, I would find that even missing 1 Synthroid dose would cause uncontrollable crying 3 days later for no reason, with no precipitating event in my life other than the missed dose. I was likely often on the edge of hypothyroidism in my dosage.

The year 2011 was my heaviest, at around 186 lbs and size 16+ petite (image with the hat on).

I am 5 feet 2 inches tall (157.48 cm), and my healthier weight in 2017 was around 115 lbs (52 kg). I have rather thick and heavy bones.

You can see that my body shows weight gain from fat, but not the shapes you see in the “myxedema” (non-pitting edema) caused by TSH-receptor overstimulation in Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease.

Throughout my LT4 therapy, I had high total / LDL cholesterol, probably because my T3 was low, despite my high.

2014 photo. LT4 therapy plus Gluten free LCHF diet

Finally, my mental and physical health changed with a major diet change toward Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) and Gluten-free starting in July 2012.

I made this transition even while I was on TSH-normalized Synthroid monotherapy and likely had a low-normal FT3 and high FT4. Although I have no data but TSH for some tests (they didn’t test my FT3 and FT4 due to TSH-reflex testing policies), an abnormally low FT3:FT4 ratio of 0.135-0.15 pmol/L later revealed itself as a continuous sign of poor metabolism at various FT4 levels.

My excess body fat melted off mostly over 12 months and my new shape was achieved by Summer 2013 and maintained thereafter, alongside the new “way of eating.” I generally followed websites like Mark’s Daily Apple and Diet Doctor for tips.

My diet was NOT a strict ketogenic diet with less than 50g of carbs per day. This is important. Some people with hypothyroidism find that ketosis lowers FT3 levels, affects adrenal health, and can cause a decline in health. I even purchased a breathalyzer that could measure ketones in breath. I was rarely in ketosis. I was borderline.

My diet took a lot of effort to change shopping habits and cooking, but it was so delicious and fulfilling! I did not cut calories at all. I ate to satiety a lot of vegetables and high quality fats and meats.

My husband also enjoyed the food. In fact, he had always struggled with chronic headaches ever since I knew him. A major motivator for me, showing that our diet was healthy for both of us was seeing him go from “80% life is a headache” to “80% of life is headache free.” Losing the gluten was the biggest benefit for his health, but he also lost his little pot belly on the LCHF.

I did not add any extra physical activity at all. My life is rather sedentary. I’m a research professor, so I spend most of my time in front of a computer when I’m not teaching or walking around campus. I have ankylosing spondylitis, a type of autoimmune arthritis, which in my case (unlike others), it often gets worse with exercise, so I can’t do vigorous cardio without consequences.

At that point, I thought I could live well on Synthroid for the rest of my life.

I was wrong.

A healthy diet and weight loss is not enough to defend health. During thyroid therapy, T3 sufficiency is more fundamental to health.

What I currently theorize was a TSH receptor-blocking antibody flare hit me in Fall 2013. In conjunction with a dose decrease, it sucked Free T3 out of me while making my TSH fluctuate randomly above reference. The TSH had no logical or stable relationship to my FT4 or FT3 levels (as you’ll see in a future post), likely because of the influence of TSH-receptor antibodies on the pituitary’s TSH ultrashort feedback loop.

Despite my low FT3, a severe illness was not yet interfering with thyroid hormone metabolism. My RT3 was found to be normal at 18 (ref 8-25) before I became ill, and this RT3 is to be expected with a FT4 around the same position in its range.

After almost 3 years of chronic low T3 (2013-2016) in which I think only my healthy diet sustained me, I had a health crisis in Jan-March 2016 that drove me to emergency 3 times in 3 months.

In From January to March 2016, my low FT3 malingered, falling between 2.9 and 3.4 (3.5-6.5), along with failing health. Finally, this was clearly an illness that affected my thyroid hormone metabolism, because it drove up my RT3 to 33 (range 8-25) while FT4 was 22 (10-25). My TSH was abnormally high for my high-normal thyroid hormone level, at 6.17, despite being on a slightly higher dose than when my TSH was 0.07 back in July 2013. Physicians repeatedly dismissed the rapid decline in my health.

It seems like I had acquired a mysterious adverse cardiovascular response to T4 dosing, possibly microvascular spasms due to endothelial dysfunction, which was not suspected at the time. It was triggered by a brief dose increase to 137 mcg, which I stopped after a few days. Thereafter, 2-week phases of partial relief from cardio torture were obtained by LT4 dose decreases that inevitably also made me more symptomatically hypothyroid. The random daily vascular spasms stayed with me day and night despite lowering my T4 dose step by step from 125 to 100.

