How nails reflect your thyroid health

We’ve seen in other articles that your nails provide clues about a range of nutrient deficiencies, including:

  • Zinc – white spots on the nail
  • Biotin – cracking nails and damaged cuticles
  • Vitamin B1 – horizontal nail ridges

Sometimes these clues are more effective at telling you what’s going on than fancy lab tests!

Nail problems can also help you decide which specific lab tests might be relevant for you.

In addition to informing you about nutrient deficiencies, your nails can also provide clues about thyroid health.

This is ultra important because thyroid health affects everything in your body, from energy, mood and sleep, to digestion, weight, sex drive and skin health.

A thyroid deficiency also increases your risk for developing high cholesterol, heart disease and cancer.

It’s seriously important.

Nail ridges and thyroid health

Whereas horizontal nail ridges reflect vitamin B1 deficiency, vertical nail ridges (like the ones below) indicate hypothyroidism.

That is, either an under-functioning thyroid gland, or an inability to use thyroid hormones properly.

“Sub clinical” hypothyroidism is very common

Thyroid hormones regulate energy production in your body, which affects every single one of your metabolic processes.

When thyroid hormone levels are low, it affects everything, which is why symptoms of low thyroid are so varied:

  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Depression
  • Apathy and lack of motivation
  • Poor memory
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Constipation
  • Bloating and digestive discomfort
  • Low sex drive
  • Menstrual problems – PMS
  • Dry skin
  • Hair falling out
  • Poor nail quality (a focus of this article)
  • Weight gain / difficulty losing weight
  • High blood cholesterol

You may know someone – perhaps even you – who not only struggles with one of these symptoms, but several?

Sub clinical thyroid issues are ones that doctors don’t pick up because their testing is “one dimensional” and misses important information.

Hypothyroid symptoms and lab tests don’t always match

Unfortunately, blood testing for thyroid health is woefully inadequate.

I’ve worked with many clients who were clearly hypothyroid but had been told by doctors that thyroid health was normal, based on faulty blood tests.

If you have three or more of the above symptoms, it is almost certain that you are hypothyroid to a degree.

How to check your thyroid at home

If you have some of the above symptoms, you can do two simple home tests to check for thyroid function.

These simple home tests are based on the work of Broda Barnes, MD and Ray Peat, PhD.

Temperature test

Before blood testing came along, the temperature test was a medically accepted way of checking thyroid function.

Use a digital or mercury thermometer to check your underarm temperature on waking each day.

Keep the thermometer by your bed and take your temperature before doing anything in the morning (literally wake up and take your temperature with minimal movement).

However please note that this test won’t be at all accurate if you use an electric blanket.

Your temperature should be close to 97.8 degrees F.

I’ve seen people as low as 35.5, which is more than two degrees lower than it should be, which is crazy.

You cannot have a healthy body when your energy production is so low that your body temperature is only in the 35s or early 36s.

Waking pulse test

Again, on waking, you can measure your pulse. As with the temperature test, don’t move around at all before taking the test.

Simply measure your pulse for a full minute.

Ray Peat PhD suggests that your resting pulse ought to be close to 75-80 beats per minute (BPM) if your thyroid is functioning optimally.

I’ve worked with clients whose resting heart rate was around 50-60, and without fail, they felt poorly.

When these people improved their waking pulse – even by 5-10 BPM – they felt much better.

Keep a record of your temperature and pulse over the course of a week.

Ladies, be aware that your temperature will change according to the stage of your menstrual cycle, which is why it’s good to take plenty of measurements and look at them as an average.

I like to see people’s temperature close to 97.8 F and the pulse above 65 (65 is the absolute minimum – I prefer it to be 70-80).

If your temperature and pulse are lower than this, and you have some of the symptoms listed above, you are hypothyroid no matter what your blood tests say!

Thyroid blood testing “fraud”

There’s a big problem with thyroid testing in the medical system and it’s causing a lot of problems for patients.

Thyroid testing done by most doctors is incomplete.

To explain why this is, let’s take a look at a diagram.

In the diagram, you can see that several hormones are needed for optimal thyroid function.

These are:

  • TRH in green
  • TSH in red
  • T4 in blue
  • T3 in blue

Most doctors only test TSH level. Some test for TSH and T4

However, the most powerful thyroid hormone is actually T3 and doctors rarely check its level (this is no fault of the doctors, it’s just the way the system is set up).

I’ve done hundreds of thyroid tests with clients and I’ve seen some patterns.

It is quite common to see normal TSH and T4 in a blood test, even when people have obvious thyroid symptoms.

