8 Ways to Live Better When Diagnosed With Hypothyroidism
Lifestyle Changes Can Improve Hypothyroidism
Any doctor will tell you that to manage hypothyroidism, you need an appropriate dosage of synthetic thyroid hormone to replace what your body isn’t making on its own. But most people living with hypothyroidism believe that making lifestyle changes can be just as important.
If you’re not feeling well, there’s much to be gained from focusing on a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management, and more to help you feel your best with hypothyroidism, says David Borenstein, MD, an integrative medicine physician in New York City. “It’s extremely important to have a lifestyle that controls stress and provides proper nutrients,” he says.
You might start by examining your daily diet to see whether any changes or swaps can be made. Some people with hypothyroidism are proponents of "clean eating," which means focusing on whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible (read: minimally processed). If you're unsure about the kinds of foods you should be eating or you have questions about particular diets, such as gluten-free, you might consider an appointment with a dietitian.
More exercise is another lifestyle change that can make a big difference in the way you feel. As with a change in your diet, ask your doctor if there are any limitations you should be aware of and start new workout routines gradually. Because joint pain often accompanies hypothyroidism, stick with low-impact aerobic exercise such as walking, riding a stationary bike or yoga.
One of the added benefits of a yoga practice, in addition to building strength and flexibility, are gentle breathing techniques that can calm the mind. Yoga classes, along with tai chi or dedicated meditation, can help reduce tension or anxiety, which is important when you live with hypothyroidism. Too much stress can cause receptor cells to resist thyroid hormone and weaken your immune system.
A study published in August 2011 in the journalComplementary Therapies in Clinical Practicefound that women with hypothyroidism who practiced yoga were better able to manage the symptoms that accompany the disease and reported measurable improvement in the quality of their lives after engaging in this ancient practice.
If you’re not feeling well despite following your hypothyroidism treatment regimen, try these lifestyle tips from experts and people living with hypothyroidism.
Be Vigilant About Eating Your Vegetables
Vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, but people with hypothyroidism may want to avoid cruciferous vegetables — such as turnips and cabbage — as they can block thyroid hormone production, Dr. Borenstein says.
However, Benjamin Snider, ND, a naturopathic physician at True Wellness Integrative Health Centre in Kitchener, Ontario, says that cruciferous vegetables offer many health benefits, and you should only restrict them if you have a severe iodine deficiency — as that’s when they’re most likely to affect thyroid function. Dr. Snider recommends steaming cruciferous vegetables, which may limit their harmful tendencies.
Try to Eat a Clean, Balanced Diet Every Day
Lorraine Williams, a volunteer for the British Thyroid Foundation and a blogger at Thyroid Hope, chooses to avoid any highly processed foods. “Learn to listen to your body and eat for good health,” she says.
Janelle Flores, a hypothyroidism blogger at Adventures of a Thyroidless Girl, is also an advocate for “clean” eating (she’s also gluten-free). “I’ve learned that eating healthy and ‘clean’ gives me the most energy and the best outcome,” she says.
Exercise Regularly but With Certain Limits
Flores stresses the importance of regular exercise, but also listening to your body. “If I’m having a bad day, I give myself a break,” she says. “However, I feel that I don't have as many bad days when I focus on eating correctly.” With the appropriate dosage of medication and regular exercise, her energy level is much higher, she says.
“Moderate exercise is very good for you. Just don’t overdo it,” Borenstein says. Overexertion can affect the body’s ability to convert inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to the active form (T3) by removing an iodine molecule, he explains, and "when that process doesn’t happen properly, it can cause hypothyroidism symptoms.”
Be Careful With Supplements
Use caution when considering supplements that claim to boost thyroid function: These supplements aren’t proven effective, says Anne R. Cappola, MD, an associate professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Some contain unregulated amounts of thyroid hormones, leading to excess levels.
In addition, some alternative medicine practitioners may recommend iodine supplements for hypothyroidism, but most people in the United States actually have adequate iodine levels (although pregnant women can be an exception). “Large quantities of iodine in supplements can cause a more rapid decline in thyroid function in people predisposed to thyroid insufficiency,” Dr. Cappola says. “These supplements should be avoided.”
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight (It Affects Hormone Levels)
Carrying too many pounds can lead to insulin resistance, which affects hormone levels, Borenstein says. Plus, overweight people need more thyroid hormone, Cappola adds. Obese people with borderline thyroid function may see improvements in thyroid function after weight loss.
Another weight loss benefit: a reduced risk of thyroid cancer. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the most common form of hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, raises the risk for a type of thyroid cancer called thyroid lymphoma. And a study published online in January 2015 in Medical Science Monitorfound that obesity also significantly increases the risk for thyroid cancer.
Manage Stress With Yoga Classes or Meditation
“Introducing stress management and mindfulness techniques should be a part of any hypothyroid program,” Snider says. That’s because stress can increase the resistance of thyroid receptor cells to thyroid hormone and weaken the immune system, he says.
Flores exercises to be physically healthy, but also to lower stress. “I especially find running or jogging therapeutic,” she says. But when she’s not feeling great, she lets herself relax and indulge in a day spent watching TV or reading.
Borenstein recommends yoga, tai chi, and meditation to help ease stress.
Practice Restorative Sleep Habits Every Night
“Good sleep is a no-brainer,” Borenstein says. You need sleep to relax, repair tissues, and help your body heal.
“Sleep is critical in optimizing thyroid function because it helps to regulate the stress hormone cortisol,” Snider says. Regular exercise and stress management can improve sleep quality, as can a regular sleep schedule and avoiding late-day caffeine, according to the National Sleep Foundation. It’s also important to have a healthy sleep environment that’s comfortable, cool, and dark.
Learn to Listen to Signals From Your Body
Hypothyroidism is different for everyone, and everybody responds differently to treatment. “I’ve learned my body well enough to know when I’m feeling like I need a medication dosage change,” Flores says.
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