If you have recently been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), you know that your thyroid is not producing enough hormones to control your metabolism. This can lead to weight gain, lethargy, depression, slowed reflexes, hair loss, menstrual problems, and other issues.
Being diagnosed with hypothyroidism – the causes
- Autoimmune disease. People who develop a particular inflammatory disorder known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis suffer from the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
- After treatment for hyperthyroidism. People who produce too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) are often treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications to reduce and normalize their thyroid function. However, in some cases, treatment of hyperthyroidism can result in permanent hypothyroidism.
- Thyroid surgery. Removing all or a large portion of your thyroid gland can diminish or halt hormone production. In that case, you’ll need to take thyroid hormone for life.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation used to treat cancers of the head and neck can affect your thyroid gland and may lead to hypothyroidism.
- Medication side effects. A number of medications can contribute to hypothyroidism. One such medication is lithium, which is used to treat certain psychiatric disorders.
Less often, hypothyroidism may result from one of the following:
- Iodine deficiency. The trace mineral iodine — found primarily in seafood, seaweed, plants grown in iodine-rich soil and iodized salt — is essential for the production of thyroid hormones. In some parts of the world, iodine deficiency is common, but the addition of iodine to table salt has virtually eliminated this problem in Australia.
- Pregnancy. Some women develop hypothyroidism during or after pregnancy (postpartum hypothyroidism), often because they produce antibodies to their own thyroid gland. Left untreated, hypothyroidism increases the risk of miscarriage, premature delivery and preeclampsia — a condition that causes a significant rise in a woman’s blood pressure during the last three months of pregnancy. It can also seriously affect the developing fetus.
- Congenital disease. Some babies are born with a defective thyroid gland or no thyroid gland. In most cases, the thyroid gland didn’t develop normally for unknown reasons, but some children have an inherited form of the disorder. Often, infants with congenital hypothyroidism appear normal at birth. That’s one reason why most states now require newborn thyroid screening.
- Pituitary disorder. A relatively rare cause of hypothyroidism is the failure of the pituitary gland to produce enough thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) — usually because of a benign tumor of the pituitary gland.
Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may or may not have already prescribed hormone replacement therapy. For which you will take daily doses of thyroid hormones in pill form to supplement or replace your thyroid gland’s production. Your doctor may also decide to monitor your thyroid health over the next few months. As pregnancy, and some medical conditions can affect your thyroid temporarily and it may bounce back after some time.
Whether your doctor has prescribed hormone replacement therapy or not, you have a choice now. You can do nothing and hope that your body rights itself on its own. Or you can make some lifestyle and dietary changes that could boost your overall health and help your body get back on track.
Changing Your Lifestyle to Help Your Thyroid Health
If, like most people, diet and exercise come second to things like work and family time, it might be time to make some changes. Some of those changes can significantly affect your thyroid gland and your need for hormone medication.
As far as your diet goes, there is no specific diet plan for people with hypothyroidism. However, you can help improve your health by eating fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. These foods are high in vitamins and nutrients and relatively low in calories, so the body doesn’t have to work as hard to process them.
Some nutritionists also recommend that you eat several small meals spaced out throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels even and your energy levels stable.
Some cruciferous vegetables, for example, have been linked with slowing down your thyroid function. Cruciferous vegetables can potentially be goitrogenic (inducing goitre formation). They contain enzymes that interfere with the formation of thyroid hormone. Cooking for 30 minutes significantly reduces the amount of goitrogens and nitriles. With high intake the goitrogens inhibit the incorporation of iodine into thyroid hormone and also the transfer of iodine into milk by the mammary gland.
Kale is considered a goitrogenic food. In fact, all cruciferous vegetables like kale are considered goitrogenic, including arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, mustard greens, turnips, and watercress.
Eating greens in their usual amounts will not be a significant contributor toward thyroid disorders. As always, it is important to talk to your doctor regarding your individual risk for a thyroid disorder and what types of food are right for you.
Get Plenty of Cardiovascular and Strength-Building Exercise
If you aren’t already exercising regularly, talk to your doctor before starting a new workout routine. If you have never run a day in your life, you won’t do well trying to run a 5K the first time you leave your couch. However, you will most likely benefit greatly from taking a 20-30 minute walk at least 5 times a week.
Find a form of exercise that you like and that you can fit into your routine, like taking walks with your family, riding bicycles, or jogging with a group of friends. Working cardiovascular exercise into your routine like this will help you maintain your weight and may reduce the dosage of hormone pills you have to take per day.
Adding weight-bearing exercises to build muscle strength will also help you, as increased muscle mass can increase your basal (resting) metabolic rate. This, too, can help boost your overall health – which can help compensate for some of the effects of hypothyroidism.
Unless your hypothyroidism is a temporary condition brought on by pregnancy or some other condition, you will likely not see an increase in natural thyroid production again. You will, most likely, need to continue with hormone replacement therapy for the rest of your life. However, a healthy lifestyle in combination with thyroid hormone replacement medication can keep you healthy, energetic, and at an appropriate weight for your body and age.