It may not technically be winter until December 21, but the days are already shorter, darker, and colder across most of the United States. For many of us with Hashimoto’s disease, that means symptom flare-ups, but there are steps you can take to “winterize” your thyroid and minimize attacks.
It is known that Hashimoto’s disease causes hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism goes hand in hand with having a slower metabolism, which in turn means having a lower core body temperature and/or being more sensitive to — or even having an intolerance to — the cold. TSH levels often rise to compensate for the thyroid’s inability to produce enough of the hormone required to generate much needed body heat during the colder months. Unfortunately, an increase in TSH can lead to an outbreak of symptoms, such as constipation, weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, depression, irritability, dry skin, hair loss, and, as previously mentioned, decreased metabolism and increased cold intolerance.
So what’s a Hashi girl (or guy) to do? Here are 10 ways to prepare yourself — and your thyroid — for winter:
1. Check yourself (before you wreck yourself)
It’s doubtful that rapper Ice Cube was singing about Hashimoto’s patients, but he very well could have been with that refrain. You may need more thyroid medication to counteract the frequent increase in TSH levels that accompany colder temperatures, or vitamin D supplements to offset deficiencies that commonly occur during the winter months when there is less natural sunlight available to absorb. Have your blood levels checked, especially if experiencing flare-ups or worsening symptoms, and act accordingly.
2. Keep it moving
Daily movement keeps things “regular” and has been scientifically proven to produce a myriad of benefits. Not only does exercise create energy, burn calories, build muscles, strengthen bones, increase blood flow, stimulate bowel functions, produce antioxidants, relieve stress, improve mood, improve sleep, and protect brain function, moving your body also generates that much needed body heat we crave during winter!
3. Soak up the sun
Shorter days and less sunlight can throw off your internal clock, resulting in fatigue, brain fog, and even depression. This seasonal down shift in mood is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and many with hypothyroidism experience it. The fix? You can move to a tropical island, or just bundle up and go outside! Even twenty minutes a day (especially in the morning) has been shown to increase mood. Other remedies may include light box therapy, exercise, meditation, aromatherapy, vitamin D supplements, and doctor-prescribed herbs and/or medication.
4. Bundle up
No one can control the weather, but you can dress for it. Think, layers! There’s nothing wrong with wearing thermal underwear or two pairs of wooly socks under your clothes. (Long-sleeved shirts with thumb holes so you can pull the sleeves down over your hands are my personal favorite!) Invest in a warm winter coat and plenty of accessories, such as hats, gloves, scarves or neck warmers, socks, boots, etc. You can even purchase hand and foot warmers to use when outside. Once inside, raise the temperature at home, soak in a warm bath (bonus points for adding healing epsom salt/magnesium sulfate), sit by a warm fireplace, snuggle with a pet or loved one, use space heaters and electric blankets (with caution), or try infrared therapy. (These tips are especially useful for those with Raynaud’s syndrome).
5. Keep your diet on point
Scary Hashimoto’s holiday season math: A slower metabolism + winter comfort food + holiday treats + celebratory drinks = winter weight gain. Add in less movement and more stress, and you have a recipe for disaster. Food is medicine! Know and avoid your food triggers (gluten, dairy, and soy are the big three). Make healthy swaps when possible, curb your sweet tooth, limit/avoid alcohol and processed foods, and consider adding in doctor-approved supplements, probiotics, and “superfoods,” like collagen and bone broth. After all, chicken soup is good for the soul and the body.
6. Spice things up
Thermogenesis is the process by which the body produces heat during digestion. Some foods and spices have thermogenic properties, including: chili pepper, red pepper, cayenne pepper, and black pepper; polyphenols, such as green tea, carob, curcumin, and resveratrol; and certain healthy fats, like avocado, ghee, duck fat, and coconut oil. Try adding them to warm winter dishes for the added health benefit and extra flavor kick.
7. Have a drink
Drinking warm beverages may not actually increase your core body temperature, but sipping on hot coffee, tea, (raw) cocoa, and even warm water with lemon does temporarily heat up your mouth and stomach. Plus, the steam feels good on your face and holding a toasty mug on a cold day warms your hands. #winning
8. Avoid getting sick
Winter is cold and flu season, and Hashimoto’s warriors are more prone to illness and longer recovery times due to compromised immune systems. Take precautionary steps to limit exposure to illness by diligently washing hands, taking extra vitamin C, zinc, and elderberry, and consider getting the flu shot.
9. Prioritize sleep and stress reduction
Poor sleep and high levels of stress are known to exacerbate autoimmune conditions. Despite the busy season, aim for seven or more hours of quality sleep, take naps as needed, and incorporate some form of self-care into your daily routine — be it yoga, meditation, journaling, knitting, or whatever keeps you calm and centered.
10. Pace yourself
Know that you can’t do it all — and that’s okay! The key is to listen to your body cues and know your limits. Give yourself space and grace to pull back when needed and say no if something doesn’t serve you.
Winter doesn’t have to be a misery. Take care of yourself. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup — even if it’s a cup of hot cocoa.
Author’s disclaimer: I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. The words and views shared herein are mine alone, based on personal experience and interpretation of current, available research. The purpose of this article is to educate and motivate readers to make their own health and wellness decisions after consulting with their own health care provider(s). It should not be taken as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician to insure tips given are appropriate for your individual circumstances.