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Groundhog Day, Winter and Your Thyroid

thyroid affected by the weather

Happy Groundhog Day! February 2nd was deemed a holiday in the United States in 1887 to determine if we would have an early spring or not. According to legend, if the groundhog emerges on a cloudy day and is unable to see his shadow, we will experience an early spring; however, if he emerges when it’s sunny and casts a shadow, we will be in store for six more weeks of winter. Today in Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil (say that three times fast) did see his shadow, which means we will have six more weeks of winter. Unfortunately, Phil isn’t always right and we may still experience a long winter which could be bad news for your thyroid.

Because your thyroid gland is the body’s thermoregulator, which means it regulates and maintains the body’s temperature, the weather outside can put a great toll on the gland. If the current conditions are really cold, the gland has to do double duty to keep the body at the right temperature. This is especially true for those living in extreme conditions like Antarctica.

In addition to making your thyroid work harder, researchers have also found a correlation between climate temperatures and the rate of thyroid cancer1. It was stated that individuals who lived in colder areas had a significantly higher risk of developing thyroid cancer.

If you find yourself in a cold climate, you may begin to experience worsening symptoms of hypothyroidism such as dry skin, fatigue, cold hands and feet (this may be hard to determine if it’s below freezing outside), weight gain, and constipation, among others. Thankfully there are a few things you can do to get your thyroid through the winter!

Now would be a great time to talk to your doctor about your thyroid medication. They may want to run a blood test first (make sure they do a full thyroid panel), but after the results come back, it may be smart to discuss a potential increase in your dose, this is also known as a “seasonal increase”. An increase may help alleviate some of those worsening symptoms and you can always lower the dose once the weather changes.

You should also consider exercising if you don’t already have a routine in place. Granted, no one wants to exercise when it’s cold. We would much rather bundle up next to the fire with a nice warm cup of hot chocolate (or tea if you prefer), but exercising will not only help heat your body up, exercising can also help boost the metabolism (controlled by the thyroid) and can help ward off the winter blues.

Also, keep away from thyroid disruptors. This should be the case all year long, but if your thyroid is having an extremely hard time handling the weather, you’ll want to give it as much love as possible. This means avoiding goitrogenic foods (broccoli, cabbage, spinach, etc), avoiding coffee, and if at all possible, avoiding medication that could interfere with your thyroid medication.

If Punxsutawney Phil is right, you may not have to worry about the weather for much longer, but if he is wrong, you need to begin taking the steps to stay thyroid healthy throughout the cold months! Have any other thyroid winter tips that you’d like to share? List them in the comment section below!

1. Lehrer Steven and Rosenzweig Kenneth E.. Clinical Thyroidology. October 2014, 26(10): 273-276. doi:10.1089/ct.2014;26.273-276.

About the Author

Naomi Parker

Patient Advocate

Naomi Parker is a patient advocate that is enthralled by the medical field. Hypothyroidism became a topic of interest over the last few years while she worked amongst alternative medicine doctors as a front office assistant. She believes that information is key and strives to become better informed so as to help others achieve success and wellness.

Naomi has written various articles concerning hypothyroidism including information on diagnostics and treatment. She enjoys learning alongside others and passing on vital information regarding this condition. Naomi is actively monitoring and writing for the National Academy of Hypothyroidism both on the site and social media.

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