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Hydration is not necessarily the first thing we think about regarding thyroid health. Indeed, we often picture symptoms like weight struggles, difficulty regulating temperature, chronic fatigue, and cardiovascular issues. But, staying hydrated and maintaining a good balance of your electrolytes can be another problem that people with thyroid diseases face. Here, we dive into how an unhealthy thyroid can cause electrolyte imbalance and what you can do to restore balance.
We often talk casually about electrolytes and frequently see sports drinks promoting them on grocery store shelves. But electrolytes are quite complicated to understand. And what is more, it requires a fine balance to keep them in check. Fortunately, our bodies are proficient at maintaining electrolytes balanced, but the scales can tip when we are unwell or have certain health conditions.
Electrolytes are essential minerals that the body uses to conduct numerous biochemical processes by changing their ion charge when dissolved in water. These minerals conduct electrical signals that move in and out of cells and help send information between different instructions. For example, muscle contraction, nerve sensation, and blood pressure are all regulated by a strict biochemical process via electrolytes. Of course, electrolytes also play a pivotal role in helping us maintain fluid balance.
The most common electrolytes that help support fluid balance and other major body functions include:
You probably learned in a biology class that sodium and potassium are the main heroes in cellular biology due to the sodium-potassium pump. Sodium is the body's most abundant electrolyte and resides outside the cell, while potassium resides within the cell. Together, these two are the primary electrolytes responsible for fluid balance.
Healthcare providers use electrolyte levels to help paint a picture of what is happening in the body. Unfortunately, some serious illnesses and diseases can stem from severe electrolyte imbalance, causing significant problems, including seizures, heart problems, and kidney disease. For people with thyroid diseases, it may be a surprise that electrolyte imbalance can be a part of the complicated picture of an unhealthy thyroid. But the good news is that electrolyte imbalance due to a thyroid problem is not usually chronic and can be reversed with proper thyroid treatment.
The thyroid affects nearly every cellular process in the body through thyroid hormones. The adrenal glands, however, produce the hormone aldosterone, which helps regulate sodium and potassium levels, blood pressure, and blood volume. Because the thyroid hormones and the adrenal glands work so closely together and easily affect one another, electrolyte balance for both these glands is crucial.
Moreover, we see an imbalance in electrolyte levels, as evidenced by increased water retention in patients with untreated hypothyroidism. Weight gain is one of the most common symptoms of a thyroid problem, but the American Thyroid Association suggests that at least 5-10 pounds can be attributed to extra water weight. Indeed, once people start taking thyroid hormone replacement medication, they often see an improvement in their weight.
Electrolyte imbalance can be quite noticeable, especially in individuals who are ill or physically overworked (i.e., athletes). For example, symptoms of severe electrolyte imbalance can include vomiting, headaches, seizures, low blood pressure, faintness, and fast or irregular heartbeat.
But, people with electrolyte imbalance from a thyroid problem like hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's are more likely to experience the following symptoms:
- Mild depression and/or anxiety
- Frequent urination
- Puffy skin
- Water retention
- Muscle weakness and aches
- Dry skin and chapped lips
Of course, many of these symptoms can also be related to other problems, and surprisingly, most symptoms are common to people with an underactive thyroid.
The relationship between the thyroid and electrolyte imbalance is still somewhat nebulous, but we do know that many people with thyroid conditions have electrolyte disturbances. For this reason, it is essential to understand that other factors can also be behind electrolyte imbalance.
Common causes of electrolyte imbalance include:
- Excess physical activity
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Type 1 diabetes
- Eating disorders
- Certain medications (like diuretics)
Often, checking your electrolytes is a part of routine bloodwork ordered by your primary care provider. Blood tests such as a basic metabolic panel, comprehensive metabolic panel, and electrolyte panel are used to examine electrolyte levels. However, if you have one electrolyte that is of particular concern, your provider may only check that one, such as sodium levels.
Treatment of electrolyte disturbances varies based on the medical condition behind them. But for people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's, electrolyte abnormalities are often resolved with thyroid medication, plenty of hydration, and a well-balanced diet. In addition, much of the body's minerals come from food sources, so increasing your intake of certain minerals from natural food sources can give you a boost where you need it.
There are many nuances to treating thyroid disease. Therefore, if you have a thyroid condition like Hashimoto's or hypothyroidism and struggle to manage your symptoms, it can help to work with a doctor who specializes in managing these conditions.
As a hypothyroid patient, it's crucial to continue monitoring your thyroid for optimal levels. Start by using Paloma’s home thyroid test kit, which makes testing your levels of thyroid hormone convenient and easy to do at home. You can then schedule a virtual visit with one of Paloma’s knowledgeable thyroid practitioners. They will work with you to ensure that you are getting optimal thyroid treatment and relief of symptoms.
If you are experiencing symptoms of electrolyte imbalance or your healthcare provider has recommend implementing more sodium and potassium rich foods, we recommend to schedule a session with one of Paloma’s expert thyroid nutritionists. Our expert nutritionists will be able to help you develop a meal plan that is personalized, and optimal for your health.