Q: I’m tired and cold all the time. Could it be my thyroid?
–Margot McNally, Montreal
A: It’s no secret that as women age, their hormone levels begin to drop. But most people don’t realize that this doesn’t involve just estrogen and progesterone—thyroid hormones decline too. I always check thyroid function when a patient complains of fatigue, but that doesn’t mean I’ll always find something.
Symptoms of an underactive (hypo-) thyroid—fatigue, feeling cold, constipation, weight gain, and hair loss—often appear long before blood work hints at a problem. Feeling tired first thing in the morning is a hallmark of weakening thyroid function. Mood changes, such as depression or anxiety, may also be subtle signals. Your hair texture might change before you experience hair loss: In the early stages of thyroid imbalance, you may notice that your hair breaks easily or the strands are thinner. Ask your doctor to perform a detailed thyroid panel.
If you’re aware of these signs, you can take steps to balance a sluggish thyroid naturally, without taking thyroid hormone. In some cases, you can ward off full-blown hypothyroidism and avoid medication, but even if you do need thyroid hormones, natural remedies can help. A diet rich in iodine, iron, selenium, and magnesium is critical for thyroid function. Since so many women’s diets are lacking in these nutrients, I often recommend supplements—75 mcg of iodine, 30 mg of chelated iron, 200 IU of selenium, and 200 to 400 mg of chelated magnesium. Food allergies and intolerances, especially gluten sensitivity, are increasingly being recognized as thyroid saboteurs.
Finally, keep all forms of stress—work, overexercise, or relationship conflicts—in check. Constant stress forces the thyroid to work harder, overtaxing the organ to the point that it starts to decline. Get the proper amounts of sleep and exercise, and practice good stress-management tactics.