Want to play a game? Look at the list below and label each of the 12 afflictions as either a symptom of perimenopause and menopause (something that generally occurs after age 50) or a side effect of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (which can be diagnosed at any age):
- Thinning eyebrows and hair loss
- Dry or dull skin
- Mood swings
- Low energy and fatigue
- Cold and heat intolerances
- Sleep disturbances and night sweats
- Brain fog and memory loss
- Stiff joints and muscle aches
- Bone loss and increased risk of osteoporosis
- Constipation and GI/digestive issues
- Weight gain and “puffiness”
- Hormonal changes and irregular or missed periods (amenorrhea)
How’d you do? Were you able to distinguish between menopause symptoms and Hashimoto’s corollaries? Well, it’s a bit of a trick question. All of these maladies can occur with both menopause and Hashimoto’s disease, so it begs the question: Is there a correlation between the two?
While there is some debate, many health experts believe Hashimoto’s does make your body age faster based on the following reasons:
- Chronic inflammation, as seen in autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s, interferes with the bodily functions that regulate the rate of aging and normal cell deterioration. One example of this is collagen production, the most prominent protein in the human body that aids in muscle growth, joint lubrication, and hair and skin health.
- Gut permeability, common among Hashimoto’s warriors, creates vitamin deficiencies that increase health risks associated with aging, such as osteoporosis. The most common deficiencies within the Hashimoto’s community include calcium and vitamin D (responsible for bone health), magnesium, selenium, zinc, and vitamin B.
- Low thyroid levels negatively influence estrogen levels. The thyroid gland regulates the reproductive system and the production of all sex hormones. Low thyroid function reduces estrogen production, which, in turn, negatively affects regular menstruation and accelerates the decline of reproduction capabilities. The US Department of Health and Humans Services has identified thyroid disease as a cause of premature ovarian failure and early onset menopause (occuring before the age of 40) and the National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that untreated early ovarian failure increases the risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, dementia, cognitive decline, and Parkinsonism, all of which are considered age-related illnesses.
- Chronic stress (both emotional and physical) wears on the body and speeds up cellular aging by shortening the length of DNA strands. Each chromosome has two protective end caps called telomeres. Telomere length is a marker of both biological (chronological) and cellular aging. Higher stress exposure = shorter telomere length = faster aging.
Based on these four points, having uncontrolled Hashimoto’s thyroiditis does, in fact, hasten the aging process. That may sound bleak, but it doesn’t mean Hashimoto’s fighters are destined for early retirement. A person’s destiny isn’t all in her genes; Epigenetics (the study of how the expression of DNA can be changed without changing the structure of DNA itself) plays a big role in human health, so before you pull up the rocking chair and don your best grandma sweater, focus on what you can do to create a healthy, full, vital life with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Best practices include:
- Making sure your thyroid levels are optimal
- Eating a whole foods diet
- Moving your body daily
- Reducing your exposure to environmental toxins
- Keeping stress in check
- Getting adequate sleep
- Considering complementary practices
- Shifting to a more accepting, positive, growth-oriented mindset
Hashimoto’s doesn’t have to be an early ticket to the land of AARP. You may not be able to control every aspect of an autoimmune disease, but you can control enough of the outside influences to make a favorable impact on your health. A positive attitude goes a long way and a genuine smile is the best tool for looking younger — That, and a good hair stylist, too!
AUTHOR’S DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, physical trainer, registered dietician, or health care provider. I am not licensed to give medical or nutritional advice. The purpose of this article is to share personal experiences and current research in order to educate, inform, and support readers. It should not be taken as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your doctor and/or professional medical team to determine if the ideas discussed herein are appropriate for your individual circumstances.