On account of thyroid awareness month, it is necessary to discuss the need to maintain the lifestyle of people with thyroid disorders, especially women, who are five to eight times more likely to have thyroid disorders when compared to men.
The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland located in the base of the neck. It produces hormones, which regulate the body’s metabolic rate and help to control the heart, muscles and digestive function, brain development and bone maintenance. The thyroid gland needs an adequate amount of iodine to produce thyroid hormones.
Thyroid disorders are now becoming increasingly frequent and affect all ages. If left untreated, they can cause various adverse effects. Thyroid conditions that are typically encountered include hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer. Thyroid disorders are often caused by an autoimmune response, and autoimmune conditions are by themselves more common in women.
Here are some tips that women with thyroid problems should keep in mind:
It is crucial to be regular with thyroid medications. Forgetting doses is one of the most common reasons for people feeling unwell. Simultaneous intake of thyroxine with food can impair the absorption of the drug. Hence, medicines should be taken at least 30-60 minutes before breakfast. Calcium, iron tablets and antacids can interfere with the absorption of thyroxine, hence they should be taken at a separate time from thyroxine.
Regular blood tests are necessary to check thyroid hormone levels. The doctor can adjust doses based on these results.
Adults need 150 mcg iodine per day, while pregnant and breastfeeding women need 250 mcg per day. Eating iodised salt helps to meet these requirements. Fish, milk, other dairy products and eggs are known to be the richest dietary sources of iodine. Iodine supplements are not recommended.
There is no medical evidence that eating or avoiding certain foods will improve thyroid function. Aim for a diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins (beans and fish). Choose healthier fats like vegetable oils. It is vital to reduce sugar and saturated fats, and processed and junk food must be avoided. Soy and soybean products interfere with the absorption of synthetic thyroid hormone; hence an increased thyroxine dose may be required. A gluten-free diet is not routinely recommended in thyroid disorders ,unless the person already has coeliac disease.
Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and turnips may inhibit iodine uptake by the thyroid and cause goitre. Consumption in large quantities in the raw form has been associated with thyroid dysfunction, especially in areas of iodine deficiency. Limit their intake and only eat them well-cooked.
The immune system is affected by stress, which is known to affect the onset and course of Grave’s disease, one of the most common causes of hyperthyroidism. It is crucial to look for ways to be relaxed every day. Activities like yoga and meditation can be of great help to reduce stress. Painting, reading or music can also help to reduce stress. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
Women with thyroid disorders often feel sluggish and tired. Regular physical activity boosts energy, facilitates weight loss, reduces joint and muscle pain and lowers stress levels. It also helps to reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Aim to include low impact aerobic activity and strength training. It is advisable to wait till grossly deranged thyroid function tests have normalised, before starting exercise. Hypothyroidism has been associated with lower good cholesterol and higher bad cholesterol levels. Exercise can boost good cholesterol levels, thereby protecting the heart. It is important to start slowly, and gradually increase activity levels.
Vitamin D deficiency often coexists with autoimmune thyroid disorders. Supplementing vitamin D makes a significant difference in the case of containing overall symptoms. Selenium supplementation is beneficial in thyroid eye disease.
Avoiding smoking is crucial for overall health. Smoking for patients with thyroid also reduces the chances of cure for hyperthyroidism.
Ensure that thyroid hormone levels are normal before getting pregnant. Inadequately treated hypothyroidism can have significant effects on the baby’s brain development. Doses of medications need changes during pregnancy. Close follow up with the doctor is advised.
Though thyroid disorders are becoming increasingly common, by following a healthy lifestyle, good diet and the right medication, women can lead a healthy life.