Weight gain, disrupted sleep, feeling tired and even depressed – these are all symptoms of an underactive thyroid. Are you one of the estimated one million undiagnosed Australians?
Hypothyroidism is a growing concern among Aussie women, so how do you know if you have it, and what can you do?
What Is hypothyroidism?
The Healthy Mummy checked in with The Australian Thyroid Foundation CEO Beverley Garside to get the latest information on this crippling condition.
“The thyroid gland makes thyroid hormones which controls your body’s growth and energy,” Beverley explains. “So your body has to have enough thyroid hormone to function. If your body is not making enough thyroid hormone your body slows down.”
Having an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism, is like a car trying to drive a car without petrol, and it can make you feel really sick. Here are some of the symptoms:
- Weight gain and fluid retention
- Depression/low Mood
- Sleep disturbance
- Thinning of hair and eyebrows
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Poor concentration
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Enlarged thyroid (Goitre)
- Low libido/ decreased fertility
- Menstrual changes
It’s thought that so many women go undiagnosed because they simply put these symptoms down to being busy mums.
“Women in general just think, ‘oh, I’m doing too much or it’s my hormones’, they make an excuse for why they’ve got these symptoms. But in general your body slows down so you could become extra tired, become lethargic, you can’t concentrate, you get a fuzzy brain,” Beverley says.
“Because women have hormonal changes during their life, those hormonal changes can trigger it off.”
What Should You Do If You Have These Symptoms?
The Australian Thyroid Foundation says hypothyroidism is very often misdiagnosed, or ignored completely. The organisation recommends arming yourself with information before visiting your doctor.
“If you’re suspicious that you’ve got a thyroid disorder you need to be very proactive in getting your GP to listen to you.”
The foundation says thyroid disorders can be difficult to diagnose, so it recommends you ask your doctor for biochemical testing (serum TSH, T4, T3 and Thyroid Antibodies). You can also push for a thyroid ultrasound, which will determine if there are any abnormalities in the gland.
“If you’ve got a family history of thyroid disease, or you’ve got a family history of autoimmune disease then there’s two thyroid antibody tests that need to be looked at. As well as that you should look at the amount of thyroid hormone your thyroid is making and how your body is absorbing it.”
What foods should you eat/avoid if you have a thyroid disease?
Nutritionist Samantha Gemmell tells The Healthy Mummy certain nutrients and foods can help your body deal with thyroid disease, including:
Iodine – “Most people know that iodine is good for the thyroid, but aren’t sure why,” Samantha explains. “Iodine is the building block for your thyroid hormones. The easiest way to include it is by consuming seaweed. If you don’t love sushi, why not grind up some kelp and sprinkle it over salads for a salty crunch?”
Selenium – “Another one of the critical nutrients for thyroid health. Selenium is a natural antioxidant. In fact, it’s currently being studied as a potential treatment for autoimmune thyroid conditions. Eating enough selenium is simple – just a few Brazil nuts a day will get you a daily
dose. Don’t go too crazy though – excess selenium can be bad for your body.”
Zinc – “Making thyroid hormone is only half the battle. A lot of people have issues with converting the thyroid hormone into its active form. This is where zinc is critical. Zinc can be found in healthy amounts in seafood, eggs and meat. If you’re plant-based, you should be munching away on pumpkin seeds daily, and possibly consulting a health practitioner about supplementation.”
Vitamin A – “Cooking plant foods, such as carrots, in a fat source will greatly enhance the levels that you absorb. You can also get true vitamin A through animal sources such as butter, liver and egg yolks.”
When it comes to what food to avoid, at the top of Samantha’s list is excess caffeine and alcohol: “Anything that depletes the body of nutrients is going to worsen the problem at hand,” she explains.
High GI foods should also be kept in check, because keeping blood sugar levels steady helps keep your energy levels up. Finally processed foods are also on the avoid list.
“Fake food is not food, it’s a food-like product. When you’re healing your thyroid, you want to have nutrient-dense foods 90 per cent of the time. Processed foods aren’t just empty, they can even drain the nutrients already in your body.”
More information can be found at The Australian Thyroid Foundation.
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