I remember refusing to wear jackets in the dead of the winter while an undergrad at the University of Illinois. This was before I had thyroid issues! Fast forward a few years, and I was sleeping under two blankets in southern California and wearing sweaters and scarves in my office while everyone else showed up in short sleeves! People have often said that “blood thins” when someone moves to a warmer climate, so I fully attributed my inability to tolerate the cold to my body acclimating to the California weather. Never suspected my thyroid!
The thyroid gland has been called a thermostat for our body, as it helps to regulate heat. People with hypothyroidism are prone to having low body temperatures and cold intolerance. It’s one of those symptoms that we often brush off, don’t notice and don’t take seriously but can be very distressful when we do not take the proper precautions. People with hypothyroidism are also at greater risk of suffering from hypothermia, a potentially life-threatening condition when exposed to cold temperatures.
Cold intolerance is also one of those things that you can never really pinpoint. I remember putting on a sweatshirt and complaining to my husband that our house was too cold only to find that the thermostat was set at 73 degrees Fahrenheit!
Check Your Thyroid Function
If you are colder than everyone else you live with, work with, or go to school with, check your thyroid function. Most people feel best with a TSH between 0.5-2. Even a TSH of 3 can make you feel too cold! You may need to talk to your doctor about increasing your medication dose.
Some individuals who are exposed to cold weather may require a slightly higher dose of thyroid medication in the winter compared to the summer.
You can read more about TSH in this post: What To Do If Your TSH Is Normal and You Are Anything But.
Know that you are more sensitive and prepare accordingly.
People with normal thyroid function can force their thyroids to produce more hormones to help generate more heat. Those who rely on a daily thyroid medication don’t have the same luxury. Once we use up the supplemental hormone, it becomes harder to generate heat on our own. Exposure to extreme temperatures is a stress on the body, especially when thyroid function is impaired. Needing to generate more heat will likely make you more tired and further weaken your thyroid.
Strategies for Warming Up and Giving Your Thyroid a Break
1. Get plenty of rest
Understand that you may need more rest during the colder months and be sure to listen to your body. As the days get shorter and nights get longer, our bodies naturally want to rest more.
2. Keep your home temperature warm
Invest in insulation when appropriate. If you have a landlord that likes to keep your home’s temperature cooler in the winter months, it may help to get a letter from your doctor stating that you need to have the temperature in your home regulated due to your medical condition
3. Avoid unnecessary exposures to cold weather
If you do need to go out into the cold, dressing in layers helps, as does wearing hats, scarves, gloves, and mittens. Wearing a warm vest under your jacket can also be very comforting.
4. External heat
Hot baths are a nice way to get yourself warm without making your thyroid do all the work!
Electric blankets, heaters, etc. can help you get through the winter. My favorite is the BioMat!
Sock buddies – you can make your heating pads by taking an old sock (preferably clean), filling it with rice and tying the end. Great way to use up the leftover rice if you have gone grain free! You can then heat the sock in the microwave for 2 minutes- be careful applying to your body as heating temperatures may vary.
Foot soaks – often soaking your feet in hot water for 5-10 minutes will warm up the rest of your body.
Cuddling and holding hands, cuddling up with your significant other or your pets can help you get through the cold. The saying “Three Dog Night” is thought to originate from Eskimos who would keep dogs in their igloos to help them warm up on particularly cold nights! Spouses and pets are usually willing to share their heat with you in exchange for back and belly rubs 🙂
5. Optimizing your nutrition
Balancing your blood sugar will help you stay warm. Hypoglycemia weakens the thyroid and adrenals and can cause hypothermia. Be sure to eat high-quality fats and proteins every few hours and limit sugary and starchy foods.
Some foods can increase the metabolism and are known as thermogenic foods because they create heat when converting food to energy. Thermogenic foods may help increase thyroid activity and calorie burning by enhancing thermogenesis, a process in which the body burns calories to utilize the foods you have just eaten, converting those calories to heat.
Ingredients in fruits, vegetables, herbs, meat, dairy, and spices have been found to be thermogenic. They can be categorized as methylxanthines, polyphenols, capsaicinoids/capsinoids, minerals, proteins/amino acids, carbohydrates/sugars, fats and fatty acids.
Thermogenic polyphenols include green tea extract, carob, resveratrol, quercetin, oleuropein (from extra virgin olive oil), curcumin (turmeric), chlorogenic acid (coffee beans), soy isoflavones, kaempferol (in broccoli, spinach, berries).
Some spices that have been found to have stimulated thermogenesis include chili, mustard, red pepper, black pepper, and red hot chili peppers.
Fats with thermogenic properties include avocado, saturated animal fats (lard, duck fat, butyrate from ghee (clarified butter), and coconut oil.
Caffeine is thermogenic by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, but can also be deleterious to adrenal function.
You can read more about the adrenals in this post: Are Your Adrenals Sabotaging Your Health?
I have never been able to tolerate spicy foods and try to avoid caffeine… my personal favorite way to heat up with foods is eating soups and stews with plenty of fat in the form of coconut oil, palm oil, or duck fat as well as making coconut milk and avocado protein smoothies.
You can download my favorite recipes for free at www.thyroidpharmacist.com/gift
6. Get support
It helps to let your friends and family members know that you are more sensitive to the cold. My family was more than willing to give me extra blankets, sweaters, and hand warmers on a dog sledding trip because they knew I had the potential to get cold quicker.
7. Seasonal affective disorder
People with thyroid conditions are more likely to experience the “Winter Blues.” My favorite thyroid intervention for beating the winter blues is a beach vacation, and I would highly recommend all of you to take one! Unfortunately, a beach vacation wasn’t always possible, so I had to find alternate strategies for those of us without access to private jets and villas. Mitigating strategies include getting on an appropriate dose and form of thyroid medications.
You can read more about thyroid medications here: Which Thyroid Medication Is Best?
Getting a Blue-Light, I have the Phillips Go-LITE Blue Light Therapy Device. One theory behind seasonal depression is a lack of sunlight… Blue light therapy boxes have been found to alleviate winter blues.
Eating fermented foods and probiotics. My Polish ancestors ate fermented foods all winter- I think they were on to something! A balance of good bacteria, like the kind found in ferments and probiotics, has been correlated with positive emotions, and a lack of beneficial bacteria has been associated with feelings of depression and anxiety in recent studies. I love Body Ecology fermented products.
8. Vitamin D
Hope these tips help you on your journey!
PS. You can download a free Thyroid Diet Guide, 10 Thyroid friendly recipes, and the Nutrient Depletions and Digestion chapter for free by going to www.thyroidpharmacist.com/gift. You will also receive occasional updates about new research, resources, giveaways and helpful information.
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