One of the main functions of the small butterfly-shaped thyroid gland (in the neck just in front of the windpipe) is to produce specific hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism.
However, they also play a part in breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and muscle strength, among many other vital functions!
These hormones are called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) and many of the body’s functions slow down when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough of them.
What Factors Affect Thyroid Health?
Just like the many functions that the thyroid plays a part in, the factors that can affect its health and proper functioning are many as well.
Among these factors are:
- Fluctuating hormone levels during pregnancy and throughout the menstrual cycle
- Stress and sickness
- Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep
- Dieting and/or changes in diet that may include an overabundance of goitrogenic foods like cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli & kale), peanuts, cassava and sweet potato
- Mineral levels – namely iodine and selenium
- Gut parasites and leaky gut syndrome
- Certain medications that may interfere with thyroid hormone levels, or with their action, potentially altering TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) as the body attempts to compensate for too low (or too high) thyroid hormone activity
READ MORE ABOUT: How Medications Affect Thyroid Function
What Is An Underactive Thyroid?
This is quite simply when your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone to maintain proper gland function. It is also referred to as hypothyroidism.
Common signs of an underactive thyroid
- Tiredness (sometimes extreme)
- Weight gain or weight loss resistance
- Depression and mood swings
- Cold sensitivity
- Dry skin and hair
- Muscle and joint aches
Who develops an underactive thyroid?
Both men and women can have an underactive thyroid, although it is more common in women. Children can also develop this condition and some babies are even born with it.
Most cases are caused either by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland and damaging it, or when damage occurs during treatment for an overactive thyroid or thyroid cancer.
What are other thyroid disorders?
- Hyperactive thyroid and Grave’s Disease
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroid disease)
- Thyroid nodules
- Thyroid cancer
4 Lifestyle Tips to Help Manage An Underactive Thyroid
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid are often similar to those of other health conditions, and because they usually develop slowly, you may not notice them for years.
While prevention or reversing this condition requires a more involved protocol, it IS possible to effectively manage it by improving upon several lifestyle factors.
- Exercise regularly and keep body weight in check
- Manage stress – Yoga has been proven to positively impact hypothyroidism
- Eat thyroid supporting foods and mind your minerals; be especially careful with supplementation – iodine in particular
- Decrease alcohol intake – a general health recommendation, but can be quite important in managing an underactive thyroid
Something that you must understand is that medication may still be necessary even if you’re doing your due diligence with all of the above factors.
However, a qualified and knowledgeable Healthcare Practitioner is key to most effectively manage this condition, and you should ask to be tested for an underactive thyroid if you’re experiencing some of the common symptoms.
Part of the treatment for an underactive thyroid usually involves taking daily hormone replacement, but again, be sure to consult a qualified Healthcare Practitioner before taking any medication or even supplements that claim to support thyroid health.
As many cases of an underactive thyroid are caused by autoimmune issues, this usually signals underlying inflammation. Turning to foods that reduce that inflammation and support the immune system is crucial.
The antioxidant-rich golden spice Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and our recipe for Golden Spiced Chai Milk is a warming way to boost your health and support your thyroid.
Golden Spiced Chai Milk
Makes 2 servings
2 cups unsweetened coconut, cashew, almond, or hemp milk
1 Tbsp raw honey or pure maple syrup
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated ginger root (equivalent to ¼ – ½ tsp. ground dried ginger)
Dash of black pepper
2 organic chai tea bags (green tea variety suggested)
In a small saucepan – pour all ingredients, except the tea bags
While continuously whisking, bring to a gentle boil until spices are well mixed
Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, but do not allow milk to scald
Give it another quick whisk, then add the chai tea bags
Steep for 3 minutes before serving
Elsevier (Aug 2011): The impact of yoga upon female patients suffering from hypothyroidism
Thyroid (Journal, July 2010): Environmental Exposures and Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
Very Well Health: 14 Tips for Living Well with Thyroid Disease
NHS: Underactive Thyroid (info page)