The arrival of the cold weather season means it's time to pay attention to some tips that can help you "winterize" your health, and enjoy better health throughout the colder months.
1. Get your TSH checked.
Cold weather can increase your body's need for thyroid hormone, and cause your TSH to elevate, so if you notice hypothyroid symptoms worsening as the weather gets colder, it's worth having your blood levels evaluated. You may need a slight increase in your thyroid hormone replacement dosage. Some doctors even make it standard practice to raise their patients' dosages slightly during colder months, in order to meet the body's requirements.
2. Tune up your TSH.
If you're still having significant hypothyroid symptoms, it's a good time to check in with your physician to discuss whether you are at the optimum TSH level for you. Some patients feel best when TSH levels are at low-normal range, so it's worth discussing with your doctor.
3. Make sure you're on the optimal thyroid drug for you.
Some patients feel better on the natural Armour thyroid, others need the addition of T3, and some do best when switching from one brand of levothyroxine, i.e., Synthroid or Levoxyl, to another, i.e., Unithroid. Make sure you're on the right drug that relieves the majority of your hypothyroidism symptoms.
4. Get a flu shot.
Thyroid conditions, even when treated, can lower your resistance to viral infections, and slow down your recuperative abilities. Consider getting a flu shot as early in the season as you can, and look into some alternatives -- such as regular use of herbs, supplements, or antiviral remedies such as Sambucol -- that can help prevent viral infection.
5. Start exercising.
Holiday stress and cold weather blues can all benefit from beginning a regular program of exercise. Whether you join a gym, start a walking program, take a yoga class, or do Pilates tapes, even a gentle exercise program can help banish the blues and relieve stress -- not to mention help avoid winter weight gain.
6. Get some sunlight every day.
There's evidence that exposure to sunlight affects hormones that have an impact on both brain chemistry and the endocrine system. Even if you don't suffer from a full-out case of "seasonal affective disorder", 20 to 30 minutes a day of outdoor light exposure can help ward off fatigue and depression. My doctor's own tip...if you don't want to be outside for prolonged periods when it's cold, go run errands in your car, but keep the window open, so you are exposed to the natural sunlight. (Keep in mind, wearing sunglasses will reduce the benefit of the sunlight.)
7. Eat less sugar.
Many people with thyroid conditions find that they are susceptible to processed sugar, in a number of different ways. They may have some underlying yeast overgrowth candidiasis, or they may have some level of insulin resistance, or they may have some autoimmune susceptibility or food allergies to processed sugars. But with the double whammy of winter weight gain and depression both being factors that can be affected by too much sugar in the diet, it makes sense to bypass those trays of holiday cookies and candy canes as much as possible, in favor of healthier alternatives.
8. Get enough sleep.
The average American doesn't get enough sleep. Add a thyroid condition to the mix, and it's clear that many thyroid patients are walking around in a state of chronic sleep deprivation. Autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances and difficulty losing weight are all aggravated by insufficient sleep, so it's critical that you make sure you get your zzzz's. How much do you need? The typical adult without a thyroid problem need seven to eight hours -- thyroid patients probably need even more. So forego a bit of holiday merrymaking in favor of a few extra winks, and your body will thank you for it. For more info, read:
Is Your Thyroid Making You Exhausted?
9. Reduce your stress.
With holiday shopping, travel, relatives, parties, and other stress added to the already hectic pace, there's no better time for your health to incorporate a form of stress reduction into your daily activities. Keep in mind that different types of stress reduction work best for different people. Some respond well to needlework, or crafts, such as beading or quilting. (For me, for example, crocheting is an excellent stress-buster.) Other people find mind-body exercise such as yoga or tai chi highly effective. Prayer or meditation can be the right stress reduction technique for some. Even remembering to taking frequent stretch breaks while working at your computer can go a long way toward reducing stress. I keep Laureen Lucero's Pause and Stretch CD in my computer CD slot, and regularly do her relaxing stretches right at my desk!
10. Focus on eating well.
Sure, the cookies, cakes, candies, stuffing, and savory hors d'oeuvres may be calling to you, but now is the time to pay particular attention to eating well, and getting proper nutrition. That means more fruits and vegetables, ocean fish, nuts and seeds, and other foods that are good for the thyroid. For an in-depth look at foods that help your thyroid, see my interview with Dr. Edward Bauman.
11. Eat more protein.
Protein requirements go up slightly in the colder weather, and people with thyroid problems in particular need to be sure to get sufficient protein. Try to make sure you're getting enough ocean fish, lean meat, poultry, and beans (but go easy on the soy!) in your diet. Ocean fish in particular are a good source of essential fatty acids, which can also help with winter hair loss and dry skin problems.
12. Be sure to laugh.
In the middle of all the holiday mayhem, be sure you take time to laugh. You could head out to catch a funny or upbeat film, or make time to catch your favorite sitcom, or check out a humor book. Laughter is good for the hormones, and good for the soul.