I see quite a few patients with hypothyroidism and get questions about this condition so I thought I'd put together a post with some common questions people have asked about it. In this post I talk about what hypothyroidism is and how it develops, how low thyroid function can affect your physical and mental health and give you some diet and lifestyle tips that may help support a healthy thyroid. I also link other posts I've written if you're looking for more information!
What Is Hypothyroidism and How Does It Develop?
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland that is located at the front of our neck and it’s involved in regulating many of our other body systems including our brain, heart, reproductive, adrenal and digestive systems so it’s really important for it to be functioning well.
In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland is functioning at lower levels than normal which can be caused by many things including autoimmune conditions, infections, medications, or nutrient deficiencies to name a few. These can lower thyroid hormones, make cells less sensitive to thyroid hormone, or even damage or enlarge the thyroid gland itself.
Hypothyroidism can develop in a number of ways including chronic stress, autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s, chronic viral infections, iodine deficiency, or pregnancy.
When we’re under a lot of stress, our adrenals produce the stress hormone cortisol. This can lower active thyroid hormones and decrease their activity at cells around the body.
One of the most common ways that hypothyroidism develops is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. In this disease, the body attacks the thyroid gland, which can affect hormone production, activation and enlarge the thyroid gland. Chronic viral infections like Epstein-Barr virus, otherwise known as “mono”, can reactivate and start that autoimmune process as well as contribute to symptoms.
The thyroid is also involved in fertility. Pregnancy and postpartum is a time of major hormonal changes so some women can develop low thyroid function postpartum as their bodies and hormone levels are adjusting back to pre-pregnancy levels.
What Are Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?
Since the thyroid is involved in regulating so many of our body systems, hypothyroidism symptoms can be broad. Common ones include fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, hair loss, dry skin, constipation, bloating, and depression. Other hormones can be affected and women may have irregular periods or difficult and painful periods.
How Does Hypothyroidism Affect Emotional Health?
Mental and emotional symptoms can definitely be a part of hypothyroidism. For many women it shows up as depression but they can also feel anxiety or both. Low thyroid function can lead to feeling this way but the overall sense of “not feeling like yourself” can add to this. Understandably, it’s really hard to feel tired and uncomfortable everyday so this can contribute to these feelings, too.
Which Foods Help Naturally Improve Hypothyroidism?
There are many foods that can support the thyroid and provide nutrients to help with producing and activating hormones. Foods that supply nutrients like selenium, iodine, zinc, copper and B vitamins are all important. These are found in foods like fish, kelp, seeds, beans, eggs, whole grains, and Brazil nuts.
I’d also like to mention here that having good digestive health may be helpful for hypothyroidism especially Hashimoto’s. Much of our immune system is controlled by our gut so having a healthy digestive system may help to regulate the autoimmune process. This can include finding and addressing any food sensitivities, doing an elimination diet as well as testing for and addressing any digestive infections.
What Lifestyle Tips Help With Hypothyroidism?
There are a couple lifestyle tips that may help support the thyroid. I think one of the most important is regular exercise. Exercise may stimulate thyroid hormone production and make cells more sensitive to the hormones. Exercise can also help with energy, weight and mood, which can all be part of hypothyroidism.
Another big area to manage is stress. Long term stress can lower thyroid function through its effects on the adrenals so having good stress management techniques in your daily life may help. This can include self-care routines, setting boundaries, working out, meditating, hobbies, journaling or staying connected with people you love. Really anything that makes you feel good can be part of managing stress.
How Can Someone With Hypothyroidism Find the Right Treatment Method?
I think finding the right treatment plan starts with doing thorough testing and getting to know the client and what she’s going through. I usually do functional testing for thyroid and adrenal hormones, digestive function and food sensitivity testing. I feel that having all this information gives us what we need to know in order to map out a plan.
But I think testing is only part of it. Finding the right treatment method also involves listening to my clients and understanding what they’re going through and how they feel. As we talked about, diet and lifestyle factors play a role in thyroid health so knowing where a client is at and finding ways to support her in those areas of her life is an important aspect to address in our work together, too.
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland is functioning at lower levels than normal which can be caused by many things including autoimmune conditions, infections, medications, or nutrient deficiencies, stress or pregnancy. These can lower thyroid hormones, make cells less sensitive to thyroid hormone, or even damage or enlarge the thyroid gland itself. Common symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, hair loss, dry skin, constipation, bloating, depression, and irregular menstrual cycles. Low thyroid can affect mental health and for many women it shows up as depression or anxiety. Foods that can support the thyroid are selenium, iodine, zinc, copper and B vitamins are all important. These are found in foods like fish, kelp, seeds, beans, eggs, whole grains, and Brazil nuts. Lifestyle tips include exercise and managing stress. Finding the right treatment includes functional testing, understanding what the client is experiencing and supporting her in the health journey.
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