The connection between pain and hormones

The vast majority of people with chronic pain are low thyroid.

by Dr. Mark Starr — 

If you have been trying to rid your body of pain and so far nothing has worked, the problem may be that you are low thyroid, or hypothyroid. The vast majority of people with chronic pain are low thyroid. Increasingly today, people are hypothyroid because the cells in their body are unable to utilize thyroid hormone. Toxins — like mercury and pesticides in the air we breathe, fungicides and insecticides in the food we eat — interfere with every aspect of thyroid function. The Environmental Working Group ( counted some 287 toxic chemicals in newborn umbilical cord blood.

Our trillions of cells use thyroid to power their internal energy factories, called mitochondria. Having enough thyroid in the cells is like having enough fuel in the gas tank. When the tank runs low, the body slows down, waste products accumulate, circulation decreases and pain can manifest. Pain is, in fact, the body’s warning signal that the fuel tank is low and there is not enough energy for the muscles to function properly. Next thing you know, you are tired, you become intolerant to cold, your skin gets dry and puffy, you gain weight and you may have constipation; all are hallmarks of hypothyroidism.

Unfortunately, there is scant formal medical training regarding the link between chronic pain and hormone deficiencies. Pain specialists and orthopedists almost always attribute chronic pain to arthritis, pinched nerves, tendonitis and nebulous pain syndromes, as well as mental disorders. Even the American Academy of Pain Medicine fails to make the connection.

The connection was understood by some of medicine’s pioneers, including Dr. Hans Kraus who finally put an end to President Kennedy’s back pain after three orthopedic surgeries had failed to do so. Sadly, the medical community failed to integrate the knowledge.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the standard treatment of arthritis was natural desiccated thyroid hormone. Patients found their pain diminished and, for that matter, so did many of the other classic symptoms of hypothyroidism. But the use of it fell out of fashion when steroids were first utilized in the 1950s.

Today, doctors are taught only to use a form of synthetic thyroid called T4 (Synthroid, Levothyroxine). A 2001 Belgian study by Dr. Jacques Hertoghe, published in the Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, switched patients from T4 to desiccated thyroid. After two years, joint and muscle pain decreased from 77 percent to 28 percent, headaches from 55 percent to 15 percent and muscle cramps from 56 percent to 8 percent.

Getting an accurate thyroid test is the tricky part. Standard blood tests miss a large percentage of those suffering hypothyroidism. Most routine blood tests will tell you your thyroid is fine because they measure the amount of hormone circulating in your bloodstream. But what is important is whether the cells are able to process it.

The only way to accurately measure how much thyroid is being utilized by the cells is to take a basal temperature. To do that, put a thermometer under your arm upon awakening. A temperature below 97.8 degrees F suggests hypothyroidism because there is not enough cellular energy being produced to keep your temperature normal.

The good news is that hypothyroidism can be easy to treat. And the benefits are enormous. With proper treatment, people lose weight, their skin glows, infertility reverses, menstrual problems resolve and circulation improves. Treating hypothyroidism — the type 2 kind that does not show up on a blood test — is an overlooked and critical missing link in modern medicine.


Mark Starr, M.D.(H), is a lecturer and author of Type 2 Hypothyroidism: The Epidemic. He is board certified by the American Board of Pain Medicine and recently moved to Arizona where he has a practice in Paradise Valley. 480-607-6503 or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number 5, October/November 2008.

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