Thyroid Evaluation and Autism
The thyroid gland is an important gland in our body with respects to metabolism. It really helps with energy production throughout the body. Whether it’s our immune system, our cardiovascular system including our heart, or our lungs, bones, gut, or brain, without good thyroid output, we tend to run deficits in energy production. In many kids on the Autism spectrum, we know that there are underlying medical problems which contribute to many of their issues. We know that research points to the fact that there are methylation chemistry problems which can affect attention and focusing, we know there are mitochondrial imbalances with can influence negatively metabolism throughout the body and energy production as well. We know that there can be immune system imbalances, digestive problems, and more.
One of the things that doesn’t get a lot of attention is thyroid imbalances. The thyroid is often either not assessed or under assessed with respect to Autism. In patients with various mental health problems, like depression or bipolar disorder, many times thyroid dysfunction is a contributing factor and often optimizing thyroid function helps to really improve the overall mental and physical health status of patients. It’s important to be aware of the importance of thyroid function in Autism as something to assess for your child’s overall health.
If you are doing a blood chemistry test or any type of blood testing for your child, make sure that your doctor includes a thyroid panel. Specifically, look at TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone, free T4, and free T3. These are important because the free fraction of those hormones, specifically free T3, is what is acting physiologically at the cellular level. You can also add what is called a reverse T3. If the body is producing a lot of reverse T3, it will actually inhibit thyroid function as well, and that can often go undiagnosed.
As an Autism Specialist, I like to see the free T4 and free T3 in the upper 2/3rds of normal in its reference range. If they are low, I recommend using a natural thyroid such as Westhroid or Armour Thyroid to try and replenish thyroid function. That is not something necessarily we do forever, but sometimes 6 months to a year just to see if we can re-establish thyroid function. Often times, it helps with energy, brain function, cognitive function and even growth.
So again, the thyroid is something important to assess and I recommend that any parent who is having their child be assessed by a physician with respects to blood work make sure you include a thyroid panel, free T4 and free T3. A couple other things that you could add to that panel to rule out that an auto-immune process may be occurring is something called anti-TPO and an anti-thyroid globulin antibodies. If there are antibodies being produced to the thyroid gland, then that indicates that there is some type of auto-immune process that is likely affecting the thyroid adversely. Including these elements would be a complete thyroid panel. But minimally the TSH, free T3 and free T4 are critically important to look at.