Here we are again at summer time: that time of year when the weather changes and the list of activities keep growing. This season change also probably means we're traveling more, sleeping less, and generally out of routine. No matter how well we manage our thyroid symptoms, we are only human, and sometimes our bodies get a little thrown off.
Ahead, Paloma Health Member and Patient Advocate Maya Kraidman shares how she maintains her thyroid health during seasonal transitions.
How seasonal changes affect thyroid function
Living with a thyroid disorder like hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) can affect people differently in the warm seasons from the colder ones.
Hypothyroidism slows your metabolism and, as such, makes you more sensitive to cold temperatures. Often TSH levels rise in the colder months, a sign that your thyroid isn't keeping up with your body's hormone needs. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism may also get worse when your circadian rhythm is off in the winter months, like seasonal affective disorder, weight gain, or dry skin.
A 2013 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism study confirms a significant seasonal pattern in thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. The researchers measured monthly TSH levels in 1,751 people with subclinical hypothyroidism and 28,096 healthy people with normal thyroid function. Results show that, in both healthy people and those with subclinical hypothyroidism, TSH increased in the cold winter-to-spring months and decreased in the summer and fall.
While the above study may be good news for those with hypothyroidism, there is still much to be said about keeping a thyroid-healthy routine and regularly testing your thyroid hormone levels when the seasons change.
Maintaining thyroid health during seasonal changes
I took a recent trip to California, where I took a detour from my carefully curated thyroid-healthy regimen for eight days by camping, hiking, eating out, et cetera. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Did I have a significant flare-up of hypothyroidism-related symptoms when I got home? You bet.
A flare-up is when your symptoms return suddenly and swiftly. While they may be like the symptoms you typically experience, they tend to be more severe in a flare. A flare-up can happen in any autoimmune disease, including Hashimoto's disease.
My energy levels took a nosedive, and it was crystal clear that my body was out of whack. After years of fine-tuning how to support my body, I've learned that it doesn't take much to trigger an energetic dip. After two weeks of getting back to the basics of my thyroid health routine, I was good as new.
What does going back to the basics look like, and how do you support your thyroid health daily? It's different for everyone, but here's my recipe for success in navigating seasonal variations (regardless of the season).
Optimize your thyroid medication
First things first, it's time to get back to taking my thyroid medication at the same time every day. I always take it on an empty stomach, which supports absorption in the body and helps avoid interactions with food or other supplements in my regimen. My Paloma Health thyroid doctor has also recommended that I wait an hour between taking my medication and breakfast for optimal absorption. I fill the next hour with movement while I not so patiently wait to eat and drink my decaf coffee.
Try low-impact movement
When my thyroid levels are off, my energy tends to be at an all-time low. Walking, yoga, and gentle pilates are my go-tos while my body recalibrates. I also endorse a post-movement cat nap if you can swing it. Accepting where we are is hard, but it helps support our body as it returns to peak health.
Eat nutrient-dense foods
Next on the list, I add foods that keep me energized throughout the day. For me, that looks like a balance of healthy fats, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and limiting my intake of gluten, processed sugar, and caffeine. Of course, there is by no means a one-size-fits-all diet or nutrition plan; it's just what works for my body.
Test your thyroid levels
To complement resetting my routine, if my fatigue doesn't seem to resolve on its own, I opt to get thyroid function tests done. In this particular scenario, my reverse T3 had nearly doubled. Any change in my thyroid health manifests as fatigue and swelling in my joints. Tracking these changes is essential to being on top of my health and addressing concerns before they are harder to wrangle. After consulting my Paloma Health doctor, we worked to identify a few lifestyle adjustments and a new supplement to add to my routine.
Be kind to yourself
In conjunction with resetting your daily habits and consulting your healthcare provider, the best way to help your body recalibrate is to accept where your body is now, which helps keep added stress to a minimum. While being rundown and unable to keep up with your routine can be frustrating, I've learned that pushing myself to keep up in these energy slumps prolongs the symptoms. When feeling zapped, I do my best to accept that I am one with the couch until further notice.
I like to make my space extra joyful and cozy with small bouquets of flowers and candles and have my favorite snacks on hand to create an atmosphere of rest. It also helps me avoid feeling like I'm missing out on any activities if my body isn't up for it that day. Listening to my body today and giving it what it needs is key to bouncing back to the energy level I know is available to me.
Ask for what you need
My final and biggest tip would be to communicate with your people. If you need to reschedule the plans you made weeks ago when energy was at its peak, it is okay to be honest about what your body needs in the present. Suppose you work with a communicative team and can express that you need some wiggle room with a deadline or to push back a meeting. In that case, this is also a great option to keep in your back pocket.
As a friendly reminder, we are all different, and there is no one-size-fits-all or quick fix for a flare-up. I know that giving your body what it needs without added stress is your best bet for bouncing back off the couch and into the world with energy to spare.