Always start with the bad news, right?
Okay. Hypothyroidism cannot be definitively prevented.
The good news?
You can reduce your likelihood of developing the condition.
By understanding the risk factors, recognizing your symptoms, and getting diagnosed early, you can prevent the complications that can occur when thyroid disease goes undiagnosed, such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, or infertility.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. It produces hormones that regulate your body’s energy use, along with many other important functions. As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland makes and stores hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism in the form of blood pressure, blood temperature, and heart rate.
Hypothyroidism is a disease of thyroid function. When your thyroid hormone production drops, your body processes slow down and change. Hypothyroidism can affect many different systems in you body, and can cause symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, dry skin, thinning hair, constipation, and more.
Studies point to family history, nutritional deficiencies, damage to the pituitary gland,
certain medications, pregnancy or other large hormonal events, but it's hard to say exactly what causes hypothyroidism.
What we do know is that an estimated 90% of all hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder that damages the thyroid gland. Antibodies attack the thyroid gland leading to chronic inflammation. This disease can occur suddenly or silently over time.
While Hashimoto’s is the most common autoimmune thyroiditis, this category can also include lymphocytic thyroiditis, which is a decrease in thyroid activity after giving birth. Lymphocytic thyroiditis usually subsides and levels return to a normal state after 12-18 months postpartum.
Sometimes the problem is not in the thyroid gland itself, but rather in the gland that tells the thyroid what to do. The pituitary gland produces thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which tells the thyroid to produce and release triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). When the pituitary is damaged by a tumor, radiation, or surgery, it may no longer be able to produce the amount of TSH that the thyroid needs to properly function.
Surgical removal of the thyroid can also lead to hypothyroidism. Reasons to have your thyroid removed might include nodules, cancer, or treatment of Graves’ Disease (autoimmune hyperthyroidism). When the entire thyroid is removed, patients become hypothyroid because they no longer have a thyroid to produce hormones, at all. They start taking thyroid hormone replacement drugs immediately following surgery, and stay on these drugs for the remainder of life. These drugs mimic what your body would create naturally.
Certain medications can lead to low thyroid function. Lithium (sometimes used to treat depression and bipolar disorder) and amiodarone (sometimes used to treat heart rhythm conditions), may be among the two most common medications to lead to low hormone production. These drugs are most likely to trigger a response in patients who already have a genetic predisposition to autoimmune thyroid disease.
Because the thyroid gland is highly nutrient dependent, poor nutritional status is one of the root causes of thyroid dysfunction.
Key nutrients drive thyroid hormone production. Nutrient deficiencies can worsen symptoms and prevent thyroid medication from doing its job.
Additionally, dietary triggers can lead to increased gastrointestinal permeability, chronic inflammation, and a possible elevation in thyroid antibodies that would show the presence of Hashimoto’s.
Seeing your primary care doctor for regular checkups is important, for both your overall health and your thyroid health. If you know you have a family history thyroid disease, get your thyroid hormone levels checked on a yearly basis at your doctor or using our at-home test kit. Early detection can prevent complications down the road.
Research suggests that 70% of our immune system (our body’s defense system) resides in our gut, so it’s important to keep her healthy! Strengthening your gut with a diet rich in fruits and veggies (plus regular movement and proper sleep hygiene) will keep your immune system strong, too.
Work with a Paloma Nutritionist to understand your food sensitivities, which can create intestinal permeability. (What’s that, you say?)
Intestinal permeability (or “leaky gut syndrome”) is when microorganisms escape from the tight junctions in your intestines into your bloodstream. Your immune system attacks them thinking they are foreign invaders.
Many experts think that leaky gut could be one factor that predisposes a person to an autoimmune condition. The theory, then, based on preliminary research, is that if we are able to reduce intestinal permeability, autoimmune disease might be prevented.
Like any other system in your body, the endocrine system is sensitive to stress. Some stress can be positive, giving us incentive to meet challenges and achieve goals.
However, many of us operate on a steady diet of unhealthy stress that leaves us depleted and our systems on overload. Research in the field of neuroendocrinology even links the body’s stress response to nearly two-thirds of all disease.
Chronic stress can throw our endocrine system out of balance, including the levels of thyroid hormones produced. In response to stress, our bodies sometimes slow the production of thyroid hormones.
Try on meditation, a gratitude practice, or just socializing with friends to help reduce your stress levels in an effort to reduce your likelihood of developing hypothyroidism.
Cigarette smoke contains Thiocyanate which disrupts iodine uptake by your thyroid. Iodine is one of the nutrients that provides the building blocks of thyroid hormones, so if the body is not getting as much of it as it needs, it can block the production of thyroid hormones. Talk to your doctor about quitting - we hear it’s not an easy feat!
Regular physical activity improves your cardiovascular health which allows more blood and oxygen to get to the body. Movement is important to increase your energy levels, deepen your sleep, improve your mood, and boost your metabolism.
To keep your stress at bay, consider low-impact activities. Long distance runs and spin class may spike your cortisol levels, put stress on your body, and inhibit the conversion of storage hormone Thyroxine (T4) to the active hormone Triiodothyronine (T3).
So, while you cannot necessarily prevent hypothyroidism, you can start with these tips to make sure your body has the best possible environment to live and thrive.
Find inspiration for a healthy way to support your thyroid