3 ways to manage your thyroid condition in winter
Did you know that thyroid hormone levels change seasonally? Find out how the colder months can affect both your thyroid and symptom management.
Thyroid conditions can be unpredictable at the best of times, but this is especially true when we have to consider the changing seasons (and temperatures).
When winter hits, you may feel a little groggier than usual, but it’s hard to know whether it’s general winter blues, the latest bug that’s going around, or a flare-up of thyroid symptoms.
So, how can you best manage your thyroid health this winter?
Three ways to support you and your thyroid this winter
1. Track your symptoms
Taking note of your health and being aware of any thyroid-related symptoms you have is good to do all year round. During winter you are more likely to see changes due to:
TSH rising in winter
Research has shown that thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) rises in winter , which can sometimes cause an upset to your symptoms. Tracking your symptoms and related hormones can help you spot whether your TSH is spiking. But how can TSH affect you?
As your TSH rises, so does your metabolic rate, which can increase your body temperature. You may view this as a positive or negative as, contrary to what you’d expect, the colder weather can sometimes relieve symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as feeling cold.
Winter-related health symptoms
For most people, winter can induce dry skin and hair and an increased appetite. And if you have a thyroid condition, these symptoms, along with others, may worsen.
Sometimes, an increase in appetite can lead to indulging in a few extra treats, but be sure to watch out for overindulgence in foods that are high in saturated fats (as these can cause inflammation) and foods that may affect your absorption of thyroid medication, such as coffee and walnuts.
Eating the wrong foods can also lead to an exacerbation of symptoms such as weight management, and may even lead to the mismanagement of glucose and fats, leading to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes .
An increased risk of vitamin D deficiency
Your thyroid symptoms could also be made worse by a possible vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiencies are prevalent in people with a thyroid condition (around 25% of people with hypothyroidism also have a vitamin D deficiency ). Therefore, ensuring you have healthy levels of vitamin D can help to manage your symptoms this winter.
2. Stick with a thyroid-friendly diet
Though briefly mentioned above, ensuring you are eating the right foods in winter can be vital for symptom management.
If you have an underactive thyroid, your body will metabolise food slower, meaning you are more likely to gain weight. And weight gain can put you at a higher risk of many other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes. Eating a diet that is low in saturated fats can help to mediate this – be sure to watch out for carb-rich winter favourites, such as meat-filled pies.
Another idea is to eat foods that can help to reduce inflammation in the body, such as foods high in antioxidants.
Foods high in antioxidants include :
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Beans (such as black and pinto beans)
Eating these can help to keep your thyroid levels (and associated symptoms) stable.
You can read more about diet and thyroid symptom management in our blog: what foods are good for thyroid health?
3. Look after your mental health
The awareness of mental health and its link to physical health has grown rapidly over the past few years. Studies have shown that people with a thyroid condition are at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions like depression and anxiety .
During winter, you may be at higher risk of developing a mental health condition due to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) . SAD is a type of depression that you experience during specific seasons or times of the year. You can experience SAD in both summer and winter, but it is more prevalent in winter.
Symptoms of SAD include :
- Lack of energy
- Not wanting to see people
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Feelings of low mood and/or anxiety
SAD is still a type of depression, so should be treated in the same way, and you should speak to your doctor if you have the symptoms. Some people do see improvements through at-home treatments such as light therapy (or SAD lamps).
Other things you can do to help boost your mood include:
- Going on walks – walking does just as much for the mind as it does for the body. Try walking without distractions (yes, this means keeping your phone in your pocket). Sometimes, being mindful of your surroundings and listening to the birds chirping on a frosty morning can bring a sense of calm to your life.
- Have a social media detox – this is often recommended if you spend a lot of time looking through social media. Though it can be very handy and informative, it can also cause feelings of guilt and unworthiness and can lead to unattainable expectations.
- Take some time for self-care – read a book, take more bubble baths, or start a new hobby. Allowing time to look after yourself can have more of an impact on your mental health than you realise.
Boosting your mood and treating any mental health conditions truly does wonders for your physical health. There are many links between stress and its negative effects on the body. Therefore, treat looking after your mental health as you would your thyroid medication and make sure you allow time to look after it because it really can make all the difference to your symptom management.
Where to find support
If you feel you need more support with either your thyroid health or mental health this winter, below are a few go-to resources:
- Mind UK – Mind provides advice and support on all things mental health.
- Thyroid UK – Thyroid UK is a charity that provides support for people with a thyroid condition, both diagnosed and pre-diagnosed.
- Samaritans – Samaritans are available any time, day or night. They’re there to talk about anything you may have concerns about. If you are feeling low and need to chat with a Samaritan, you can call them on 116 123. They also have a self-help app.
- NHS – the NHS has plenty of resources for both thyroid and mental health, including self-referral links. If you feel like you need to speak to someone but don’t feel comfortable speaking to your doctor, you can refer yourself for therapy. They also have a free mind plan that contains personalised tips and advice to help you be kind to your mind.
- Our Thyroid Guide - we've put together a series blogs to help you along your thyroid journey.
- Kuzmenko, N.V. et al. (2021) “Seasonal variations in levels of human thyroid-stimulating hormone and thyroid hormones: A meta-analysis,” Chronobiology International, 38(3), pp. 301–317. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/07420528.2020.1865394.
- Wang, C. (2013) “The relationship between type 2 diabetes mellitus and related thyroid diseases,” Journal of Diabetes Research, 2013, pp. 1–9. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/390534.
- Appunni, S., Rubens, M., Ramamoorthy, V. et al. Association between vitamin D deficiency and hypothyroidism: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2007–2012. BMC Endocr Disord 21, 224 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12902-021-00897-1
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