Okay, so here’s the bad news: Approximately one in eight women will develop a thyroid problem in her lifetime, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. You might not realize it yet, but your thyroid could be the cause of some daily issues (think: sleep problems) you’ve been having. The good news? Thyroid problems are often linked to controllable lifestyle habits. In fact, much like adrenal fatigue, they’re closely related to stress levels (which makes chilling out and self-care all the more important). Here’s how an out-of-whack thyroid can affect your body and how to keep it healthy.
What’s Your Thyroid and Why is it Important?
When your thyroid isn’t functioning optimally, it makes your body feel all kinds of things it shouldn’t. Usually, symptoms can include insomnia, constant tiredness, shaky muscles, inappropriate responses to temperature (you’re always too hot or too cold), weight gain or loss, and general feelings of yuckiness that never seem to subside. It’s important for women to understand the symptoms and how your thyroid functions, since thyroid problems are much more common in women than men.
The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, responsible for controlling your hormones, which are in charge of making everything in your body run smoothly. Hormones are essentially fat-based messengers that tell your body what to do: when it’s time to sleep (you get sleepy), when it’s time to make a baby (you release an egg from your ovaries), when it’s time to eat (you get hungry), and when it’s time to take action (you get stressed).
Unfortunately, that last fight-or-flight response is triggered a little too often these days. Most experts attribute our modern thyroid dysfunction epidemic to high levels of stress, exposure to toxins, and hormone-unfriendly diets. Thyroid issues also run in families, so you may be at a greater risk for developing problems if other family members have had thyroid issues in the past. These genetic and lifestyle factors hinder your thyroid’s ability to correctly manufacture and distribute hormones, throwing your system out of whack.
Hyperthyroidism, or Grave’s Disease, is the term for an overactive thyroid, while hypothyroidism, or Hashimoto’s, refers to a thyroid that’s less active than it should be. Both problems are often triggered by an immune response, which happens when your body decides to essentially attack your thyroid, making both diseases autoimmune disorders.
5 Ways to Keep Your Thyroid Healthy
If you think your thyroid may be in need of some TLC, you may want to be tested for thyroid dysfunction. Sometimes, the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction are written off as symptoms of aging, stress, or depression, when in fact, it’s the thyroid that’s at the heart of the matter.
To support your thyroid, you need to address a few key lifestyle habits: your caffeine consumption, your gut health, your intake of healthy fats, and your stress levels. Here’s how to take action.
1. Start healing your gut. Gut problems are suspected to be at the heart of many chronic disease issues, so start by eliminating sugars and gluten-containing foods from your diet. Taking a probiotic and consuming resistant starches such as plantains and potatoes are also a good idea.
2. Eat healthy fats. As we mentioned, your hormones are made up of fats. In fact, cholesterol is the precursor to hormones. It’s time to stop being afraid of dietary fat. Eat healthy sources of fat like free-range eggs, avocados, olive oil, grass-fed meats, seeds, and nuts.
3. De-stress — regularly. Start treating de-stressing activities like yoga, meditation, and massage the same way you treat exercise. Yes, it’s important to get three cardio sessions in per week… but get some zen time in there while you’re at it to avoid being in a constant state of stress.
4. Cut the caffeine. Caffeine consumption triggers the release of stress hormones, which can seriously throw your thyroid out of whack. If you suspect you may have thyroid issues, it’s important to eliminate caffeine as much as possible until your system can rebalance itself.
5. Be aware of your family’s medical history. If several other people in your family have had thyroid issues, you may be more susceptible to hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, even if you keep all of your lifestyle factors in check. Ask your parents and siblings if anyone in your extended family has suffered from a thyroid imbalance, and consider getting occasional thyroid health screenings. Even if you don’t have a family history of thyroid problems, the American Thyroid Association recommends all adults, starting at 35 years, get a simple thyroid function blood test every five years.
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(Photos via Getty)