There are staggering 300 million people worldwide suffering from thyroid dysfunction yet about half of them are unaware of their condition. (this is an estimate by the Thyroid Federation). Hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid, is one of the most unrecognized health problems in the world. It is an epidemic that is sweeping the globe yet doctors are unable to recognize and diagnose it.
As a recent thyroid disease sufferer, I decided to put together the information I collected during my journey. Hopefully, it will help some of you to get the correct treatment in order to get your thyroid under control faster.
But, I have to add, I am not a doctor and I strongly encourage you to seek professional help. I do not claim to be a medical expert of any kind. As such, the information you are about to read cannot be substituted as medical advice.
What was going on with me?
- I had always been healthy and strong. But I started to be chronically fatigued. I could sleep for 14 hours straight and still wake up with low energy
- Hair loss. I was losing my hair (that I was so proud of) at a worrying rate.
- An anxiety that made me fearful and nervous all the time
- Gaining twenty pounds in literally just a few weeks. I have not changed my diet or lifestyle but the pounds were adding up every week.
- The feeling of desperation that my life would never be same as before. I was not that energetic, slim and assertive young woman anymore.
- Little I knew that these were the typical symptoms of thyroid problems in women.
I could have not even locate my thyroid if someone asked me where it was. Instead, I tried to push me harder to training and reducing the calories intake at the same time. As you can guess, nothing really worked. I went undiagnosed for about 10 months, while my family doctor has not put my symptoms all together. She simply wrote them off as a symptom of aging and stress! After months of suffering, I finally decided to do a full panel of blood tests. Then after a visit to an endocrinologist (a physician who specializes in thyroid dysfunction and other hormonal disorders), I was diagnosed with the hypothyroidism and I could begin my treatment.
Find A Good Doctor
- I highly encourage anyone to find a doctor that truly listens. The thyroid is a subjective matter – only we know how we feel. What we need cannot be measured, but by trial and experience, we can get what truly helps. Read more on how to check your thyroid
- Ask for the “comprehensive thyroid panel”, not just TSH test. TSH doesn’t tell the whole story about the health of your thyroid. Make sure the tests check all of the markers. If your doctor disagrees, it is the time to find another practitioner.
- Most labs set the range for TSH 0.5 – 4. That is a too wide range. The optimum is more narrow, between 1.0 to 2.0. Take the thyroid blood test after 12-hours long fasting. Check out the normal thyroid level chart in my other post.
After my diagnosis, I felt very bitter. I was told that I probably would have to take tablets for the rest of my life. I realized that I was not going to be the person that I used to be anymore.
Worse still, my hair continued to fall in droves. It came out in massive amounts when I washed or combed it. I have had thick healthy hair all my life and I was so upset that I felt like crying anytime I looked in the mirror. I was panicking at the thought of losing my hair.
So what is a thyroid and what exactly does it do?
T3 and T4 hormones enter almost every cell in the body. For example, they regulate your heart rate and how fast your metabolism works. So if T3 and T4 levels are low, your heart rate could slower than healthy, and you may experience weight gain. If T3 and T4 levels are high, you may have a rapid heart rate and unhealthy weight loss.
Why You Need a Thyroid Gland
Simply said, thyroid works in concert with other glands to keep your body running smoothly. The thyroid’s job is to transform iodine into two special hormones known as Triiodothyronine (T3) and
Thyroxine (T4). These hormones regulate vital body functions:
- Breathing and heart rate
- Distribution of energy
- Body weight
- Muscle strength
- Menstrual cycles
- Body temperature
- Cholesterol levels
Then there is the hypothalamus – a section of the brain responsible for the production of a hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in the pituitary gland.
When T3 and T4 levels are low in the blood, the hypothalamus orders pituitary gland to release extra TSH to force the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones.
If T3 and T4 levels are high, less TSH is sent to the thyroid gland and the production of thyroid hormones slows down.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid function)
Anxiety and stress
Irritability or moodiness
Hyperactivity and nervousness
Sweating or sensitivity to high temperatures
Hand shaking, hot feet at night
Severe hair loss
Irregular or light menstrual periods
Symptoms of hypothyroidism (low thyroid function)
Sleeping problems, tiredness and fatigue
Dry skin and hair
Sensitivity to cold temperatures, cold hands and feet
Thyroid supplements and vitamins
Nutrient supplements will help you in the healing journey. The following are especially important to thyroid health:
- B12, preferably in methylcobalamin form
- Folic Acid
- Vitamin D
- Ferritin (Iron)
Supplements should be free of gluten, dairy and artificial additives. Even small amounts could interfere with absorption
Vitamin D and Thyroid
Vitamin D is a vital regulator of the immune system.Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with numerous autoimmune diseases, including thyroid issues. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20427238
Even if you eat a healthy diet with plenty of vitamin D or take supplements, you might still have vitamin D deficit. It is best to check your levels with blood test.
If you need to increase levels of vitamin D, make sure you eat foods that are rich in healthy fats, such as avocado or fish oil. Also, be aware of calcium. Too much vitamin D or calcium can push blood levels of calcium outside of healthy range.
How to lose weight with thyroid problems
When you become hypothyroid, your metabolism is slowing down significantly. This results in fewer calories burned each day. Even those few calories adds up over time. Since hypothyroidism also makes you tired, you have no energy left for exercise, which can further slow down metabolism. Also, when feeling tired, we tend to eat (especially bad carbohydrates for quick energy).
For thyroid patients, restricting calories won’t lead to weight loss. This is why regular diet plans alone usually fail to work. You need to make your metabolism more efficient and you absolutely need exercise to achieve it. Exercise reduces insulin levels, and it raises resting metabolism. It also harmonizes leptin, insulin, and growth hormone in the body. The bad news is, you need to exercise more than the recommended 20 minutes couple of times a week. Healthy people of need approx. 60 minutes of physical activity a day just to maintain weight.
Losing weight in case of thyroid issues is a bit more challenging, but it can be done. I have done the following steps and and my weight is almost as low as before the disease:
- Optimize thyroid hormones T3 and T4 using medication prescribed by your endocrinologist.
- Have optimal levels of Vitamin D (consult with your physician)
- Supplement with Omega-3, curcumin, probiotics etc. to reduce the inflammatory issue of the Thyroiditis.
- Cut off carbohydrates, avoid any refined sugar.
- Quit on soft drinks and sodas with sweeteners. Avoid wheat, dairy products and any processed foods.
- Stick to daily exercise – walking, yoga, cycling, light jogging.
How to improve thyroid function with lifestyle changes
I hoped that my thyroid medication would bring me back my optimal health. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be that easy. There was more into it in order to balance out my body and my life:
1. Get enough sleep. Sleep loss affects thyroid function It is related to issues such as weight gain, glucose intolerance, and diabetes risks. Get the 8 hours of sleep, please!
2. Keep your weight in check. Being overweight leads to insulin resistance. Pancreas then has to release insulin to lower blood sugar. This leads to hormone imbalance and also type 2 diabetes among other health risks.
3. Improve your diet. I tweaked my diet a lot and in the end I discovered that gluten free, low carbohydrates diet work best for me. There might be a connection between thyroid and gluten but it is yet to be confirmed by scientists. Please, take your own path. Everyone is different. But in any case, eat a balanced diet, eat regularly and avoid processed foods.
4. Relax your mind – stress control is as important as the other three legs of a healthy lifestyle. Hypothalamus and thyroid are first to be thrown out of balance when you are stressed, worried or anxious.
Please feel free to comment about your experience with thyroid disease. I will also appreciate any other suggestions.