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When it comes to preventing hypothyroidism, unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do to stop the onset of the condition. The good news? You can lower your risk of developing it or reduce the severity of this thyroid condition.
By understanding the risk factors, recognizing your symptoms, and getting diagnosed early, you can prevent complications that can occur when a thyroid disorder goes undiagnosed.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. It produces hormones - thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) - that regulate the body’s energy use and many other vital functions.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid is inactive and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. When your thyroid hormone production drops, your body processes slow down and change. Hypothyroidism can affect many different systems in your body and can cause symptoms including:
Undiagnosed or undertreated hypothyroidism can lead to several complications, including ones related to your reproductive, heart, and bone health.
Thyroid basics: Hyperthyroidism is the opposite of hypothyroidism. It occurs when the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone. Click here to learn more about the difference between hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is classified based on what causes it. The three leading causes, thus classifications, are:
- Primary hypothyroidism occurs when thyroid hormone levels are low because the thyroid isn’t as active as it should be.
- Secondary or central hypothyroidism is caused by a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) shortage, which plays a role in thyroid hormone production.
- Peripheral hypothyroidism occurs when there is an excessive expression of an enzyme called deiodinase 3. This enzyme makes thyroid hormone less effective.
Most cases (99%) of hypothyroidism fall into the primary category. The remaining 1% of cases fall into the secondary and peripheral hypothyroidism categories.
Let’s take a closer look at specific causes of primary and secondary hypothyroidism.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune thyroid disorder. This means your body produces antibodies that attack and damage your thyroid gland. As a result, chronic inflammation ensues. Over time, this inflammation reduces thyroid hormone production. You can also develop a goiter (enlarged thyroid).
This condition can occur suddenly or silently over time. Since Hashimoto’s causes an underactive thyroid gland, it causes the same symptoms as someone with hypothyroidism not caused by Hashimoto’s.
Sometimes, the problem is not in the thyroid gland itself but in the gland that tells the thyroid what to do: the pituitary gland.
The pituitary gland produces thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which tells the thyroid to make and release T3 and T4. When the pituitary becomes damaged by a tumor, radiation, or surgery, it may no longer be able to produce TSH. A lack of TSH means the thyroid is not stimulated to release thyroid hormone. As a result, thyroid levels remain low, resulting in hypothyroidism.
Since the underactive thyroid is, in this case, related to low TSH levels, this is a type of secondary hypothyroidism.
Surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid (thyroidectomy) can also lead to hypothyroidism. Reasons to have your thyroid removed might include thyroid nodules or treatment of Graves’ Disease (autoimmune hyperthyroidism) or thyroid cancer.
When the entire thyroid is removed, the body no longer has a way to make thyroid hormones. As a result, individuals develop hypothyroidism, requiring thyroid hormone replacement medication following surgery.
Certain medications taken to manage other medical conditions can lower thyroid hormone production.
Hypothyroidism develops in about 14% of individuals who take amiodarone, a medication used to treat certain heart conditions. Other medications that can reduce thyroid hormone production include:
- Certain monoclonal antibodies and seizure medications
If you are taking one of these medications, do not stop them without consulting with your healthcare provider first.
The thyroid gland is highly nutrient-dependent, especially when it comes to iodine.
Your thyroid needs iodine to make thyroid hormones. An iodine deficiency can result in hypothyroidism and the development of goiter or thyroid nodules. While severe iodine deficiencies are uncommon in developed countries, mild ones can still occur. A recent study in the Netherlands showed that 85% of females and 67% of males had inadequate iodine intake.
Furthermore, nutrient deficiencies, including selenium, zinc, or vitamin D, can worsen symptoms and prevent thyroid medication from doing its job.
Here are eight ways to optimize your thyroid function and potentially reduce the risk of an underactive thyroid:
1. See your healthcare provider regularly
Visiting your primary care provider for regular checkups is vital for your thyroid and overall health and essential for early detection and treatment of thyroid-related issues. Blood tests can measure your thyroid hormone levels and help identify abnormalities or imbalances.
If you have risk factors for hypothyroidism, ask about testing your thyroid hormone levels yearly. Common risk factors may include:
- Being female
- Age over 65
- Recent pregnancy
- Having an autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes or celiac disease
- Family history of thyroid disease or autoimmune disease
Early detection of a thyroid disorder can prevent complications down the road.
2. Get your gut happy
Research suggests that 70% of our immune system resides in our gut, so it’s essential to keep it healthy! Strengthening your gut with a diet rich in fruits and veggies (plus regular movement and proper sleep hygiene) will also keep your immune system healthy.
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. This contributes to inflammation in the thyroid. Many experts believe that a leaky gut could be one factor that predisposes a person to an autoimmune condition. Reducing intestinal permeability may lower one’s risk of an autoimmune disease.
Work with a Paloma nutritionist to identify your dietary triggers and address any nutrient deficiencies you may have.
3. Eat a thyroid-friendly diet
A healthy diet plays a crucial role in maintaining optimal thyroid function. Include foods rich in iodine, such as seafood and seaweed, as iodine is essential for producing thyroid hormones. Additionally, ensure that your diet includes selenium, zinc, and vitamin D, as deficiencies in these nutrients have been associated with an increased risk of hypothyroidism.
You’ll also want to emphasize the consumption of foods high in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Additionally, your thyroid-friendly diet should limit or avoid certain foods that may hinder thyroid function, such as processed foods, refined sugars, and excess amounts of goitrogenic foods, which can interfere with iodine absorption.
