Hormones Matter TM

My Story: Levothyroxine and Bone Density

March 19, 2012  |  Amy Sandberg

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Recently, I had my first bone density screening. When I got the results I was shocked to learn I had been diagnosed with osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis. How could this be? I’m a very fit 49 year-old who has only recently experienced perimenopausal symptoms. I drink milk, eat yogurt, and participate in weight bearing exercises 4-5 times per week.

So I did what any self-respecting, newly diagnosed person would do in this day and age and went straight to Google to look up osteopenia.  Osteopenia, it turns out, is a fairly controversial diagnosis that was originally put on the map in 1992 by the World Health Organization. There are those on the Web who argue that it is a phony construct of pharmaceutical companies who are looking to sell prescription drugs such as Fosamax. UCSF researcher, Steven Cummings, goes so far as to say of the diagnosis, “there is no basis, no biological, social, economic or treatment basis, no basis whatsoever.”

Alrighty then. I’d read enough to allay my worries and was about to shut down my computer when a headline buried deep in my Google search pages caught my eye: “Bone Mineral Density (BMD) in Premenopausal Women Receiving Long-term Physiological Doses of Levothyroxine.”

Levothyroxine is a synthetic replacement for T4 thyroid hormone, which people with an underactive thyroid no longer make efficiently. I’ve been on it since the birth of my second child in 1993. According to the study, women receiving Levothyroxine treatment had normal total body BMD levels but had significantly lower BMD levels in the exact same areas where my BMD levels were low, the femoral neck and pelvis regions.

There was no stopping me now. For three straight hours, I read every article there was related to the thyroid hormones and bone density. In the process, I learned a lot about thyroid disease in general, and were it not for my brittle bones would have kicked myself for not having researched my hypothyroidism sooner. I finally shut down the computer and called my doctor to ask what my most recent TSH results were. They were on the high range of normal so I asked if it would be okay to lower my Levothyroxine dosage. She agreed to give it a try. So far, I’ve experienced few side effects from the lower dosage, but it will be a year before my insurance pays for another bone density scan. My hope is the lower dosage of medication along with increased calcium and vitamin D intake will slow down the decline in my BMD levels. Only time will tell.

Contradictory medical advice abounds on the Internet, so much so that anyone can make a case for almost anything.  For years, doctors have advised women over 40 to have yearly mammograms. There is now conflicting advice suggesting once every two years is sufficient. Some studies show a correlation between hormone replacement therapy and certain types of cancer, while others suggest therapy helps with heart disease. In a perfect world our doctors and pharmacists would have all the answers. But we live in an imperfect world, and sometimes the only person who can be trusted to go six pages deep into a Google search query and find the answers is YOU.