Under active Thyroid: What does that mean?
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
So- your GP has just told you that you have 'an under active thyroid'. Maybe you've been started on medication or maybe you've been told you don't need medication just yet and that you're to wait until your condition gets worse!
This blog post is for the newly officially diagnosed- I'll be writing a blog post about subclinical hypothyroidism and for those that are experiencing symptoms and have blood results that look a little suspicious very soon!
First things first- I'm all about the keeping things as natural as possible when it comes to health and I believe in the bodies ability to self heal- but with hypothyroidism your medication is key to feeling well, being hypothyroid and unmedicated is not good and I'll explain why.
A certain amount of thyroid destruction will have taken place in order for medication to be warranted by your doctor. Inadequate circulating thyroid hormones causes a domino effect of sub optimal functioning of key body systems such as immune health, hormonal health, digestive health and brain health and mental wellbeing to name a few. I'm not saying that medication is a magic bullet and many find that some symptoms still persist after medication, but it's a very important part of the puzzle of feeling well with Hashimoto's.
So, what body systems are affected by hypothyroidism? Firstly, it's important to know that most hypothyroidism cases in the western world are caused by an autoimmune condition called 'Hashimoto's thyroiditis' (named after the Doctor that first discovered it- Dr Hakaru Hashimoto). This means that your immune system has started to attack its own tissues- the thyroid gland in this case.
Why would your immune system start attacking your thyroid? Well, that's a whole other post for another day, what I can say (briefly) is that we can't just solely blame our genetics- even if other family members have the same disease. True, there is often a genetic component, but many of us have unfavourable genetic variants that never get a chance to express themselves unless a series of disease promoting environmental conditions are met. The 'environmental conditions' that interact with our genetics could be chronic stress- (a huge one), hormonal fluctuations, unchecked food sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies or a high toxic load.
Another common imbalance often associated with any autoimmune disease is poor gut health and increased gut permeability- even if your guts don't feel particularly symptomatic. Having said that, many people live with a malfunctioning gut and think it's normal i.e loose bowels one week, and then constipated the next or constantly bloated and full of gas. This is not 'normal', it's just common. I'll be writing more in depth about this in a blog post about the role of the gut and Hashimoto's very soon!
So back to your diagnosis, what now? Whilst your doctor is taking care of you from a medical perspective, in the meantime there is plenty that you can be doing to help yourself.
As a registered nutritional therapist I often work with clients and ask them to prioritise sleep- I like to get 8-9 hours, not the standard British 6!- although lockdown may have addressed this issue! Plenty of sleep should not be seen as a 'nice to have', I mean those with hypothyroidism really need to prioritise sleep. You guessed it, i'll be writing a blog on the ins and outs of sleep for Hashimoto's soon!
Next is to take care of your gut. Cutting out gluten is often recommended as non coeliac gluten sensitivity is strongly associated with Hashimoto's and Graves disease (Graves is the overactive autoimmune version of autoimmune thyroid disease). There is also an association between full blown coeliac disease and Hashimoto's- (which is a serious genetic autoimmune condition resulting in destruction of the gut, requiring a super strict gluten free diet for life).
Testing for non coeliac gluten sensitivity should be done with a registered health professional as there are some pretty unreliable tests out there.
So, back to what you can do to help yourself, eating a wide variety of foods, vegetables and fruits feed the bacteria in the gut- a diverse mix of these foods promotes a desirable mix of diverse gut bacteria. The bacteria in our gut can have a powerful effect on our health including bowel habits, skin health, weight gain, mood disorders, nutrient absorption and diabetes! Crucially, if the gut bacteria is in a healthy balance it promotes the health of the gut lining (remember the bit about increased gut permeability- we don't want that). So, yes, taking care of our gut bacteria is kind of a big deal. Feeding the gut white toast for breakfast, sandwiches and cake at lunch and then pizza for dinner is not going to help your condition or your gut health (obvs).
Now is also a good time to reconsider your boundaries and protect your energy. You may have noticed that the weight of chronic fatigue is weighing ever heavier with Hashimoto's. Our energy is not infinite and we can't magic more up out of nowhere, we need to learn to say 'NO' more often and say 'YES' to resting and doing what recharges our batteries. Resting more is a great support to the immune system. By resting I mean being fully present with relaxing, not watching the anxiety inducing news whilst scrolling through social media!
Get away from the constant triggers that cause our internal stress chemistry to ignite and practice getting into a relaxed state more often- we like to call this the 'parasympathetic state'. This relaxed state is where we digest our food a lot better, where we stop making demands on ourselves and find we can breathe deep. A great way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system is through yoga and breathing techniques or walking in nature. The more we practice, the better at it we become.
So, to summarise, there are a few things to be getting on with. Prioritise getting plenty of sleep- lights out by 10pm! Consider saying goodbye to gluten, widen the variety of vegetables and fruit in your diet, learn to say 'NO' to energy vampires and prioritise relaxing by doing one thing you enjoy at a time- no multi-tasking!
I will be adding much more meat onto the bones in my blogs over the coming months- be sure to stop by.
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