Have you ever been relieved to receive a diagnosis? Have you ever wanted to scream, “See I told you so! I knew something was wrong!” Maybe you DID scream it out!
Despite the fact that you now have a new line of diagnosis codes on your medical charts, you also have a renewed sense of peace knowing that all the symptoms you’ve been experiencing aren’t just in your head. So many women with hypothyroidism have their symptoms dismissed, are told they're overreacting, or that their symptoms are normal for their age or stage in life by other practitioners and well-meaning friends.
Finally some relief! But after your “I told you so” wears off, some anxiety may set in bringing with it a louder scream of, “Now what?”
And if you’re planning to conceive or are currently pregnant, those worries can be even more fierce.
Yikes! Sometimes the noise seems out of control!
Let’s set some things straight. Having hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy or sick. Nothing is broken inside you, and you certainly don’t need to sign up for life-long medications or medical appointments. Restrictive diets won’t keep you from enjoying your family meals or a night out, and best of all having hypothyroidism doesn't mean you're destined for infertility! Whew! Glad we got all that cleared up!
What do you have? Probably a lot of overwhelming feelings and emotions of fear, frustration, and sadness, along with swirling confusion with questions like, “Where the heck do I even begin?” You know what, my friend?
Acknowledge your emotions, fears, and questions for what they are, but don’t let them take control of the situation. No one wants a new diagnosis or medical condition attached to their chart, but now that you have one, let’s take the new information and use it to move forward with intentional action that will boost you from surviving to thriving. Ready? Let’s go!
As I’ve explained before, having hypothyroidism doesn’t mean you have Hashimoto’s and having Hashimoto’s doesn’t mean you have hypothyroidism. They often go together, but they aren’t always joined at the hip…or at the thyroid! More about that here.
To briefly review, hypothyroidism results when your thyroid function decreases. The reason for its dysfunction can be rooted in many factors, but at the end of the day, your thyroid just isn’t working like it should. Hypothyroidism is diagnosed with your lab values as well as your symptoms.
Hashimoto’s is more than just a thyroid problem. It’s a problem with your immune system. Your white blood cells (the soldiers of your immune system) invade your thyroid gland and begin to attack your thyroid cells as if they were pathogens. This autoimmune attack destroys your thyroid tissue and eventually this leads to hypothyroidism.
Since this attack can go on for years without showing a problem on your thyroid lab results, it’s important to measure your level of thyroid antibodies against thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and thyroglobulin (Tg). The presence of these antibodies are used to diagnose Hashimoto’s, so checking early for rising antibodies will catch it before it gets out of control.
Hashimoto’s isn’t only the most common autoimmune disorder, it’s the number one cause for hypothyroidism. This is why I’ll emphasize once again that it’s so important to check your thyroid antibodies early and before you have a thyroid problem.
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, here are some daily actionable steps that you can start TODAY.
Remember this is YOUR journey. As you receive advice from similarly-diagnosed friends, and you will, keep in mind that their story is not your prescription. Her medication or dosage might not be the same as yours; her lab values are from her body; her diet of choice shouldn’t become your shopping list. Whether it’s for hypothyroidism or another diagnosis, advice from others can ignite a new chorus of confusing and contradictory voices. Accept it as information that worked for someone else, but don’t let her suggestion become your guiding light.
Create your health timeline by recalling events as far back as you can remember. Things like unexpected weight gain or loss; onset of conditions like acid reflux or food sensitivities; significant changes in your menstrual cycle; seasons of pronounced fatigue or mood changes; traumatic, high-stress, or life-changing events in your life; infections or use of antibiotics (especially if you required multiple rounds); labs that showed anemia or nutrient deficiencies; and changes in your gut function. Seriously, anything that you can remember! These and many other symptoms and events provide signal flags along your journey and insight moving forward. Hindsight is 2020, right? You can start looking back with this timeline that I’ve created for you.
Take your medication. Sometimes this is the only place you need to start. If your doctor has prescribed a thyroid medication and provided good reason for doing so, take it as directed. If you’re not used to taking a daily med, give yourself time to get into the routine. Thyroid medication is also a bit of a diva—it’s usually taken first thing in the morning and needs to be taken an hour before consuming anything but water. If you’re not used to waiting that long for your cup of Joe once your feet hit the ground, that’s going to take some getting used to!
Listen to your doctor…and expect him/her to listen to you. Thankfully, your doctor has discovered and started to address your thyroid condition. You may need more frequent lab testing in the early stages of your diagnosis to evaluate how effective your medication and other treatment interventions are for your thyroid. As you receive these and other results, confidently ask your questions (as many as you have), and don’t settle for answers that don’t provide the information and peace you’re looking for. If you don’t feel heard or are left with unanswered or dismissed questions, consider getting a second opinion from someone who will provide the care you deserve.
Incorporate stress-reduction. On a daily basis, your body, and especially your thyroid, needs to know that you are safe. When you’re trying to optimize your female hormones and maximize fertility, this is even more important. Stress moderators like yoga, tai chi, meditation, sitting quietly, deep breathing exercises, listening to peaceful music, journalling, and walking in nature can all do wonders to provide the message that all is well. When your body is at better peace, your thyroid can send out the memo for “all systems go!" It’s able to do what it needs for your body, so now it feels ready to support another life within you.
Eat real food. This is something I come back to for everyone. Real, whole, nutrient-dense foods are the best for any body. As much as possible, choose organic, locally-grown, grass-fed, pasture-raised, or wild-caught foods. I know! When did food start requiring so many adjectives?
The more you feed your body processed foods that are laden with chemical additives and stripped of nutrients, the harder your body has to work to excrete the bad and try to find the good. These foods can also increase inflammation in your body—something you don’t want to do when you’re trying to calm down an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s.
Aim for more single-ingredient meats and produce, packaged foods with simple, real-food ingredients, and try to limit products with ingredients lists fit more for a chemistry lab than the plate in front of you. Take some time to make these food adjustments if these aren’t the foods you currently choose. One new food swap a week is still forward progress!
As you continue working with health practitioners, you might work together to add other helpful interventions like:
As you dig deeper personally and with your practitioners, you’ll discover your own root causes to your thyroid condition and learn individualized ways to keep your immune system in check. With each day that passes, you can begin to feel better, reignite your energetic self, optimize your thyroid numbers, reduce your thyroid antibodies, and quite possibly put your thyroid condition into remission.
Hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and any other diagnosis you may receive does not define you. It’s simply provides new information about you. As you use that information to make informed choices and integrate new behaviors into your life, your overwhelm will soon turn into greater understanding and empowerment as you become more in tune with your body and your health—from the personal interventions you make and from working with practitioners that put you before your diagnosis.