I didn’t want to become more and more hypothyroid, and my TSH was over range, but tiny LT4 dose increases sent me to hospital with horrible symptoms. I feared an impending stroke or heart attack. My symptoms felt like what is now being described as cardiac symptoms more common among women than men. I had no T3 in my arsenal yet, so all I could do was underdose T4 to prevent distress. I was stuck.

2017. T3 monotherapy since Apr 2016

Fortunately I found a compassionate doctor who was willing to dose me on T3, but only after my conventional tests came back showing no major dysfunctions in my cardio plumbing or electrical system.

A careful transition to LT3 monotherapy (Cytomel) helped me recover my health. I used Paul Robinson’s T3 books to help me make the switch safely.

No, I did not lose more weight by transitioning to T3 mono. But I didn’t need to lose more weight anyway. I needed health!

My cardiovascular “spasms” significantly decreased on my first dose of 5mcg of T3, and eventually went away as I lowered FT4 and increased FT3 levels every 2 weeks.

I do not seem to have any adverse effects from T3 dosing. My adrenals must be capable of keeping up with “increased tissue demand for cortisol” mentioned in T3 product monographs. I haven’t been interested in measuring cortisol.

After 1 year of stabilizing on T3 only, I tried to reintegrate T4 hormone via desiccated thyroid (NDT), but that attempt failed. I was still part way through the transition on NDT + T3 when I had bizarre lab results with FT3, FT4 and TSH all below range (a result that looks like central hypothyroidism). First I increased T3 dosing and was fine. But a return of the same body-jolting cardio symptoms I had with T4 mono occurred 1 week after I increased the NDT dose. I seem to have acquired an intolerance to T4 dosing above a certain threshold, and it’s not worth the risk to explore it.

So, I went back to LT3 monotherapy, and my vascular spasm symptoms subsided over 2 weeks.

All the while, I continued my LCHF Gluten-free diet.

Since 2017

I’ve currently reintegrated more carbohydrates (potatoes, chocolate, some gluten-free treats).

I’ve also gained the “COV1D 15”, the extra 15 pounds or so of padding that comes from less walking around.

That means you can still GAIN weight while on T3 monotherapy!

I’m still powered by T3 monotherapy, though I do not wish to promote it to everyone because it is unnecessary for most and can be very challenging to manage. My body changes its rate of T3 metabolism several times per year, and T3 losses seem to be higher in winter. I must adjust dosing based on heart rate data, body temperature data, and measuring FT3 levels 12 hours post-dose, to prevent hypo or hyper.

I still have sleep apnea symptoms when I sleep on my back, but it tends to be less often and less severe.

In the past 2 years I developed complete arm & leg hair loss, which is not troublesome at all, since I don’t need to shave legs in summer! All head and trunk hair is normal. It’s not easy to find out why it happened — it could well be autoimmune / genetic, since my mom has the same arm/leg hair loss and she is mildly undertreated on NDT.

Someday, if another health crisis arrives, I may try a 2nd time to crawl back to T4-T3 combo, but currently I’m healthy and stable, so my approach is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

To read more of what I’ve already posted publicly about my thyroid therapy journey, read “Case study: What my life is like in the T3-monotherapy wheelchair



Categories: Diet & Nutrition, T3-monotherapy, T4-monotherapy

16 replies

  1. We will continue to be lost until we have an actual way to quickly test FT3 and FT4 levels with a finger prick, much like testing blood sugar with a glucometer. Until then we are left guessing on a daily basis.

    • I would also like to see a similar thing so we can monitor ourselves on T3 dosing, between blood tests at the lab. However, the concentrations of FT3 and FT4 are so tiny that they would likely not be measurable by a handheld device we can purchase. It’s hard enough to measure them accurately in an immunoassay. A blood sugar level less than 140 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L) is normal. My lab’s FT3 range is 3.5 to 6.5 pmol/L, and FT4 is 10 to 25 pmol/L.

      1 pmol/L = 0.000000001 mmol/L
      1 mmol/L = 1,000,000,000 mmol/L

      The amount of blood sugar in blood is more than 1 billion times the amount of Free T3 or Free T4.

      Maybe Total hormones could be measured, since the range for TT3 is 0.9 to 2.8 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) and for TT4 is 58 – 140 nmol/L.
      1 nmol/L = 0.000001 mmol/L
      1 mmol/L = 1,000,000 nmol/L

      The amount of blood sugar in blood is still more than 1 million times the amount of Total T3 or Total T4.

