Nutritionist's tips for an underactive thyroid
Most people won’t think much about their thyroid until something goes wrong with it. Despite being incredibly common, many people aren’t aware that an untreated underactive thyroid is linked to longer-term health implications including cardiovascular disease, pregnancy complications, and in extremely rare cases, a life threatening condition called a ‘myxoedema coma’ can develop (where thyroid hormone levels become dangerously low).
Amy Cottrell, Nutritional Therapist (MBANT, ANP, CNHC) and specialist in thyroid health, shares the symptoms of an underactive thyroid and how you can look after your thyroid health.
What is the thyroid?
An underactive thyroid – known as ‘hypothyroidism’ – affects 2 in 100 people and is ten times more common in women than men. It’s not known exactly why, but it’s been hypothesised that it’s linked to the hormonal fluctuations that women experience monthly, and also through their lives as they transition through life stages such as pregnancy and menopause.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
Symptoms can vary between individuals and the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Sensitivity to the cold
- Muscle aches, cramps and weakness
- Dry and scaly skin, brittle hair and nails
- Loss of libido
- Irregular or heavy periods
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Slow movements and thoughts and even problems with speaking (apraxia of speech)
Something called ‘Goitre’ might also develop, which is a painless swelling at the front of the neck, as a result of a swollen thyroid. Lesser-known signs and symptoms of an underactive thyroid also include fertility issues, heat intolerance, balance problems, and even high cholesterol. You may also enjoy reading:
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Worried you have an underactive thyroid?
The NHS generally investigates thyroid health via something called a ‘thyroid function test’, which checks for something called TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which is produced by the pituitary gland, as well as Thyroxine (T4), which is one of our thyroid hormones.
There is often more to thyroid health than these two markers in isolation, so it’s often worth testing more markers, which you can get done privately (and don’t worry, that’s not as expensive as it sounds - private tests linked to thyroid health can actually be pretty affordable and quick to carry out!).
Even if you already know you’ve got an underactive thyroid, it’s a good idea to test for something called “auto-antibodies” in the blood, which help to determine if your underactive thyroid is caused by something called ‘Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis’, which is linked to autoimmunity, and is essentially where the immune system recognises its own thyroid gland as foreign and starts attacking it.
How to test your thyroid health
When investigating your thyroid health, it’s important to get a larger picture of your overall health, by including at least all of the following tests:
- Full Thyroid Panel (TSH, T4, T3)
- Antibodies (Anti-TG & Anti-TPO to check for autoimmunity)
- Vitamins D, B9 & B12
- Full Iron Panel (Iron, ferritin, TIBC, transferrin saturation)
- Full Lipid Panel (cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL, LDL)
- CRP HS (a marker of inflammation)
- Full Blood Count (FBC)
How to look after your thyroid health
Some of the key nutrients that help to bolster our thyroids include:
It may be best to consult with a Nutritional Therapist if you are considering supplementation to support your thyroid health, because certain nutrients in supplement form might actually make some symptoms worse or can be detrimental to thyroid health. You can also learn more in 'Supplements for an underactive thyroid'.
When it comes to your diet for thyroid health, it's important to adopt a wholefood diet that is filled with plenty of anti-inflammatory foods including:
- Healthy fats - avocado, seeds, nuts, olive oil, chia seeds, flaxseeds
- Lots of vegetables and fruit (in moderation).
Avoid processed foods and foods high in refined sugar. It might not sound like much fun, but reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption can also have a positive impact on our thyroid health.
Lifestyle changes for thyroid health
Since our thyroids are sensitive souls, they are impacted by excess stress, lack of sleep, excessive stimulants as well as sedentary lifestyles. Therefore, in addition to being mindful of your diet, lifestyle modifications can also play a key role in managing symptoms of an underactive thyroid. Make sure you prioritise getting enough good quality sleep, moving your body regularly through the day, and managing your stress levels and any anxiety you experience.
Living with an underactive thyroid does not mean that you have to put up with debilitating symptoms. It’s important to talk to your doctor, get the necessary testing (consider privately if not via the NHS), and be willing to modify your diet and lifestyle, so that you can work towards regaining your energy, maintaining a healthy weight and ultimately feel like yourself again!
Amy Cottrell is a Nutritional Therapist with a particular interest in thyroid health who provides 1:1 support to busy individuals struggling with low energy, loss of motivation and unwanted weight gain, and helps them to rediscover their mojo!
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