The first time I realised there was something wrong is when my post-workout “power nap” regularly crossed the 3-hour mark. Over time, this became my schedule: wake up at 4.15, workout at 5, come home, make breakfast and lunch, pack up the lunch box for kids, wave them bye-bye, and face plant into bed. 

I would typically surface at 1 pm, shower, eat lunch, and then get going with the rest of my day. 

Till the day I wondered out loud how the people in my training batch managed to hold full-time jobs if this is how whacked they felt after a session. And translated the puzzled looks to mean this wasn’t the norm and there was something very wrong inside me. 

A battery of tests later, I got my diagnosis: my thyroid was dinky. 

More than 90% of of our fellow men and women have problems with their thyroid. The problem is so ubiquitous, even medical professionals don’t bat an eyelid when you say you have a thyroid problem. 

“Eh, it is only thyroid no?”, is what I heard when I mentioned my issues (by then I had learnt my thyroid problem was an autoimmune disease) early on in the middle of the first COVID-19 wave and whether should I take extra precautions as a result. 

As a result, you might end up thinking it is no big, you should just pop your pill daily and just carry on. 

Well, you should and you shouldn’t. Pop a pill, yes, but don’t casually dismiss it. 

In fact, your thyroid health leaves lasting impressions on your whole health, physical and mental and the sooner you understand this, and take adequate care, the better it is for you. 

Thyroid 101

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that can be found at the base of your neck. It secretes hormones called T3 and T4 that together control exactly how much energy your body uses. This is called the metabolic rate. T3 and T4 are also required for many of the body’s vital functions such as the metabolic processes, muscle function, the working of the heart, bone health, and brain development.

As you can see, the thyroid is pretty important! The thyroid hormone affects every system in our body and any malfunctioning of the hormone will have a lasting impact.

What are the different thyroid disorders? 

Many of us are familiar with the most common thyroid disorders, caused by an under-active thyroid or an overactive thyroid. When thyroid hormone production is affected because of an underactive thyroid gland, it results in hypothyroidism. The body does not produce enough to meet its needs and this disrupts many vital processes such as regulation of core body temperature, cardiac problems etc. The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism are fatigue, weight gain, constipation etc.

Sometimes, things go the other way – the body produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormone, resulting in hyperthyroidism. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism are dry skin, unexplained weight loss, irregular heartbeat, tiredness, insomnia, diarrhea, hyperactivity etc.

There are times when your thyroid malfunctioning due to an autoimmune disorder. This happens when your body fails to recognise its own thyroid cells, your immune system perceives them as a threat and starts producing thyroid antibodies to attack them. 

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s disease results when the inflammation of the thyroid gland prevents it from producing enough of the hormone. Graves’ disease results when an excessive amount of thyroid hormones are produced and it is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism and Hashimotor’s, the most common cause of hypothyroidism.

Then there’s something called a goiter – an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland, usually as a result of iodine deficiency. When there’s not much iodine, your body tries to capture however much it can by becoming bigger in size.

Why is your thyroid so important?

For a small gland that is located on the front of the neck, the thyroid has many important jobs to do. Our thyroid needs to be in perfect working order for our overall health and wellness as the hormone it produces controls vital body functions from breathing to cholesterol levels to metabolism.

A healthy functioning thyroid is necessary for our bone health. When the production of thyroid hormones gets excessive, it causes our body to eat away our bones. Hello, osteoporosis! On the other hand, with an underactive thyroid can cause problems with blood pressure and high cholesterol. Your thyroid condition can also end up affecting your heart and causing heart problems.

Women are especially susceptible to thyroid disorders. This seems particularly cruel as we need a well-functioning thyroid for our menstrual health. Too much thyroid hormone or not enough, we could have anything from irregular periods to excessive bleeding, even amenorrhea (lack of menstrual cycle for an extended period of time). 

In a crazy twist, a small number of pregnant women develop postpartum thyroiditis, a condition in which women who have given birth recently develop hypothyroidism. Typically this disappears with time, though there have been many instances of this developing into permanent hypothyroidism.

Do this for better thyroid health

With something like thyroid disease, prevention is definitely better than cure. And even if prevention isn’t totally possible, following these steps may well help you in managing your disease better.

Eat right

Nutrition is key when it comes to treating your thyroid right. Plenty of green leafy vegetables, brazil nuts, oily fish, eggs, yogurt, berries, cruciferous vegetables, seaweed…. there are many foods that your thyroid loves. Over the years, there has been some fear-mongering about certain foods – cruciferous foods are perfectly fine for those with thyroid issues. Just ensure the cruciferous veg are cooked properly. And gluten is perfectly fine for consumption unless you have celiac disease. If in doubt. try doing an elimination diet to understand which foods are safe for you and which aren’t.

Also important is to make sure you get enough iodine in your diet. This is especially for those on a low-sodium diet and those consuming excessive amounts of sushi! Both too little and too much iodine can cause problems and, like Goldilocks, it is best to hit it just right!

Get enough sun

Vitamin D is vital for our health and the best source of it is sunlight. Getting some rays in every morning, before the sun gets too strong, for at least 20 minutes is all that is necessary. If you don’t get much sun where you are or too much of it, then there are some foods like mushrooms, egg yolks, fatty fish, and fortified food that can help you make up the deficit.

Be wary of environmental toxins

This is a biggie. Thyroid disorders are on the increase, according to doctors. Many of us may have underactive or overactive thyroid glands and not even be aware of it. While there are many reasons for this, the prevalence of environmental toxins could be playing a big role in this increase.

Pesticides including herbicides, industrial toxins like polychlorinated biphenyls (found in some paints, caulk, plastics, glue, etc), and heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, are all very harmful to the thyroid. While there have been measures taken to ban thyroid-harming chemicals such as BPA, triclosan, PFOA etc, it pays to be vigilant. One way to keep on top of it is to replace harsh chemicals with planet-friendly measures like bio enzyme cleaners, thereby reducing exposure at home. Restricting single-use plastic usage is another.

Keep on moving

Movement is your friend. With an underactive thyroid, the fatigue that results might well make you feel like your bones are weighing you down. Even when it feels like moving is the last thing you want to do, it truly is the one thing that can really help. Simple, gentle movements such as walking, yoga, Pilates, tai chi, etc are all excellent ways to keep our minds calm and our bodies busy. If you have access to a good pool, then swimming is an excellent way to facilitate movement too.

Just remember to listen to your body and work with it.

Regular blood tests

Frequent thyroid function tests, perhaps a couple of times a year, are the best way to keep on top of your thyroid health. Performing the basic diagnostic tests (T3, T4, Free T3, Free T4, TSH, and TPO antibodies) every six months will help you get an accurate picture of what’s happening inside and course-correct accordingly.

Sleep well

Seems basic, I know, but good sleep is your friend. Your body repairs itself while you sleep. Frequent late nights, messed up sleep patterns, and inadequate rest all have a detrimental impact on your health. Create a calm sleeping environment and your body, mind, and thyroid will thank you!

Thyroid health is important for our overall health. If you think you have some symptoms of thyroid problems, get in touch with your healthcare provider immediately. 

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