The doctor says everything is ok, and the patient is baffles, but believes the doctor.

When T3 is checked, however, we often find it to be low, and sometimes very low.

This isn’t a thyroid gland problem.

Rather, it’s a problem converting the less active T4 hormone into T3.

Most of this T4 to T3 conversion occurs in the liver and GI tract, with nutrients like vitamin B3, zinc and selenium needed for optimal conversion.

This pattern cannot be treated properly with synthetic thyroid hormone, yet this is the only treatment offered in the medical system (it’s completely bonkers).

How to check thyroid function properly

The minimum blood test markers needed to assess thyroid function are:

  • TSH
  • Free T4
  • Free T3

Some would argue that even this is inadequate and would want to include total T4 and total T3 levels.

However I think these three are a good starting point, especially when symptoms, temperature and pulse are also taken into consideration.

Further thyroid blood tests include:

  • Reverse T3 (stops T3 from doing its job)
  • Thyroid antibodies (autoimmune thyroid problems – Grave’s disease & Hashimoto’s disease)
  • T3 serum uptake

We have access to all these tests, and occasionally use them.

For most people, however, we run TSH, free T4 and free T3 initially.

As I mentioned above, we often see completely normal TSH and T4 levels only for the T3 to be low.

This isn’t a thyroid problem, it’s a nutrient deficiency, liver and gut problem.

On the other hand, if the TSH level is high and/or the T4 level is low, the underlying problem is completely different even though the symptoms may be similar.

Thus it’s important to know which pattern you have otherwise you could treat the problem in the wrong way. This could actually make your situation worse.

In order to uncover the pattern, you must refer to your symptoms, temperature, pulse and look at the appropriate lab test markers.

How to fix thyroid problems

Some people have genetic thyroid issues, but these cases are few and far between.

Thyroid function declines in most cases because of your interaction with the environment.

The environment encompasses your diet, lifestyle, stress level, exercise, nutrient status, toxins and gut bugs.

Here are some possible reasons for low thyroid function

  • Stress – cortisol suppresses thyroid hormone production and function

  • Food intolerances – gluten sensitivity is a huge factor for some people

  • H. pylori – associated with autoimmune thyroid problems

  • Yersinia bacteria – also associated with autoimmune thyroid problems

  • Nutrient deficiencies – iodine, selenium, zinc, vitamin A, copper, iron, B vitamins

  • Toxins – see the table below for an idea of how common chemicals can disrupt thyroid

When we consider these causative factors (all of which are related to lifestyle), it becomes patently clear that taking synthetic thyroxin does not adequately address thyroid disorders.

What can you do?

We started this article by looking at how vertical ridges on your nails can indicate thyroid problems.

If you have poor nail quality, you are definitely going to be either short on nutrients, or your thyroid is going to be low.

Next, carefully evaluate what other symptoms you have.

Be honest with yourself.

Fatigue, depression, poor sleep, menstrual and sexual problems, dry skin, hair falling out, cold hands and feet, trouble with weight gain, and other common complaints can all be related to thyroid (and usually are).

Check your temperature and pulse. Are they low? If so, it’s another indicator that thyroid is a problem for you (even if your blood tests are “normal”).

If you suspect thyroid issues, get a more comprehensive blood test done and remember that a thyroid hormone conversion issue, not the thyroid gland itself, may be the problem.

If you have already been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, unless you have a true genetic thyroid problem (rare) there’s no reason why you can’t fix your thyroid metabolism and perhaps even get off your medications.

Thyroid medications only mask the symptoms and paper over the cracks. They don’t address the real reasons why thyroid function has been compromised.

Would you like some help?

I realize this can all seem complex, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, getting your health back on track might be much easier than you think.

By taking advantage of the appropriate lab testing, you can quickly learn why your body has stopped working optimally.

You can then take specific action steps that are just right for you and your situation, and enjoy a more fulfilling and enjoyable life.

If you’d like some help on where to get started, we offer a detailed case history review and initial consultation.

I know it will help you.

We’ll take a look at your health history, symptoms and food journal, and help you organize a plan of action.

We’ll cut through all the noise and confusion and help you get to the important core issues as quickly as possible.

You’ll feel less stressed, and finally have a structured plan to work through in order to reclaim your health.

If this is something you’d like to explore, click this link to learn how the case review process works.

If you ‘re strugging with digestive symptoms in addition to low thyroid symptoms, click here to learn how to comprehensively assess your digestive health with a home stool test.

I hope you enjoyed this article – feel free to comment below or email with questions.

All my best,

Dave.