Tired and fatigued? Why your thyroid might be to blame
By Allison Riehs | Naturopath
Life can be crazy and often it seems like our to-do lists never really end.
But if you’re finding you’re tired, fatigued and lacking motivation all the time, it might be time to have your thyroid checked.
A crucial part of the body’s endocrine system, this tiny butterfly-shaped organ in the neck controls the release of hormones into the bloodstream to help with vital bodily functions.
One of the most important functions of the thyroid is regulating metabolism – which is the body’s internal combustion engine, involving the breakdown of nutrients and conversion into energy.
So having an underactive thyroid is a little like trying to keep a fire alight without enough wood to burn.
A clinical diagnosis of ‘hypothyroidism’ or ‘Hashimoto’s disease’ may be made if you have an underactive thyroid, so let’s look a little closer at these two thyroid disorders and why they are so often interconnected.
What is hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s?
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces insufficient hormones1 – in other words, it becomes underactive.
The hormones produced by the thyroid are crucial in helping to regulate the speed at which your brain, heart, muscles and liver function, as well as contributing to the control of weight, metabolism and cholesterol levels. In fact, every cell in the body depends on thyroid hormones to produce energy.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune condition which causes the immune system to attack the thyroid gland.2 It is part of a group of autoimmune conditions involving the thyroid.
So, you might be wondering, what is the link between hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s?
Although they are technically two separate issues, Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism often occur together, as they both cause the thyroid to become underactive.
Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include fatigue, lethargy, cold intolerance, weight gain, constipation, a change in voice, and dry skin3, but these signs can differ with age and sex.
Without treatment, symptoms can become more severe and possibly even life-threatening.
The signs and symptoms of Hashimoto’s are very similar, but often also include a puffy face, brittle nails, hair loss, joint pain, heavy periods, depression and memory lapses.
Because these symptoms are common among busy women and tired mums, they’re easily overlooked. But they are possible indicators of something more sinister and are definitely worth looking into4.
What are the causes and who is at risk?
The definitive cause of thyroid disorders is not yet understood, but it is thought a virus may contribute to autoimmune abnormalities.
Several other risk factors have also been identified, including insufficient iodine in the diet.
And as if getting ‘older’ wasn’t hard enough, many illnesses are more likely to occur as we age, including Hypothyroidism which affects mostly women over the age of 35.5
Pregnancy can also trigger thyroid imbalances, due to the major shifts in both the thyroid and the immune system.
During pregnancy, the thyroid produces more hormones than usual, but occasionally it can go into overdrive 6 and lead to imbalances.
It’s important to be aware that even if there are no pre-existing thyroid problems, anyone can develop what is known as postpartum thyroiditis – a type of thyroid dysfunction occurring in the first year after having a baby.7
Again, this condition is linked to Hashimoto’s and, unfortunately, pregnancy just speeds up the development.8
How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?
If you believe you have the symptoms of hypothyroidism, or if thyroid disease runs in your family, a blood test can identify an underactive thyroid.
Blood tests can measure your levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroid hormones (T4 and T3).9
High TSH and low T4 levels in the blood may indicate hypothyroidism. In very early or mild hypothyroidism, TSH will often be high but T4 may be normal.
When the cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, blood tests can also detect anti-thyroid antibodies that attack the thyroid.
Foods to include if you have hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s:
- Fish and seafood
- Seaweed and iodine enriched foods
- Gluten-free grains, nuts and seeds
- Beverages: Water and other non-caffeinated beverages.
Foods to avoid:
- Gluten: Including wheat, rye, barley, oats and products containing extracts of these ingredients
- Processed foods
How supplements can help
Once a sluggish thyroid is confirmed, there are many actions you can take to help restore hormonal balance.
One of the most common methods is with the use of supplements.
Under the guidance of your naturopathic or nutritional practitioner, supplements may help enhance thyroid function, by optimising levels of key nutrients needed for proper thyroid metabolism and function.
This includes vitamin D, zinc, iodine, omega-3s, selenium, and adrenal adaptogens 10.
Leading an overall healthy lifestyle – one that includes eating well and exercising – can help you manage thyroid disorders.
But what else can you do to live well with hypothyroidism?
- Eat clean, healthy food
- Exercise regularly
- Try to relieve stress and relax more
- Get enough sleep
- Get regular health check-ups
- Consult a naturopathic practitioner experienced with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s
So tired of waking up tired? Book an appointment with Allison today!
- Dun. D et al, 2016, ‘Hypothyroidism in Women’, AWHONN, the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26902444>
- Ajjan. RA et al, 2015, ‘The Pathogenesis of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Further Developments in our Understanding’, Department of Human Metabolism, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26361257>
- Chaker. L et al, 2017, ‘Hypothyroidism’, Lancet, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28336049>
- Thomas. T et al, 2014, ‘Clinical, biochemical & cytomorphologic study on Hashimoto’s thyroiditis’, Indian Journal of Medical Research, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4365346/>
- Nygaard. D, 2014, ‘Hypothyroidism’, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3931439/>
- Fuhrer. D et al, 2014, ‘Thyroid Function in Pregnancy’, German translation, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25289925>
- Argatska. AB et al, 2014, ‘Postpartum Thyroiditis’, Section of Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases, Second Department of Internal Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Medical University, Plovdiv, Bulgaria <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25434070>
- Argatska. A, 2016, ‘Postpartum Thyroid Dysfunction in Women with Autoimmune Thyroiditis’, Department of Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases , Medical University, Plovdiv, Bulgaria <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26669901>
- Devdhar. M, 2007, ‘Hypothyroidism’, Washington Hospital Center. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17673121>
- Liontitis. M, 2017, ‘A concise review of Hashimoto thyroiditis (HT) and the importance of iodine, selenium, vitamin D and gluten on the autoimmunity and dietary management of HT patients’, Department of Internal Medicine, Naval Hospital of Crete, Chania, Greece. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28315909>