Winterize Your Thyroid - 10 Tips for Surviving the Winter Cold

10 Cold Weather Survival Tips for Thyroid Patients This Winter

The winter months don't have to be more difficult for thyroid patients, if they "winterize.".

When it's that time of year, and we're up to our necks in freezing cold weather, snow, and ice, it's time for thyroid patients to do a cold weather tune-up. Surviving the cold weather season means you need to consider some helpful tips to help you "winterize" your thyroid, and enjoy better health during the colder months.

1. Get your thyroid levels checked.

Cold weather can increase your body's need for thyroid hormone, make you feel more hypothyroid, and may cause your TSH to rise, and Free T4 and Free T3 levels to drop.

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.

NOTE: Some doctors even make it standard practice to automatically raise their patients' dosages slightly during colder months, in order to meet the body's cold weather thyroid stress. 

2. Tune up your thyroid.

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. Keep in mind that while some doctors consider the TSH reference range (.3 to 4.5 or so) is "normal, some 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.

3. Make sure you're on the optimal thyroid drug for you.

Some patients feel better on natural desiccated thyroid drugs (i.e., Armour thyroid or Nature-throid), others need the addition of a T3 drug (like Cytomel), and some do best when switching from one brand of synthetic levothyroxine, i.e., Synthroid, Unithroid, or Tirosint.

Make sure you're on the right drug that safely relieves the majority of your hypothyroidism symptoms. (Read Thyroid Patients: Do You Need T3 or Natural Desiccated Thyroid?)

4. Start exercising.

Cold weather blues may make you less likely to work out, but there's no better time to begin 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. Not sure how to exercise in the winter? Read these Winter Exercise Tips!  Need an indoor exercise program that won't exhaust you? Try my favorite program, T-Tapp.

5. 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.) If you have a more pronounced seasonal affective disorder, and find yourself gaining weight and feeling significantly depressed during the colder months, consider light therapy. I have a Sunbox DL desktop desk lamp that I LOVE, it helps a great deal these colder, greyer days. Also make sure to get Vitamin D levels checked, and supplement if necessary

6. Eat less sugar.

While a cold day may say hot chocolate and cookies, that may be the worst thing you can do. 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 sugary treats as much as possible, in favor of healthier alternatives. There are some dietary suggestions in my book The Thyroid Diet Revolution.

7. 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 -- many thyroid patients even even more. And in the winter, our bodies seem to need even a bit more. So forego a bit of late night television in favor of a few extra winks, and your body will thank you for it.

8. Reduce your stress.

With work, families, activities and other stressors everywhere, 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. Visit our wonderful site on stress management for additional ideas.

9. Avoid the flu.

Flu seems to be going around full steam these days, and if you haven't succumbed, you can still avoid it! Find out how at the Cold and Flu site..

10. Go with the flow...

Sometimes, you just need to recognize that cold, winter days are nature's way of telling us to slow down. In this column by C. Geraghty, you'll find profound insights on the emotional and mind-body aspects of "The Winter Blues" that are well worth reading.

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