8 Cold Weather Tips for Thyroid Patients

Woman with arms outstretched in snow
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If you've got a form of hypothyroidism, you may notice that symptoms start to surface in the winter. This is because, as the temperature drops, your thyroid must work harder to function properly. Your thyroid is integral to heat regulation and metabolism, and it can make you particularly susceptible to the effects of wintertime temperature changes.

Here are eight ways to support your thyroid function in the cold weather months so you can feel your best.

Have Your Levels Checked

Cold weather can increase your body's need for thyroid hormone and cause or exacerbate hypothyroid symptoms. Commonly, during colder months, your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level will rise, and free T4 and free T3 levels will drop.

If you notice hypothyroid symptoms worsening as the weather gets colder, it's worth having your blood levels tested. You may need an increase in your thyroid hormone replacement dosage. Some doctors make it standard practice to automatically raise their patients' dosages slightly during colder months.

Make Sure You're on the Best Drug for You

Some patients feel better on natural desiccated thyroid drugs like Armour Thyroid or Nature-throid; others need the addition of a T3 drug (like Cytomel), and some do best switching from one brand of synthetic levothyroxine to another. (Synthetic forms of levothyroxine include Synthroid, Unithroid, and Tirosint.) If you're not feeling well in the winter, it might be the right time to talk to your doctor about trying a different medication.

Soak Up Some Sun

There's evidence that exposure to sunlight affects hormones that have an impact on both brain chemistry and the endocrine system. Even 20 to 30 minutes of outdoor light exposure a day can help ward off fatigue and depression. Another important reason to seek out the sun is for vitamin D, which is critical to thyroid function.

If you're prone to seasonal affective disorder and find yourself gaining weight and feeling significantly depressed during the colder months, consider light therapy as an adjunct to sunshine. You can get an inexpensive light therapy box or desk lamp to help deal with the shorter, colder days.

These lamps don't provide vitamin D, however, so if you're not getting outside regularly, get your Vitamin D levels checked; your doctor may recommend a supplement.

Often, people without thyroid problems are misdiagnosed as hypothyroid during the winter months due to the normal seasonal change in hormone levels.

Get Moving

Cold weather blues may make you less inclined to work out, but there's no better time to stay active or begin an exercise routine. Whether you join a gym, start a walking program, take a yoga class, or do Pilates, getting regular exercise can help banish the blues and relieve stress (not to mention help you avoid winter weight gain).

Tame Your Sweet Tooth

While a cold day may beg for hot chocolate and cookies, consuming sweets may not please your thyroid. Many people with thyroid conditions find that they are susceptible to the negative effects of processed sugar, such as underlying yeast overgrowth (candidiasis) or insulin resistance. Sugar can also contribute to winter weight gain and depression, so it makes sense to bypass sugary treats as much as possible and find healthier options.

Get Enough Sleep

The average American doesn't get enough sleep. Add a thyroid condition to the mix and it's clear that many with the condition 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 to get your Zzzzs.

The typical adult without a thyroid problem needs seven to eight hours; many thyroid patients need even more, especially in the winter. So consider foregoing the late night binge-watching in favor of a few extra winks.

Reduce Stress

The holiday season tends to compound the stresses of daily life, and stress isn't good for anyone's health. Try to incorporate a form of stress reduction into your daily activities, whether that involves yoga, tai-chi, prayer, meditation, or a hobby. Even remembering to take frequent stretch breaks while working at your computer can go a long way toward reducing stress.

Avoid the Flu and Colds

Having an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto's disease or Graves' disease means your immune system is compromised, which makes you more vulnerable to getting colds and flu. In addition, it may take you longer to recover than someone without a thyroid condition.

To avoid getting sick, wash your hands regularly and avoid close contact with those who are ill. Talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot, as there is some controversy surrounding flu vaccines for people with autoimmune diseases.

A Word From Verywell

If you're still having significant hypothyroid symptoms despite following some of the above advice, it's probably a good time to check in with your physician to discuss whether your TSH level is optimum for you. Some doctors consider the TSH reference range (.3 to 4.5 or so) "normal," while other practitioners feel strongly that TSH levels above 1.5 to 2.0 are not optimal and require further assessment, more in-depth blood testing, and evaluation of symptoms. Certain patients, however, feel best when TSH levels are at the low to normal range.

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