The thyroid is the 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.
When your thyroid hormone production drops, your body processes slow down and change. Beside a whole host of symptoms that can affect your body and life, fatigue and severe exhaustion may be key indicators of undiagnosed or insufficiently treated thyroid conditions. For some patients, fatigue may persist even after treatment.
Why does thyroid affect energy levels?
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain, and regulates the amount of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) hormones produced by the thyroid gland.
T4 is the main hormone that is produced and secreted by the thyroid gland. It is mainly inactive (called a storage hormone), and it’s primary function is to transport T3 to the proper organs in your body.
T3 is the active hormone that works at the cellular level to help with the delivery of oxygen and energy to cells, tissues, and glands throughout the body. The body must convert T4 into T3 to be used by cells.
Without enough of these hormones, the body’s metabolism slows down, resulting in low energy levels.
How to treat low energy due to hypothyroidism?
Work with a thyroid doctor to determine if your thyroid is to blame and to create a personalized treatment plan.
Start with a thyroid blood test that includes TSH, free T3, free T4, and TPO antibodies to understand how your thyroid is working.
Then, if further evaluation is needed, work with a trustworthy care team to explore all possible treatments options based on your symptoms, history, and lab results.
When you have optimal thyroid function, you may find that your fatigue improves or even goes away.
Additional ways to boost energy
Move your body
Sweating it out may seem impossible and a little counterintuitive when your energy already feels low, but increasing your physical activity can actually give you more energy. Cardiovascular activities release endorphins that may just be the fatigue fighter you need. Lifting weights is also a healthy way to stay fit and possibly lift your mood.
Choose your meals carefully
Load up your body with the good stuff! Nutrient rich foods can benefit your thyroid health and provide the building blocks of thyroid hormones.
For instance, selenium, iron, and zinc help convert T4 into T3. Selenium can also help reduce thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies; and zinc is needed to tell your body to increase production when hormone levels are low.
Nutrient-dense, plant-based foods support the body’s ability to detoxify harmful substances, and omega 3 fats provide cellular membrane integrity. Processed foods and those that contain a large amount of refined sugar can make you feel more sluggish.
Cut back on caffeine and alcohol
If you are always feeling drowsy, caffeine may be your go-to pick me up. But using caffeine as an energy boost and consuming alcohol to later wind down can be a dangerous cycle. These beverages offer short-term results but won’t do much to address the root of your problem and could lead to an unhealthy routine. Instead of masking the issue, talk to your doctor about healthier and more stable alternatives.
Take your medication properly
Thyroid hormone replacement drugs are powerful, so it's critical to take your medication according to your doctor's instructions, especially when starting a new brand or increasing dosage. The key is to be consistent. Take your meds at the same time every day, and know how other medications, vitamins, or supplements interact with your thyroid meds.
Other possible causes of low energy
A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis are more likely to develop depression or anxiety than those with healthy thyroids. A common symptom of clinical depression is fatigue. Consider including a mental health professional as part of your care team if you experience symptoms of depression.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which breathing repeatedly starts and stops. Due to this disruption in sleep, you may experience feelings of exhaustion when awake. Those with hypothyroidism may be at greater risk for developing sleep apnea due to weak breathing muscles or weight gain. Additionally, there are many similarities between sleep apnea and hypothyroid sleep-disordered breathing, which poses a risk of misdiagnosis.
Anemia is a condition in which you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body's tissues. It is a common symptom of hypothyroidism that may result from bone marrow depression, decreased kidney hormone production, or iron, vitamin B12, or folate deficiencies.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues. Research from the Clinical Rheumatology Journal shows that 30-40% of patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis also have fibromyalgia. Talk to you doctor if you are experiencing symptoms.
There are many other potential health causes of fatigue, like chronic kidney or liver disease, an infection, insomnia, an anxiety disorder, or substance use. You may also consider medication side effects, getting too much or too little movement, or not eating a consistently nutrient-rich diet.
Optimizing your thyroid levels with medication is usually the first step in feeling better with hypothyroidism. When you're ready, schedule a consultation with a Paloma specialist. Our providers want you to feel your best and will explore all possible treatments based on your symptoms, history, and lab results.