The importance of having well-balanced hormone levels in our body cannot be overstated. Hormones are tiny chemical messengers that maintain all the vital bodily functions. Small functions like taking care of your hunger timings and moods swings to complex systems like reproduction and heart rate – all are governed by hormones. They, therefore, play a major role in looking after our health and well-being.
But due to drastic lifestyle changes, improper diet patterns and pollution, a lot of synthetic chemical toxins are entering our systems and creating what is called a hormone imbalance. Lately, in the last decade, there has been a rise in hormonal deficiencies, especially hypothyroidism.
What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when your thyroid gland produces too little thyroxine (also called T4). This butterfly-shaped gland (thyroid) sits in the front of your neck, below Adam’s apple. It is from here that it secretes thyroid hormones, the major one being T4, to monitor the body’s metabolism, growth and temperature.
Unfortunately, the thyroid gland is also very sensitive to drugs and environmental chemicals. This is the reason for 10% of the population in the west suffering from hyper/hypothyroidism and is actually more prevalent among women (20% of US population).
When to see a doctor?
If you are experiencing hypothyroidism, i.e. if the thyroid produces less T4, you start feeling exhausted. You also gain weight even when you try your best to cut fat. So if you are simply tired for no reason, have a pale or puffy face skin, suffer from depression, you might have hypothyroidism. Some of the other top symptoms are:
- Increased sensitivity to cold (always colder than those around you)
- Unexplained weight gain
- Increase in cholesterol levels
- Muscle aches/unable to tolerate exercise
- Anxiety and irritability/difficulty in concentrating
- Coarse and dry skin/breaking and falling hair
Also, if you are an expecting mother, it is vital to have your thyroid function checked so that you can prevent any complications during your pregnancy.
Hypothyroidism is caused primarily due to less T4 production, but there might be many underlying reasons for the thyroid to not able to do so.
- Autoimmune Diseases: Autoimmune means that your immune system produces antibodies that counter your own tissues! One such disease is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis where the antibodies attack the thyroid and compromise its ability to produce hormones.
- As a side effect of ‘Hyper’thyroidism treatments
- Toxicity: Radiations that are used to treat cancers above the neck and head can affect the thyroid function.
- Drugs like amiodarone, interferon alpha, interleukin-2 and lithium interfere with thyroid hormone production.
- Pituitary Gland Abnormalities: For example, if a woman loses life threatening amount of blood or had extreme low blood pressure during/after childbirth the gland can be damaged.
- Thyroid Surgery: Sometimes due to partial or complete removal of the thyroid gland for preventing infections, less T4 is produced. In this case, you need to take it manually for life.
- Deficiency of iodine and selenium
- Hereditary causes
Suggested Lifestyle Changes
If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, it is essential that you follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly in addition to the doctor’s prescription. They definitely don’t stand as a substitute, rather a support to your regular treatment.
- Avoid Soy. Completely. Women who took Soy were found to be 3 times more susceptible to hypothyroidism. Soy-rich foods contain phytoestrogens that hinder thyroxine production.
- Try and skip your coffee as much as possible. If you are on medication, take your coffee after at least 1-hour post taking the dose.
- Eliminate gluten from your diet especially if you are suffering from Hashimoto’s syndrome. You can go for more proteins and nutritional foods like fruits and veggies.
- Go for foods rich in B vitamins like Nuts and seeds and iodine. Check with your doctor for the correct dosage of Iodine supplements because more iodine intake could again lead to hyperthyroidism.
- Omega 3s rich foods like fish, walnuts and flaxseeds help build the hormones for thyroid.
- Get enough selenium in your diet through sunflower seeds, mushrooms, beef, salmon etc.
- Expose yourself to sunlight for at least 20 minutes every day so that your vitamin D levels are healthy.
- Reduce the consumption of goitrogen foods like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinaches, and turnips as they interfere with thyroid function. However, they can be consumed after cooking.
- Drink sufficient water. That is the best way to eliminate the toxins from the body.
It can be difficult to go out and exercise due to the sluggishness symptoms of hypothyroidism. But make efforts to get regular exercise.
Have a moderate level of cardio exercises daily for at least 5 days a week. These exercises should engage your legs, hands, hips, chest and shoulders.
Yoga and meditation are an excellent way to fight any stress that comes your way. Handle stress and find ways to stay happy and relaxed throughout the day. You could tune to the favourite playlist on your music app or get a nice massage once in a while to soothe your body.
Sleep soundly. Early to bed and early to rise is the best way you get enough sleep. If you are having trouble falling asleep consult your doctor.