My Lazy Thyroid
Like many women, I found out that I had thyroid issue, specifically hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, when I was having a hard time losing weight. At that time, in spite of a more-healthy-than-not diet and increased exercise, I was tired and the scale wasn’t moving. It took me a couple of years to get from feeling generally awful, to feeling more like myself again. Here’s a once over on hypothyroidism, causes and basic treatment options.
In my mom’s day, people whispered about their plump aunt who couldn’t help being overweight because she had a “glandular problem.” Now, we call that hypothyroidism. In short, the thyroid (a butterfly-shaped gland around the throat) isn’t doing its job of creating sufficient thyroid hormone to keep the body running smoothly. Thyroid hormone impacts most of the body’s systems, including metabolic rate.
Ergo, the aforementioned heavy aunt had a body that was out of whack and made it difficult (or nigh impossible) for her to burn off those nagging extra pounds.
Commonality and Causes of Hypothyroidism
According to the American Thyroid Association, in the United States, as many as 20 million people have a thyroid related disease, and of those 60% may have no clue there is an issue. As an extra added bonus, women are way more likely to develop a thyroid condition (like 5 to 8 times more likely) and 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid disease at some point in their lives. Thyroid conditions can include hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid gland) or thyroid cancer. Yay womanhood!
As for causes, no one really knows for sure. (That’s not particularly comforting.) Like with most illnesses, stress is certainly a factor, as is genetics—and being a woman makes it more likely, too. Some will say that toxins in our environment—including our personal care products and cleaning supplies--put us at higher risk. Increased gluten in our food isn’t doing us any favors either.
How Hypothyroidism Feels
The quick answer is--not good.
For me, I was just generally tired and run down. (Which, unfortunately, can just be caused by adulthood and the pressures of raising a family, going to work and trying to carve out time to do something for yourself that doesn’t involve the other two.) In addition to having issues losing weight, I started gaining more weight around the middle.
Since I was in my early 40s, I originally assumed that my symptoms were menopause related. To my surprise, as I researched, I discovered that there are 300+ possibly symptoms of hypothyroidism including hot flashes, excessive sweating, having issues concentrating and trouble sleeping. I also realized that depression, like the days when it was all I could do to force myself to complete routine tasks, were hypothyroidism related. On the weirder end, excessive crying (which made work an absolute joy for my poor, mostly male coworkers), sensitivity to light, being easily startled and having a hard time breathing deeply, were all due to my under active thyroid. Again, yay womanhood!
The Trick That Is Diagnosing Hypothyroidism
Getting diagnosed with hypothyroidism is often difficult. For one, many doctors are resistant to testing for it—partly due to what seems to be a general bias against women saying that they don’t feel well and writing that off as invalid. Having a family history of hypothyroidism (which I have, but didn’t realize I had until after I was diagnosed) can help persuade doctors to run tests. Fortunately, I have a supportive doctor who was willing to give me a TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) test during more than one annual physical exam. In the end, it was nice to at have a for-real diagnosis and the validation that something was actually medically wrong. I was happy to have a specific problem to solve.
As for treatment, prescription medication replacing your missing thyroid is diagnosed, and is a must to get your body working properly. For most people, taking medication for the rest of your life is the treatment plan.
The current go-to drug is Levothyroxine (often as the name brand, Synthroid), which is a synthetic hormone. Another treatment option, which was standard prior to synthetic thyroid, is natural desiccated thyroid (often as name brand Armor Thyroid or Nature-Throid). Natural desiccated thyroid is derived from pigs, and has shown to have more favorable results for many women. On an ongoing basis, the TSH test, and additional tests, are completed on a regular basis to make sure that levels are in line with the reference levels.
In some underdeveloped nations, hypothyroidism may be caused by an iodine deficiency. In the United States, given our sodium laden diet, most people who exhibit symptoms of hypothyroidism actually have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease where your body’s immune system decides that your thyroid is the enemy and must be destroyed. Hashimoto's is the underlying cause of hypothyroidism.
Advocating for Your Own Health
A family friend of mine battled cancer successfully for several years--much longer that her health care providers through possible. From her struggles, I learned the importance of being my own health care advocate. While I'm sure my doctors care about my health, I am also certain that I care about my own well-being more than anyone else can. Fortunately, my pre-disposition to researching and learning helped me to seek out a specialist, change medications and take additional steps to make my life better above and beyond just the medication.
What Do You Think?
Have you been diagnosed with hypothyroidism? What was your experience like? Share your thoughts, opinions and experiences in the comments section below.
Figuring out how to stay healthy is a bijillion dollar business. On a daily basis, we see ads trying to sell us products and services to help us eat less, move more or cure what else ails me. A big part of adulting is figuring out how to take care of your health so you have the energy and wherewithall to do all of the other adulting that needs to be done.
A lot of the issues that we have as adults are not problems we had as children. Children eat when they are hungry, play when they are antsy and sleep when they are tired. As we grow up, we're told taught that those thing we do naturally are all wrong, and we learn to adapt. Unfortunately, when we become the adults, we try to relearn ways of being that actually work.
Fortunately, through sheer luck, I have managed not to parent every good instinct out of my child, so she has less to unlearn and relearn. Here are my top three pieces of advice for my daughter on the topic of physical health. It's also a good reminder for those of us who are grown adults who need to remind ourselves of some key habits that can help us course-correct our current unhealthy path.
