Listen up, friends:
The fatigue, headaches, insomnia, mood swings and weight gain you are experiencing might not all be in your head. They might be in your neck.
The thyroid gland, located just below our adam’s apple, produces hormones that effect every cell in our bodies. When it’s not working properly (which is common), we can have a wide variety of distressing symptoms, often at the same time.
In 2008, when I first got sick with autoimmune thyroid disease (Grave’s Disease), I thought I had the flu. My eyes swelled, I had cold sweats, muscle aches, fatigue, headaches, and I lost a lot of weight really quickly. It took three doctor visits, several weeks, and a full blood panel, to figure out what was making me feel so awful.
What followed after is a long story, full of specialists not returning my calls, giving me bad advice, and leading me down dead end paths that cost a lot of money. It was an overwhelming, frustrating, and disappointing experience.
But, it taught me some lessons that everyone should know about thyroid disease:
1. Thyroid disease is incredibly common, and often goes undiagnosed. I am amazed by how many people just deal with it for years. No one should have to do this! Unfortunately, this problem will likely continue, because thyroid disease is widely misunderstood. This is why it’s important to get tested, and take the time to understand what your levels mean. You need to know not only the numbers, but also where you fall in the range for the test. I was half a point outside the “normal” range when I first got sick, and could barely get off the couch for months. It turns out that what is “normal” for my body is not what is “normal” for most people, and treating me for hyperthyroidism (despite a number that would not concern most doctors) made all the difference.
2. It’s complicated. There’s no simple fix, so buckle your seatbelt and hang on for the ride. There’s a lot of conflicting information about thyroid disfunction on the internet, and if you see three different doctors (including naturopaths), they will give you three different diagnoses/treatment plans. Endocrinologists will tell you to have thyroid removal surgery, or suggest that you “kill it off” with radioactive iodine. My doctor wanted me to do this, and “just take Synthroid for the rest of your life”. (Synthroid contains contains talc, which is believed to cause ovarian cancer, which I am already at risk for, because my mother had it…so, no thank you!) Naturopaths will put you on supplements. And other doctors might even act like it’s not a big deal, because they don’t understand how serious it can be.
3. This disease changes constantly. Hormone levels in our bodies fluctuate daily, and evolve over the years. And, just like estrogen and testosterone, thyroid levels are harder to balance as we get older. It is especially important to know that, if you are diagnosed with hyperthyroidism (as I was), there is a good chance that your thyroid will eventually “burn out” and you will have hypothyroidism instead. This can be very confusing. I knew it was possible, but I was still caught off guard when it actually happened to me this past year. Had I been paying better attention, the transition would have been easier.
4. Thyroid disease is a really, really big deal. Don’t let anyone make you think otherwise! It effects our metabolism, cognitive function, moods, immunity, and much more. I’ve been living with autoimmune thyroid disease for at least 5 years, and probably even longer. Prior to my diagnosis, I think it had a lot to do with my chronic migraines, sinus infections, insomnia, depression, fertility issues, who knows what else! I could have spared myself a lot of heartache, had I known about this sooner.
5. We have to be our own advocates. There is a lot we can do with food and exercise to relieve the symptoms. This is why it is essential to get educated. Read up on the subject, and figure out who you can trust. A good place to start is with this article, the best I have seen about thyroid disfunction. If you think you have thyroid issues, or have unexplained ailments, get your thyroid levels tested, and always keep copies of the results to refer back to later. Don’t wait to do this! Treating this disease can be a long trial and error process, so the sooner you start asking questions, the sooner you will feel better. And if, like me, you absolutely need thyroid hormone supplementation, there are cleaner alternatives to Synthroid–ask about compounded drugs and understand what fillers are being used.
6. It can get better. There is hope, for those living with thyroid disease, but you have to take care of yourself. Eat nutrient-dense foods. Remove processed foods, sugars, caffeine and alcohol from your diet, and exercise every day. Drink lots of filtered water. If you think you are hypothyroid, avoid foods that inhibit thyroid hormone production, such as cruciferous vegetables (kale, brussel sprouts, spinach, cauliflower, etc.) and strawberries. If you think you are hyperthyroid, add more of these foods to your diet. Also, if you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism (which is way more common than hyperthyroidism), consider liquid iodine and selenium supplementation. And shop around for a doctor you respect and trust.
Most of all, don’t feel bad about yourself. Before my diagnosis, I thought my recurring ailments were my fault, and I just had to live with them. But now I know better…I just have a temperamental thyroid and need to handle it with care. I think there are a lot of people with the same problem, so we need to support each other in this fight.
That’s what this blog is all about…sharing information that helps others get healthy, and stay healthy. Feel free to share your questions and insights here, or on our Facebook page. The more we help each other, the healthier everyone can be. ॐ