4. Shrink your stress
Like any other system in your body, the endocrine system is sensitive to stress. Some stress can be positive, motivating you to meet challenges and achieve goals.
But, many of us operate on a steady diet of unhealthy stress that leaves us depleted and our systems overloaded. 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.
Find ways to limit stress, such as daily meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, and socializing with friends. Incorporating regular physical activity into your daily routine is also an essential way to help alleviate stress.
5. Get moving
Regular physical activity can help regulate thyroid function by improving metabolism and reducing the risk of weight gain, a common symptom of hypothyroidism. It also helps:
- Improve gut health
- Improve your heart health
- Strengthen your bones and muscles
- Increase your energy levels
- Deepen your sleep
- Improve your mood
- Boost your metabolism
Aim to get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Many people with hypothyroidism find low-impact exercises like walking, cycling, dancing, or water aerobics enjoyable. You should also add at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities like yoga or handheld weights to your exercise regimen.
If you are starting an exercise program, start slow and gradually increase your intensity. Of course, don’t forget to check with your healthcare professional first!
6. Sleep well
Ensuring adequate sleep isn’t about feeling rested - it is vital to your overall health. Quality sleep, ideally seven to nine hours each night, supports your body in maintaining balanced thyroid and hormonal balance and function.
Chronic sleep deprivation or irregular sleep patterns may contribute to an increased risk of hypothyroidism. During rest, your body undergoes crucial repair and rejuvenation processes, allowing your thyroid to function optimally. This is why prioritizing good sleep hygiene is essential to your thyroid health. Here are a few tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to do that:
- Create a calming bedtime routine and environment
- Stick with your sleep schedule, even on the weekends
- Avoid technology in bed
- Address underlying sleep conditions
- Try not to eat a large meal or have caffeine or alcohol right before bed
7. Avoid exposure to toxins
Avoiding chemicals and environmental toxins can have a positive impact on thyroid function. Exposure to chemicals and toxins such as pesticides, heavy metals, and certain plastics can disrupt the normal functioning of the thyroid gland. These substances can interfere with the production and conversion of thyroid hormones, leading to imbalances and thyroid disorders such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Some toxins and chemicals to avoid include:
Bisphenols: Bisphenols, such as BPA (bisphenol A), are commonly found in plastic products like water bottles, food packaging, and household items. These chemicals can disrupt the normal functioning of the thyroid gland by interfering with hormone production. To minimize your exposure, opt for BPA-free products or switch to glass or stainless steel containers.
Perchlorates: Perchlorates are chemicals widely used in rockets, explosives, and fireworks. They have infiltrated our water and food supplies, primarily through contaminated soil and water sources. Perchlorates interfere with iodine uptake, which is essential for producing thyroid hormones. To reduce exposure, choose organic produce and consider installing a water filtration system at home.
Flame Retardants: Flame retardants are commonly found in furniture, electronics, and children’s products. These chemicals contain polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which can disrupt thyroid hormones and lead to various health issues. Opt for products labeled as “flame-retardant-free” or made with safer alternatives.
Pesticides: Pesticides are chemicals used to control insects, weeds, and rodents in agriculture and households. Organophosphate pesticides, in particular, can interfere with thyroid function. To limit exposure, choose organic fruits and vegetables or wash conventionally grown produce thoroughly.
Heavy Metals: Heavy metals like mercury, lead, and arsenic can accumulate in the body and disrupt the normal functioning of the thyroid. These toxins are commonly found in contaminated seafood, polluted air, and some cosmetic products. Be cautious when consuming fish and opt for low-mercury options like salmon or trout. Additionally, regularly clean your living spaces and consider using natural alternatives to personal care products.
Phthalates: Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastics. They are commonly found in products such as shower curtains, vinyl flooring, and personal care items. They can disrupt the endocrine system, affecting thyroid function. Look for phthalate-free products or choose natural and organic alternatives.
Fluoride: Fluoride is a chemical often added to drinking water and dental products to prevent tooth decay. However, excessive fluoride exposure can interfere with thyroid hormone production. Consider using a water filter to remove fluoride from tap water and opt for fluoride-free toothpaste.
While it may be impossible to avoid all toxins in our environment altogether, being aware of these thyroid-disrupting agents can help you make more informed choices to help protect your thyroid function and maintain a healthy hormone balance.
8. Avoid smoking
Finally, keep in mind that smoking is linked to thyroid issues and has been shown to impact thyroid function negatively. Smoking increases the risk of several thyroid disorders, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, thyroid nodules, and Graves’ disease, and can also worsen existing thyroid problems and make them more challenging to treat. Additionally, smoking has been found to increase the likelihood of thyroid cancer. Quitting smoking can help reduce the risk of developing these thyroid problems and improve overall thyroid health. If you are a smoker, seek support and resources to quit smoking and improve your overall health.
While you cannot prevent hypothyroidism, you can take proactive steps to create the best environment for your body and thyroid to live and thrive in.
A fundamental approach is to know your baseline numbers for essential thyroid hormones such as TSH, T4, and T3. This allows you to track your thyroid function changes over time.
Paloma’s user-friendly at-home testing kit makes this process effortless and convenient. Our testing kit only requires a finger-prick blood sample and measures the above thyroid biomarkers as well as thyroid antibodies. Remember, thyroid antibodies support the presence of an autoimmune thyroid disorder. Don’t hesitate to jump-start your journey towards a healthier thyroid - order your testing kit today!