Thyroid disorders might be more common than you think. In the United States, 1 in 8 women develop a thyroid disorder in their lifetime, and women are more likely than men to develop hypothyroidism, a disorder characterized by an under-active thyroid gland. It’s commonly caused by an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease. Hypothyroidism means that your body is not producing enough thyroid hormones, which influence your body’s metabolism and help control heart, muscle and digestive function.
Because thyroid hormones have such an important role in keeping up your body’s metabolism, hypothyroidism causes a range of symptoms that can affect your daily life and decrease your energy levels. Fatigue, weight gain, muscle weakness, joint pain and depression are just a few symptoms that people with hypothyroidism live with.
Along with medication, incorporating a healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress management into your routine can help you manage and minimize the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Making healthier lifestyle choices will help your body feel and function at its best, physically and mentally, which can help you weather the symptoms of hypothyroidism. We’ll start with the diet and exercise combination.
Exercise is good for everyone of all ages. It helps you maintain a healthy body weight and combat the weight gain that comes with hypothyroidism, while boosting your energy and mood. Plus, it helps you sleep better. There’s so much to gain from even the smallest amount of exercise.
If you don’t yet have an exercise routine, start small and work your way up to the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Choose something that you enjoy — walking, jogging, dancing, cycling or whatever you prefer — and start working it into your routine. Because muscle weakness and joint pain are symptoms of hypothyroidism, you may want to go for low-impact exercises like walking or yoga so you don’t aggravate your symptoms.
As with all things, let your body be your guide. The exercises that work for one person might not work for you, so experiment with different types of exercise until you find what feels best.
Diet and exercise go hand in hand. A healthy diet and a regular exercise routine together can help your overall health and support a healthy metabolism. Eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains and lean proteins sources like fish and beans. Minimize processed foods and sugary foods like candy and sodas. Instead, opt for complex carbohydrates and starchy foods like potatoes whole grains with lots of fiber.
The timing of your meals is another important consideration. Minerals in your diet like iron and calcium can bind to the thyroid replacement hormone typically taken as medication, which prevents your body from absorbing it fully. You may be taking your medication regularly, but taking it too close to meals can reduce its effectiveness.
Try taking your medication on an empty stomach, at least an hour before breakfast. Or if you’re a person who doesn’t snack or eat late at night, take it hours after dinner, before you go to bed. You may have to adjust your eating habits to incorporate your medication effectively, but it gets easier once you find a routine that works for you.
You also want to be wary of mineral supplements. For instance, though iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism, most adults in the US get enough iodine in their diet which eliminates the need for iodine supplements. Taking them may even affect the impact of your medication.
Ingredients in other medications or supplements can also prevent your body from fully absorbing your hypothyroidism medication. Space out your medications so that you’re not taking them within an hour of each other.
Medication for hypothyroidism can be tricky, so pay attention to small changes in your routine or symptoms. Factors like the timing of intake, changing doses or brands, or starting new medication for another health condition can all impact how effective your hypothyroidism medication is. That’s why it’s important to take note of these changes, and communicate with your doctor if you notice a change in your symptoms. It might mean time to get your hormone levels checked — which is a routine part of hypothyroidism treatment — or indicate a need to adjust medication.
Lastly, stress management is key! Managing stress is important in general but it’s even more important if you have hypothyroidism. Stress may not be a risk factor for hypothyroidism itself, but it worsens symptoms by weakening the immune system and slowing thyroid function. Managing symptoms and adjusting to a new diagnosis and medication routine may even create stress.
Managing your stress will help you feel better and improve your body’s overall functioning. In addition to diet, exercise, and getting enough sleep, find time to meditate or relax. Staying mindful throughout helps you tune in to your body’s physical and emotional state, so you can identify and address stress early on. Being attuned to your body’s feelings and needs also helps you monitor your symptoms. One study among women with Hashimoto’s disease showed that stress management helped reduce their symptoms of anxiety and depression.
If you’re having trouble managing your stress or symptoms with hypothyroidism, our team of medical experts can help. Alpha provides stress-free online consultations and treatment from the comfort of your home.