It's that time of year when much of the country is up to its neck in freezing cold weather, and pockets of snow, ice, and cold have taken hold all around the nation. Surviving the cold weather season means it's time to pay attention to some tips that can help you "winterize" your thyroid, and enjoy better health during these colder months.
1. Get your thyroid levels checked.
Cold weather can increase your body's need for thyroid hormone, make you more hypothyroid, and may cause your TSH to rise, and Free T4 and Free T3 levels to drop. If you notice hypothyroid symptoms worsening as the weather gets colder, it's worth having your blood levels evaluated. You may need a slight increase in your thyroid hormone replacement dosage. Some doctors even make it a standard practice to raise their patients' dosages slightly during colder months, in order to meet the body's requirements.
2. Tune up your thyroid.
If you're still having significant hypothyroid symptoms, it's a good time to check in with your physician to discuss whether you are at the optimum TSH level for you. Some patients feel best when TSH levels are at low-normal range, so it's worth discussing with your doctor. Keep in mind that while some doctors consider the TSH reference range (.3 to 4.5 or so) is "normal, some practitioners feel strongly that TSH levels above 1.5 to 2.0 are not optimal, and require further assessment, more in-depth blood testing, and evaluation of symptoms.
3. Make sure you're on the optimal thyroid drug for you.
Some patients feel better on natural desicccated thyroid drugs (i.e., Armour thyroid or Nature-throid), others need the addition of a T3 drug (like Cytomel), and some do best when switching from one brand of synthetic levothyroxine, i.e., Synthroid, Unithroid, or Tirosint. Make sure you're on the right drug that safely relieves the majority of your hypothyroidism symptoms. (Read Thyroid Patients: Do You Need T3 or Natural Desiccated Thyroid?)
4. Start exercising.
Cold weather blues may make you less likely to work out, but there's no better time to begin a regular program of exercise. Whether you join a gym, start a walking program, take a yoga class, or do Pilates tapes, even a gentle exercise program can help banish the blues and relieve stress -- not to mention help avoid winter weight gain. Not sure how to exercise in the winter? Read these Winter Exercise Tips! Need an indoor exercise program that won't exhaust you? Try my favorite program, T-Tapp.
5. Get some sunlight every day.
There's evidence that exposure to sunlight affects hormones that have an impact on both brain chemistry and the endocrine system. Even if you don't suffer from a full-out case of "seasonal affective disorder," 20 to 30 minutes a day of outdoor light exposure can help ward off fatigue and depression. My doctor's own tip...if you don't want to be outside for prolonged periods when it's cold, go run errands in your car, but keep the window open, so you are exposed to the natural sunlight. (Keep in mind, wearing sunglasses will reduce the benefit of the sunlight.) If you have a more pronounced seasonal affective disorder, and find yourself gaining weight and feeling significantly depressed during the colder months, consider light therapy. I have a Sunbox DL desktop desk lamp that I LOVE, it helps a great deal these colder, greyer days. Also make sure to get Vitamin D levels checked, and supplement if necessary.
6. Eat less sugar.
While a cold day may say hot chocolate and cookies, that may be the worst thing you can do. Many people with thyroid conditions find that they are susceptible to processed sugar, in a number of different ways. They may have some underlying yeast overgrowth candidiasis, or they may have some level of insulin resistance, or they may have some autoimmune susceptibility or food allergies to processed sugars. But with the double whammy of winter weight gain and depression both being factors that can be affected by too much sugar in the diet, it makes sense to bypass sugary treats as much as possible, in favor of healthier alternatives. There are some dietary suggestions in my book The Thyroid Diet Revolution.
7. Get enough sleep.
The average American doesn't get enough sleep. Add a thyroid condition to the mix, and it's clear that many thyroid patients are walking around in a state of chronic sleep deprivation. Autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances and difficulty losing weight are all aggravated by insufficient sleep, so it's critical that you make sure you get your zzzz's. How much do you need? The typical adult without a thyroid problem need seven to eight hours -- many thyroid patients even even more. And in the winter, our bodies seem to need even a bit more. So forego a bit of late night television in favor of a few extra winks, and your body will thank you for it.