      I know, it sucks. There’s more chance of measuring them at home in urine where concentrations are higher, but there’s two drawbacks to that: 1) you’d have to make a ratio of Urinary T3 to something else like Urinary Creatinine to rule out the influence of dehydration. 2) And then you’d have to realize that kidney health is a major influence on urinary thyroid hormones, due to higher rates of T3-bound albumin and TBG lost in urine during proteinuria / nephrotic syndrome.

  2. My thyroid was atrophied already 30 years ago. I was told I had Hashimoto’s. And maybe I do because I have TGab antibodies (which lead to confusion as well, since the last doctor did only test for TPO and figured that I did not even have Hashimotos, just hypothyroidism). I envy you your T3 (not really….I’m glad you managed to get it). I’ve been trying to persuade many a doctor to at least try it and have now completely given up. It is too stressful to be disparaged continuously. It does often not end with just one reprimand but carries into each following appointment where the doctor now has to prove whose in charge. I’m sure it is also reflected in my record or the next doctor is somehow warned about my “attitude” and continues the same approach towards me without me even having mentioned anything “contrary”.

    I so do love the information you make available. It makes me even more desperate or sad, or anxious, though, because I know that I’m totally powerless no matter what I know and no matter what research, in other words what much doctor quoted evidence based proof, I could present. I hope it will be better for my daughter who finally got diagnosed (after being on a truckload of psych meds for a number of years). Maybe the new research in thyroid issues will soon be more known to doctors so she does not have to suffer as much. Right now, though, I see that she is on the same path as me, which makes me very sad for her.

    • Thanks for your comment, Elke. Yes “it is too stressful to be disparaged continuously.” The medical ignorance, arrogance and bullying is despicable. I’ve seen and experienced it myself in appointments where “the doctor now has to prove whose in charge.” I also had disparaging letters written on my record during my Low T3 health crisis. Like you, I was powerless in the medical office and the emergency room. They didn’t care that I brought with me research articles that cautioned about mortality rates in people with Low T3. They were impervious to science and evidence. Medical ignorance and arrogance is harming many people.

    • Dear Elke, I want to ask you a question and I hope that Tania will forgive me for doing this on her blog.
      Why don’t you want to try using T3 without a doctor’s prescription?
      Buy online Turkish T3 – Tiromel, a very weak and mild acting drug. This is what you need to get started. It is sold in Turkish pharmacies without a prescription. It is very cheap 0.3-0.5 dollars one pack of 100 tablets of 25 mcg in Turkish pharmacies. Online pharmacies will be around $ 1. 2-3 weeks take 1/8 tablet (3mkg) per day, then 2-3 weeks 1/4 tablet. Then, based on the test results, slowly lower the T4 and add the T3. Once your body has adapted to T3, you can add another dose of Tiromel at a different time, as well as switch to stronger T3 medications. I use the German drug T3 Thybon, it is very high quality, but strong and tough. I buy it online too.
      Take responsibility for your health into your own hands.

      In our country (Russia), there is no T3 in pharmacies since 2012 and doctors do not prescribe it. But we have a support group for patients with thyroid problems, which already has 37,000 patients, and this is how we all create combination therapy ourselves.
      If the legislation of your country does not allow you to buy online even the OTC drug Tiromel, then I very much ask you to excuse me for this post.

      • Thank you for your concern, Vera. I have looked at different options to order T3 from several sources (even from my cousin outside Canada who is a pharmacist). My assumption is that it is not legal for these to be shipped to Canada because companies I looked into don’t. There is the option of getting a PO Box in the States. I’ve looked at that. My concern is that with all the problems I already have with physicians, even if I could pull it off, if something goes wrong (impure drug, any health concern, even outside from thyroid, any medical anything) there will be hell to pay. I really would prefer to have this monitored by a knowledgeable physician. The very last option is to leave friends, family and home behind and move to where such a physician can be found. In the meantime I take responsibility for my health in other ways (despite the hostility from doctors). It is a learning journey on which I am often accompanied by well meaning people who want to support me with their knowledge and experience. I very much appreciate all those who look out for me. So my thanks also go to you. I’m happy to hear that you found your way.

      • Vera, we have to do what we can to survive, taking both the responsibility and the risk into our own hands when our healthcare system or economy fail to support our thyroid hormone health. I have a post in this blog about the economics of T3 pharma in which I mention the Turkish and Mexican brands. The only thing I don’t want on my website is mention of or links to underground, unregulated sellers of pharma, because they may be adulterated and spiked with other substances and could be unsafe.

