The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck. Most of us give very little thought to our thyroid until it no longer works as it should. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a condition in which the thyroid doesn’t make enough of the vital hormones T3 and T4.
Hypothyroidism is more common in people who have type 2 diabetes than in the general population. It’s also more likely to occur in women and in those over age 60. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Dry hair and skin
- Joint pain
- A puffy face
- A slower heart rate
- High cholesterol
Hypothyroidism is usually treated with a synthetic form of thyroid hormone called levothyroxine. You will need blood tests when you start taking the medication, and then usually once a year to make sure it’s working as it should.
While there is no cure for hypothyroidism, there are things that you can do to help manage it and, importantly, reverse or control the symptoms.
- Take your thyroid medication as directed. This means taking the right dose at the same time each day, generally on an empty stomach. Ideally, before you eat breakfast. You can also take it three hours after your last meal of the day.
- Find out about medication interactions. Some medications and dietary supplements can interact with thyroid medication. These include antacids, calcium and iron supplements, blood thinners, birth control pills, and certain cholesterol drugs. These interactions affect the absorption of the thyroid medication. So in general, it’s best to take your thyroid medicine at a different time than your other medicines and supplements. But always check with your doctor or pharmacist first.
- Include “thyroid-boosting” nutrients in your diet. Get key nutrients for hormone production and actionin these foods:
- Selenium – found in Brazil nuts and hazelnuts
- Magnesium – found in leafy greens and whole grains
- Zinc – found in beef and oysters
- Iodine – found in fish and seaweed
- Eat these foods with caution. Kale, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli are veggie superstars, but if you’re not getting enough iodine in your diet, these foods can block iodine absorption. The same holds true for soy foods, such as tofu, soymilk and Eat these foods only if you’re getting enough iodine.
- Ask about supplements. If you’re falling short on iodine from food sources, you might benefit from taking an iodine supplement. Other supplements might be helpful too, such as magnesium and selenium. Always check with your healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement.
- Fight fatigue and joint pain. Thyroid medicine should help with hypothyroid symptoms, but don’t overlook the benefits of exercise. Low-impact activities, such as walking, swimming, tai chi or yoga, can boost your energy level and combat joint and muscle pain.
- Get your rest. Hypothyroidism can make you tired, so it’s important to get plenty of rest. Stick with a regular sleep schedule; try to go to bed at the same time every night, and aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep.
- Work on your weight. Weight gain is a common side effect of low thyroid. While losing weight can be challenging, it’s definitely possible! Set small, realistic goals and try not to get discouraged. If you need help with a weight loss plan, ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a registered dietitian.
- Partner with your doctor. While hypothyroidism can be managed successfully, medication doses often need adjusting. You might also do better on one type of thyroid medication over another. You need to be comfortable discussing your symptoms and medication options with your healthcare provider to make sure your treatment is doing its job.
- Check your blood sugars regularly. Changes in your thyroid hormone levels can affect your blood sugars, so be sure to monitor your blood sugars and get your A1C level checked at your healthcare provider’s office at least twice a year.
- Know your blood lipids. Having hypothyroidism can raise your cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats), so know your levels. If they’re above target, talk with your healthcare provider and dietitian about changes you might make to your food choices and physical activity, and whether medication might be an option for you.