When it comes to preventing hypothyroidism, unfortunately, there isn't anything you can do to definitively stop the onset of the condition. The good news? You can reduce your likelihood of developing this thyroid 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.
What is hypothyroidism?
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 vital 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 your body and can cause symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, dry skin, thinning hair, constipation, and more.
What causes hypothyroidism?
Studies point to family history, nutritional deficiencies, damage to the pituitary gland, certain medications, pregnancy, or other significant hormonal events, but it's hard to say precisely 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.
Sometimes the problem is not in the thyroid gland itself, but instead 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 produce and release triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). When the pituitary becomes damaged by a tumor, radiation, or surgery, it may no longer be able to produce the amount of TSH that the thyroid needs to function correctly.
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 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.
Diet & Nutrient Deficiencies
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.
How to reduce your risk
See your doctor regularly
Seeing your primary care doctor for regular checkups is important for both your overall health and your thyroid health. If you have risk factors for hypothyroidism, test your thyroid hormone levels yearly.
Common risk factors may include:
- Being female
- Being over age 60
- Recent pregnancy
- Having an autoimmune disease
- Family history of thyroid disease or autoimmune disease
Early detection can prevent complications down the road.
Get your gut happy
Research suggests that 70% of our immune system resides in our gut, so it's essential 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 healthy, too.
Work with a Paloma Nutritionist to understand your food sensitivities, which can create intestinal permeability.
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 can reduce intestinal permeability, we reduce the risk of an autoimmune disease.
Shrink your stress
Like any other system in your body, the endocrine system is sensitive to stress. Some stress can be positive, giving us the 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 to reduce your likelihood of developing hypothyroidism.
Kick the smoking habit
Cigarette smoke contains Thiocyanate, which disrupts iodine uptake by your thyroid. Iodine is one of the nutrients that provide 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!
Sweat it out
Regular physical activity improves your cardiovascular health, which allows more blood and oxygen to get to the body. Movement is helpful 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 or 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.