    • Dear Glensbo, thanks for pointing out that article on obesity and thyroid hormones. This article is fertile for analysis and critique.

      An important thing to notice is that the study excluded anyone with a thyroid diagnosis and anyone on thyroid hormone therapy. Their thyroid glands were healthy. Therefore, their FT3:FT4 ratio was going to be higher per unit of TSH than anyone on LT4 monotherapy who has little to no thyroid gland function.

      In fact, their T4-T3 metabolism was abnormally high for their TSH level of 2.0

      These were THEIR population means:
      FT4 mean 10.3 (pmol/l, reference range 7.7-16)
      FT3 mean 5.4 (pmol/l, reference range 3.1-5.8),
      TSH mean 2.0 (reference range 0.4-4.5)

      In contrast with their obesity with low-normal FT4, I was overweight with a high FT4. And then, with very little change in FT4, I lost weight because of a change in eating habits. Then I retained my thinner body composition despite a flip from TSH 0.07 to 18.08 that stayed high. I also remained thin despite a FT3 that fell low and stayed low, while eating to satiety and eating a lot more fat. I think it’s very interesting to see the contrast. My results just don’t make much sense in light of this study, and it’s partly because I’m one of the patient types they excluded both due to my thyroid status and diet status.

      • Thanks for your thorough analysis of the study. I thought more in what defines obesity in euthyroid vs hypothyroid persons? Fat vs water and the effect on leptin? It could be interesting to see a similar study on hypothyroid persons. This could give us some objective measures on hormone deficits?

  3. Dear Tanya, thanks for the article!
    I am delighted with your transformation – every year you became younger and younger and now you look just wonderful.

  4. Hello,

    I sincerely thank you for creating this website and sharing your story along with a wealth of information. I am petite 5’1, live with untreated sleep apnea because I couldn’t tolerate cpap and have had an ultrasound that showed atrophy thyroiditis and have been struggling with hypothyroidism over 20 years. The last two years I have had my free t3 fall below range. I have been on combo therapy Synthroid and Cytomel and havent been able to increase my Cytomel over a single dose of 5mcg without experiencing chest pain, tachycardia, sweating and insomnia.

    Can you please share with me if you’re on CPAP now and if so when did you begin? I’m in Ontario and on ODSP because I’m barely functioning because of my mild sleep apnea coupled with unresolved hypothyroidism symptoms.

    Please do a post on your journey from switching to t3 monotherapy only and share your results. Also please share the timing of your doses and how you incorporate food and supplements. I would be so grateful.

    Thank you

    • Dear Idil, Thanks for letting me know that yet another person has a connection between atrophic thyroiditis, sleep apnea and low FT3. Doctors and scientists should look into this constellation of disorders.

      Sorry to hear that you’re unable to increase over 5 mcg at once. I’m thinking about an insufficient cortisol response to T3 from adrenals. Do your symptoms occur during the FT3 peak, 3 hours post dose? Or <1 hour before peak? or 8-24 hours later before your next dose? It may help to understand whether it is caused by the fast speed of T3 absorption, or the peak post dose, or the FT3 valley between doses.

      I am still not on CPAP, but I'm thinking of asking for a sleep study for potential "REM Sleep Behavior Disorder" (see https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fneur.2020.00610/full ). One night I physically kicked my husband out of bed and he actually landed on the floor and yelled out as he did. It happened while I was dreaming that I was kicking through a wall trying to escape from a cow running at me! By talking with him, it came to light that not only do I snore, but I talk and I flail and jerk around wildly in my sleep. This kick occurred while I was on compounded T3 hormone, some of which were later found to be very sub-potent when I composed my entire day’s dosage from that bottle of capsules. (I was angry and switched back to Cytomel, which is more expensive). It’s possible that insufficient T3 is related to REM sleep disorder, and maybe even to sleep apnea, through neurology.

      In addition to taking multiple 5 mcg T3s throughout the day to build up a higher average FT3 level, you might want to obtain your T3 from desiccated thyroid extract ( NDT / DTE ) because many patients report the T3 obtained from that pharmaceutical is slower-release or more gentle. This may be because is bound to thyroglobulin, a protein. I knew an individual who dosed both T3 and NDT and they verified the different effect by taking the two at separate times with almost the same amount of T3 hormone from each. The ratio of T4:T3 is 4.2 to 1 in DTE, but a 30 mg or 1/2 grain only includes 4.5 mcg of T3 that you can combine with T4 to reduce the mcg of T3 dosed per day. Have you seen my series on circadian FT3 rhythm? It ends with a Q&A post about adjusting doses to roughly imitate a natural rhythm.

