By Caroline Cederquist, M.D.
Many women go to the doctor seeking help for low energy and excess pounds, only to be told that these symptoms are “normal” for women over 50. While these symptoms are common, they’re also signs of conditions that need to be diagnosed and treated — before they become chronic health issues. With a little detective work, it’s possible to identify the cause and make simple lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, to restore vitality. But you need to be your own health advocate, as your physician may not be aware of the benefits of certain tests. Read on for three tests women over 50 should get but not all doctors think to perform.
IF YOU’RE TIRED OR FEELING FOGGY… Most doctors check thyroid levels when you bring up fog and fatigue, but they may only check the thyroid stimulating hormone (also known as TSH). I prefer also ordering a free T3 and free T4 test, which shows the actual levels of thyroid hormone. The body makes T3 (triiodothyronine) from a hormone called T4 (thyroxine), and together, they tell the body how to use energy. But some women have trouble converting T4 into T3, so checking levels of both is key.
Based upon your symptoms, it may also be very valuable to check thyroid antibody levels. When elevated levels of thyroid antibodies are present, it shows that your thyroid gland is under attack by your own immune system. This is condition is called autoimmune thyroiditis, (also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) and it is the most common autoimmune condition in the U.S. Autoimmune thyroiditis affects women more commonly than men. In our practice, we have had patients who have elevated thyroid antibody levels but all of their other thyroid testing was normal. With autoimmune thyroiditis, we have the opportunity to try to find the root cause of why the thyroid is being attacked. Investigation of food allergies and low stomach acid along with the correction of vitamin deficiencies and treatment of stress and poor sleep can cause the immune system to calm down and stop its attack.
IF YOU BATTLE BELLY FAT… Prediabetes may be at play, and a hemoglobin A1c test can help since it shows how your body regulates sugar over a three-
month period. Typically given to women already diagnosed with diabetes, I advise it yearly for non-diabetics because it signals insulin resistance (a prediabetic condition) long before a fasting glucose or insulin test would show it. In fact, we have had hundreds of women in our medical practice who had normal blood sugar and cholesterol levels but had an elevated hemoglobin A1c test. This finding is more common in the years around and after menopause.
When you know that it’s happening, it’s easy to correct this condition without medication. An elevated A1c responds extremely well to dietary changes and weight loss. We find that a controlled carbohydrate diet, while ensuring adequate protein and the right amount of healthy fat allows abdominal weight to be lost, and most importantly, for the insulin resistance or pre-diabetes to reverse.
IF YOU’RE PRONE TO CONSTIPATION OR MUSCLE SPASMS… Both of these symptoms can stem from low magnesium, a mineral that many people are deficient in. In addition to tight muscles and constipation, low magnesium is also found to contribute to symptoms of palpitations, depression and anxiety. Magnesium in our diet is found primarily in vegetables in nuts. Due to depletion of magnesium in the soil, tomatoes today, even organic ones, contain less magnesium than was found in tomatoes fifty years ago. We order a magnesium RBC test for all patients over 50. It’s more sensitive than the basic serum magnesium blood test, which is crucial since even magnesium levels on the low range of normal can trigger symptoms. So many people attribute the symptoms of magnesium deficiency to just getting older when in fact correction of the deficiency can have a huge impact on health and wellbeing.
Many of the aforementioned symptoms can be improved with lifestyle change and replacement of key nutrients. Depending upon the type of thyroid condition or the degree of insulin resistance, the addition of medications to lifestyle changes may be additionally helpful for optimal results.
Cederquist Medical Center
1575 Pine Ridge Rd
Naples, FL 34109