Are you one of the 20% of people in the UK living with a thyroid problem? You sleep for hours but never feel refreshed the next day. Maybe you’ve noticed your hair falling out, or you put on weight if you so much as look at a chocolate bar… Thyroid issues might be common, but how they manifest themselves can have a major impact on your health and wellbeing. An underactive thyroid or autoimmune thyroid disease like hashimotos can upset almost everything! From your metabolism, to how well you sleep, your skin and hair, your libido, and much more.
What causes thyroid problems?
For most people, an underactive thyroid is caused by an autoimmune disease, where the immune system creates antibodies that attack and destroy thyroid cells. This results in large numbers of white blood cells building up in the thyroid and damaging it, so it can’t make enough thyroid hormones. Known as ‘hashimotos’, the name comes from the Japanese Doctor that discovered the disease: Hakaru Hashimoto.
What are the symptoms of hashimotos or an underactive thyroid?
Until your thyroid stops working properly, you might not realise just how crucial this butterfly-shaped gland in your neck is to feel ‘normal’ and well. If your thyroid isn’t making enough hormones the most common symptoms are; weight gain, a slower heart rate, fatigue, very heavy or irregular periods, brain fog, dry skin and brittle hair, and a hoarse voice. Always reaching for an extra jumper? You could have hashimotos or an underactive thyroid – another classic symptom is intolerance to cold.
How is an underactive thyroid or hashimotos diagnosed?
Detecting hashimotos or thyroid disease is notoriously tricky. Doctors rely on blood tests where they check the levels of the thyroid-related hormones T3, T4, and TSH. Sounds straightforward enough… But the levels of these hormones constantly shift, depending on lots of factors. The time of day. Whether you ate before the test. If you slept well the night before (unlikely, if your thyroid is playing up!)… Even having a stressful day can skew your results.
This means you could get a normal result, even when your thyroid isn’t functioning as it should. In many cases, your thyroid dysfunction might not show up in your blood tests until it’s well established. By which point you’re likely to be feeling pretty dreadful, and it’s a long road back to recovery. That’s why paying attention to your symptoms is so important. Some doctors will diagnose you and offer you treatment based on your symptoms instead.
How is thyroid disease treated?
The standard treatment for an underactive thyroid and hashimotos is to take thyroxine, a synthetic version of thyroid hormone T4. But you often won’t be prescribed this drug unless your blood tests are at the levels the NHS defines as ‘abnormal’.
PLUS, lots of thyroid advocates, like Paul Robinson, believe you need to supplement with both thyroid hormones: T4 AND T3 to feel truly well. So even if you can get your hands on a thyroxine prescription, it’s not necessarily a cure-all that will get rid of every symptom.
Thankfully supporting your thyroid function isn’t just about medication. There are LOTS of other things you can do to improve your thyroid health and get back to your old self. Whether you’re taking thyroxine, but still don’t feel your best, or you suspect you’ve got an undiagnosed thyroid issue, here are some simple tips that could make a huge difference:
The best natural ways to manage thyroid diseases like hashimotos:
1. Take thyroid-friendly supplements
If you prefer to take a natural approach to support your thyroid, make sure you’re getting enough selenium and iodine. Both these nutrients are essential for a well-functioning thyroid. AND studies have shown that if you get plenty of them, you’re also much less likely to develop a thyroid problem in the first place – phew!
Keen to try some herbal helpers that research shows improve thyroid hormone levels? Ashwagandha is your must-have. Doctors believe it works by lowering cortisol, which can suppress thyroid hormone production. In some cases it has been seen to actually heal thyroid and adrenal tissues – magic!
And don’t forget your vitamins. You need decent levels of vitamin B12, B1, A, and D to keep your thyroid function tip-top. And if your thyroid isn’t working properly, your body can’t store or use vitamins as effectively. So it’s even more important to supplement to prevent deficiencies from developing.
The supersonic T-Synergy Thyroid patch just so happens to contain all these goodies (except vitamin D, which you can grab here). PLUS loads more thyroid-friendly nutrients. One easy to use patch, with pretty much everything you need to support your thyroid – high five.
2. Give gluten and sugar a miss (for now)
It might sound wild, but yes, that delicious (but gluten heavy) croissant you had for breakfast really could have an impact on how your thyroid works. Even if you aren’t Coeliac, if you’re in the middle of an inflammatory immune response (ie your immune system attacking your thyroid), eating gluten can ‘irritate’ your immune cells and add more fuel to the fire. Increasing the inflammation of your thyroid gland and the severity of your symptoms.
While this isn’t the case for everyone, naturopathic thyroid experts like Tanya Borowski recommend trying an elimination diet. This is where you don’t eat anything containing gluten for at least 30 days (longer if you can). That way, you can find out if gluten is making your hashimotos symptoms worse. Sugar = another culprit behind increased inflammation. So it’s worth trying to limit how much of that you eat too and seeing how you feel.
3. Get your gut health on point
Got a thyroid issue and find yourself constantly battling with tummy troubles? You’re not alone, poor gut health often goes hand in hand with thyroid disease like hashimotos. And it’s very much a vicious circle: a leaky gut allows undigested food into the bloodstream, triggering immune attacks on the thyroid. This leads to poor thyroid function, which impairs digestion and makes a leaky gut and your general digestive health worse. And so it goes…
The good news is you can break the cycle by getting a happier gut. There are no quick fixes, but a good place to start is taking a probiotic every day. Eating plenty of gut flora boosting foods like yoghurt, unpasteurised cheese, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi (maybe not all together!) will also help.
You might also need to look at your diet and lifestyle, for more tips on healing your gut our dedicated blog is here.
4. Manage your stress
Always stressed out? A looming work deadline, delays on your commute, or the small matter of the dreaded ‘cost of living crisis’… Stress is everywhere, and it’s probably making your thyroid problems or hashimotos worse – as if you didn’t already have enough to worry about!
Not only is stress like rocket fuel for inflammation in your body, it also triggers the production of the hormone cortisol. And too much cortisol can inhibit thyroid hormone production. Another reason to keep your stress levels down.
We don’t have a magic solution to eliminate the stressful stuff in life (if only!), but you can change the way you respond to it. Breathing techniques, mindfulness, or practices like yoga and pilates that combine both these things are all excellent ways to manage your stress.
Yoga and breathing it out, not your bag? Getting active and running or working out can also help to de-stress by producing plenty of feel-good endorphins. Plus, moderate exercise is also good for reducing your cortisol levels overall. AND it has a positive effect on your gut health and immune system. Four wins in one!