Lowdown on slowdown

Lowdown on slowdown

Getting an underactive thyroid to respond better is easy if one’s sleep pattern, lifestyle and stress levels are kept in check, suggests Dr Sapna Lulla


Have you been feeling lethargic, sleepless and also lack motivation to wake up in the morning? Is your mental fogginess adding to your fatigue levels and making you feel depressed? Are you also running a never-ending marathon to lose the increased kilos on the scale? If these sound familiar, you are probably putting up with an undiagnosed underactive thyroid.

Located at the bottom of the neck, behind the Adam’s apple is a butterfly-shaped gland called the thyroid gland which is a bit like the accelerator pedal in the car. It secretes two hormones thyroxine (known as T4) and triiodothyronine (known as T3). Together, these hormones regulate the body’s metabolism, controlling the rate at which we burn energy and also how quickly the reactions happen.

An underactive thyroid, as the word rightly states, is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. Should the metabolism slow down due to insufficient thyroid hormone production, the symptoms include tiredness, muscle aches and cramps, lethargy, weight gain, irregularity of periods, mental depression, brittle hair and nails, dry skin, loss of libido.

Yet while hypothyroidism is a common condition affecting more than 13% of women in India, women face 10 times more risk than men for developing hypothyroidism, and this risk increases with age. However, the root cause of thyroid can be managed by altering one’s lifestyle. The thyroid gland is impacted significantly by stress. In survival prioritisation, in flight or fight mode in the body, the rush of adrenaline prevents metabolic burn and preserves fuel reserves.

Stress & lifestyle

Stress can be both physical or mental, leaving an impact on both emotional and cognitive areas. Stress could be self-induced and unintentional, yet driving the gland to be overworked. Running a marathon, family dynamics gastrointestinal distress, new relationships and job deadlines can be considered as stressors. Stress and anxiety can truly put a pause on this metabolic gland.

Researchers not only found a link between stressful life events and the onset of thyroid but also the correlation between self-reported stress and disease progression, suggesting that “stress management” is effective in improving the prognosis of the disease. It is extremely important that we manage our daily lifestyle and stress levels to prevent any kind of thyroid issues.

Medications should be reduced to leastpossible extent when chronic stress levels and lifestyles are managed. It is like a vicious circle between the thyroid response and the stress response. Fortunately, there are a few things one can do to interrupt the stress/inflammatory response and break the cycle, including exercise but also getting sufficient sleep and incorporating mindful relaxation (eg, meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises) into one’s daily routine.

Hypothyroidism & pregnancy

Studies estimate the occurrence of hypothyroidism in pregnant women in India is 4-6% on an average. An underactive thyroid gland during pregnancy can negatively affect foetal growth in uterus lowering the intelligence quotient of the foetus. Untreated hypothyroidism in pregnancy could lead to miscarriages / premature births / pre-eclampsia and stillbirths. In addition to basic medication, simple lifestyle changes and decreasing stress can improve the immune system, easing the symptoms of hypothyroidism.Simple changes to keep hypothyroidism at bay and to make you energetic and enthusiastic include a proper sleep pattern/decreased stress and a healthy diet.

Lifestyle adjustments

Having a thyroid condition can make everyday living more challenging. When your thyroid is thrown off balance, a healthy response to stress may be more difficult to muster, but don’t worry, the following lifestyle adjustments will help:

Getting smart about your sleep: Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid affects the quality of your sleep. A regular sleep schedule makes it easier to fall and stay asleep. It is important to have 7-8 hours of quality sleep. Having a relaxing pre-sleep routine is important to facilitate good sleep. The body does better when you sleep in a calm, comfortable ambience and follow a regular pattern.

Eating right: A dietary change could cripple the fatigue/brain fog and help in suppressing the imbalance. Focus on a balanced nutritious diet with no processed foods in your diet. Protein-rich foods transport the thyroid hormone to all the tissues. Omega-3 rich foods — fish and animal products, flaxseeds and walnuts control cell growth and immune function, improving the response to the thyroid hormones. It is important to include fruits and vegetables in the diet as they are rich sources of micronutrients and vitamins.

Exercise routine: Stress has a negative impact on the immune system. Exercise can relieve symptoms associated with hypothyroidism and improve cardiovascular health and muscle mass. Regular walking or playing a sport helps counter mood swings and increase energy levels while keeping the weight in check. 

Relaxing right: It is very important to identify ways to unwind. Taking time off to reflect or meditate can help both the mind and the body. A simple craft making or deep breathing/ yoga session can act as an energiser. A positive attitude could also work towards ensuring that the thyroid gland functions normally.

Making certain lifestyle changes can go a long way in managing stress, controlling your anti-inflammatory reactions so you work towards promoting a healthy thyroid.

(The author is consultant OB/GYN, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bengaluru)