      Given that tissue T3 raises demand for cortisol, I recommend asking your doctors for a thorough check of cortisol and ACTH-stimulated adrenal function, plus an early morning measurement of renin and aldosterone with blood drawn 3 hours after a dose of T3 (within the FT3 peak). I noticed in one of my colleagues with the same intolerance to higher synthetic T3 a mismatch appeared between very high renin and low or normal aldosterone. According to the literature, this “insufficient aldosterone response” to renin may appear not only in some patients with severe illness, but also in early autoimmune adrenal failure, and it may show that your mineralocorticoid secretion response is flagging in part of your adrenal glands even if your cortisol is normal or high. Or you may have mast cell activation — prostaglandins can also elevate renin.

      Best wishes, Tania

  5. Hi,

    I literally burst into tears upon seeing that you responded and I am beyond grateful to God that you took time to reply. Thank you. In the past when I tried to introduce a second dose of 5 mcg I would experience symptoms of tachycardia and palpitations an hour later and it would continue until the next day. If I stuck to just my morning dose of 56 mcg of Synthroid and 5 mcg of Cytomel it would also produce symptoms of tachycardia and palpitations about an hour later as well but by lunch time the tachycardia/ palpitations would have subsided.

    I am about 105 pounds and my doctor wants to try ndt and t4 but I have been very hesitant. The last 2 years have been extremely difficult to deal with whenever I make little changes to my thyroid meds. She wants to be conservative and start with 1/2 a 30mg of Erfa along with 25 mcg of synthroid. I did some reading and I think that might cause me to become under medicated. Would you mind giving me some suggestions? I was think of trying 30 mg of erfa along with 25 mcg of synthroid in the morning and another 25 mcg of synthroid at night. Also does cytomel require to be taken away from food and supplements?

    As for sleep, poor you and your husband. If you cant tolerate cpap, have you ever looked into mandibular advancement devices or Aveotsd? My nose is congested 24 hours and more so at night so I havent had luck with the tongue stabilizing device. Can you share with me whether you were diagnosed with mild, moderate or severe apnea when you learnt about your sleep apnea? I havent had the opportunity to meet anyone else with hypothyroidism and sleep apnea and communicating with you has been a God send. By the way a new product has just been approved by health Canada for mild sleep apnea called exciteosa and I’m trying to learn more about it. Hope you get the sleep study done for REM sleep behavior disorder.

    I figured as much that it could be my adrenals that are causing me to be intolerant to a second dose so thank you for bringing that up. I’m using ashwagandha to help me at the moment. I will ask for those tests that you mentioned but I might not be able to make sense out of them. I’m barely understanding reading through your posts because of my brain fog.

    • Hi Idil, instead of replying to this additional reply, please consider joining our Facebook group for more discussion (click on Groups in our main menu), since that’s where we provide non-medical peer advice discussion. — Wow, I’ve never heard about tachy & palps lasting for so long after such a small 5mcg trigger. Very sensitive. I really do suspect something else in your body is interacting with T3 pharma action if it comes that quickly before the peak. I would even suspect an excipient or filler in the Cytomel, perhaps. I understand hesitation re: switching to ERFA, but it may be worth a try if it helps you in the long term with a gentler T3 effect. Every 60 mcg = 38 mcg T4 + 9 mcg T3, but estimate a bit lower to creep up safely to an optimal dose. Like all other pharma, each tablet is permitted to vary 90-110% of the stated dose, so you might really get more like 37+9.7 per 60. My “pharmaceutical equivalency” posts collected scientific research to support a roughly 3:1 pharma potency, meaning every 5 mcg of LT3 is “equivalent to” 15 mcg of LT4. But this estimate is for people who absorb T4 well and convert T4 to T3 at the average rate. Your body will likely absorb any thyroid pharma brand differently. We metabolize at different rates when levels / ratios of T3 and T4 change. A person with less T4 in circulation may need more T3 to compensate. So be ready to adjust. So sorry to hear about the brain fog; I sympathize.

  6. Hello. I wanted to als why your doctor needed “conventional tests came back showing no major dysfunctions in my cardio plumbing or electrical system”. What did those test involve?

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