Eat When You're Hungry; Stop When You're Full
Like many adults, I've had a lifelong battle with my weight, which is sometimes more successful than others. One issue that I have is emotional eating. In short, I have a terrible habit of eating for reasons that are not being hungry. As children, we all get this. We eat when we're hungry, and stop when we're full--and it infuriates the adults in their lives to no end. I think of the speeches I received as a child about not wasting food, cleaning my plate, finishing what I ordered at a restaurant and more. I've personally seen adults eat food I have left on my plate instead of having to watch it "go to waste." The irony is that we're' treating ourselves as a garbage can by eating when we not hungry for out of some misplaced sense of financial prudence.
Fortunately, you get the whole "eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full" thing way more than I ever have. Keep having those healthy boundaries when it comes to food. Don't listen to people who tell you that you have to eat the special cookies/cake/jam made specially for you, , that you're too skinny, or that stuffing food in your face when you're not hungry is any kind of a good idea. Be polite and thank people for whatever they offer, and turn them down. This one habit will save you the frustration of unnecessary weight gain more than any other habit.
As a small child, you were all about playing. There was recess at school, hitting the playground on weekends and a neverending barrage of birthday parties featuring laser tag, jumpy castles and swimming. Over time, that slowed down. Now recess is a thing of the past, but there is jui jitsu, roller skating, roller derby, trips to the waterpark, walking around the neighborhood with friends and circus classes. The older you get, there will be less opportunities for physical activity, and more times when you'll be watching videos, working on a computer or just generally being stationary. You will most likely end up with an office job that involves more sitting than not.
As you get older, and more "grown up," keep on playing and being physically active. Go canoeing, skating and hiking. When hanging out with friends, walk and talk, don't just go to a coffee shop or restaurant. Find something that you love and keep doing it--whether it's biking, or martial arts, or climbing or something totally else. Just keep moving.
Sometimes people think that exercise has to be awful and unpleasant. Don't try to make yourself to something you hate. Find something active you like and do that. You don't have to run, do cross fit or do yoga flow if that isn't your thing. Just do something to stay active, and keep trying new things to keep moving your body. Build movement into your life so it's just a natural thing that you WANT to do, not something you HAVE to do.
Get Enough Sleep
You know what else most adults are terrible at? Getting enough sleep. Most adults skimp on sleep under the guise of getting more done--and we typically are less efficient and effective when we don't sleep enough.
So what should you do? Go to bed when you are tired. If you'll be out late, take a disco nap to help make up for the sleep you won't get that night. If you have a "slumber party", get some sleep the day after. Go to bed at a decent time on school nights so that getting up isn't any more unpleasant that it needs to be. Get 8 or more hours of sleep a night. Everything is better when you're not overtired.
So why get sleep? As if the beauty of taking naps isn't enough, here are just a few reasons why getting enough sleep is important. It helps you continue to grow in your ongoing quest to be a head taller than me. It also helps you think more clearly and enjoy things more. It helps you be in a better mood and not cranky. You make better decisions when you're well rested. It also helps keep your weight in check and regulates your mood. Sleep is the most underrated thing you can do to maintain your overall well-being.
What Do You Think?
What are your top pieces of health advice?
After my first roller derby class, I took my daughter and a friend roller skating on a Saturday. I was overwhelmed by how hectic it was, and I was ecstatic when they had an adults only skate.--so ecstatic, in fact, that I skated way to aggressively & rolled my ankle spectacularly. I had to skip practice the next day because I had a noticeable limp.
I spent the following week doing everything I could to heal as quickly as possible including elevating, wrapping, icing, bathing in Epsom Salt and even a turmeric poultice. I ended up skating a week later (when I probably shouldn't have) with an ankle brace. Sheer determination, and my awful habit of playing hurt, kept me going.
Why Pre-Hab Exercises
Through this process, I realized that that the best way to heal from this kind of injury was to make efforts to prevent it from happening again. After much researching, I found several recommendations for exercises to strengthen my ankles. These are pre-hab exercises, meaning they are intended to prevent injuries, as opposed to re-hab exercises, meant to help recover from an injury.
They aren't sexy, exciting, or even particularly challenging. However, it's easy to take a few minutes daily to prevent a world of hurt later on. Here are the exercises I do, how many repetitions, and how I fit them in.
Ankle Circles & Ankle Alphabets
I do ankle circles, 10-20 circles, each direction, each ankle. I also do the alphabet with each ankle.
These can be done standing up, or seated. I can do these while I'm sitting at my desk at work, standing on the train platform, or just waiting. Standing up gives an added component of balance above and beyond just the ankle work--and who couldn't use more balance?
Heal Raises & Toe Raises
When it comes to heal raises and toe raises, I either do them for a set period of time, like 30 seconds, or for a set number, like 20. Either way, these are a great way to exercise ankles and calves.
These exercises can also be done whenever you have 30-60 seconds to spare. These can be done while in line (and not even looking very ridiculous), waiting for the microwave to finish or just anytime when you have a few moments with no onlookers.
Single Leg Balances
Single leg balances are helpful for ankle stability, and for overall balance.For roller derby and roller skating in general, in order to do several skills, you need to be able to balance (and skate) on one foot. When I first started roller derby, I lacked the balance and coordination to skate on one foot--much less do crossovers.
You can do these in whatever style you want. sometimes I do them standing up, other times, I do the while squatting. If you want to up your game further, close your eyes, too. (It's amazing how much harder closing your eyes makes it.)
I usually do 30 seconds per leg 1-2 times per day. Typically, I do this in front of the microwave (where I have a timer), while waiting for the train and counting to 30, or while making a latte using the fancy coffee machine at work (which conveniently takes 30 seconds for foam and 30 seconds for espresso).
I learn for a living. I distill my research into useful blog entries. Geek, parent, knitter, yogi, writer, educator, businessperson, gluten intolerant & roller derby nerd.