The lower temperatures felt in the winter months can be a source of contention among people. Some look forward to the opportunity to bundle up while others loathe the coming chill. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, a dip in temperature can have a notable effect on bodily function. Those with thyroid disease are particularly susceptible to such weather-related outcomes. To keep your body working at its best during the cold, take some time to learn about the thyroid and how to best protect it from the freezing effects of winter.
Cold Weather and Your Body
When working properly, the body maintains a consistent temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). When the temperature of the surrounding environment changes, the body must work harder to maintain this established temperature. If thermal equilibrium cannot be reached or maintained issues such fatigue, discomfort, and systematic dysfunction may develop. To maintain appropriate body temperature and avoid these symptoms, the body employs multiple systems. One of the most important being the thyroid.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is responsible for numerous bodily processes including metabolism and thermoregulation. This means the thyroid is essential for keeping the body energized and at the appropriate temperature. In fact, the thyroid is so integral in this capacity that some describe it as the body’s thermostat.
Unsurprisingly, if the thyroid is not working as intended, the body has a much harder time maintaining ideal temperature. Although there are multiple ways in which the thyroid may malfunction, the most common are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism:
- Hypothyroidism is caused by a reduction in thyroid activity resulting in a slowdown of metabolic processes. This leads to systemwide sluggishness and impedes the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
- Hyperthyroidism is caused by undue acceleration of thyroid function resulting in hastened metabolic activity. This can trigger excessive burning of calories and subsequent loss of heat-regulating fat and muscle.
When compared to the average individual, those with thyroid disease are far more likely to have low body temperature and have an intolerance to cold. Often, cold intolerance is ignored or overlooked by thyroid patients. However, during the winter when temperatures start to drop, intolerance can become severe and highly disruptive. It is even possible for cold intolerance brought on by thyroid dysfunction to contribute to a potentially lethal case of hypothermia. Fortunately, by supporting thyroid function and employing a number of cold weather tactics, those with a thyroid disorder can limit the impact of dropping temperatures.
Tips to Protect Your Thyroid from the Cold
Staying warm during the winter can be exceptionally difficult, especially if you have a thyroid condition. If you have trouble getting toasty, try making some temperature-regulating improvements. Regardless if you have a thyroid condition or not, the following tips can help you keep your body at the ideal temperature.
If the body isn’t able to generate enough of its own warmth you can help normalize temperature by borrowing heat from something else. For example, taking a hot bath is a great way to get warm and relax. If you can’t commit to a full bath, consider a five to 10-minute foot soak in hot water. This is a surprisingly effective way of heating the whole body. Electric blankets, heaters, and heavy socks are also good ways to acquire some much-needed warmth.
Winter weather can easily dissuade people from exercising. However, it is important to stay active when it gets cold. Engaging in regular exercise, which can be as simple as moving or walking for 30 minutes, helps keep the body warm and also combats weather-related depression. Consider taking part in activities that don’t require exposure to the cold such as yoga, Pilates, and walking or running on an indoor track.
Adopt a Warming Winter Diet
Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, can inhibit hormone activity, thyroid function, and adrenal activity. A slowing of these processes can greatly reduce the body’s ability to regulate temperature and may increase the risk of hypothermia. You can combat hypoglycemia by adopting a diet plan that encourages consumption of high-quality thermogenic foods.
*Thermogenic foods are those that increase body temperature when they are metabolized.
There are many common thermogenic foods that can be incorporated into your diet to improve thermoregulation. Some of the best thermogenic options include:
- Bone Broth
- Cayenne Pepper
- Chia Seeds
- Coconut Oil
- Grass-fed Beef
- Green Leafy Vegetables
- Green Tea
- Red Pepper
Sleep is one of the body’s most important regulatory processes. Typically, adults need seven to eight hours of sleep every night to maintain healthy bodily function. During winter, the body needs additional sleep to keep things running as normal. However, those with a thyroid condition may require an even greater amount of sleep as it gets colder. Not getting enough sleep can lead to reduced immunity, thyroid activity, cognitive function, and much more. Be sure to make sleep a priority to avoid these pitfalls and give your thyroid the rest it needs to maintain proper thermoregulation.
Soak up Some Sunlight
Winter brings not only cold weather, but also a reduced number of daylight hours. The sun is our main source of vitamin D, which is used for various processes in the body including thyroid function. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is a common occurrence among thyroid patients. To help ensure your thyroid is getting the vitamin D it needs, studies recommend getting at least 30 minutes of direct sun exposure every day.
Depending on your environment, it may not be possible to simply step outside so your skin can soak up the sun. Fortunately, it is possible to get adequate sun exposure and vitamin D by sitting in front of a sunlit window for an extended period. If this is not a viable option for you, consider taking a quality vitamin D supplement.
Stay Warm by Supporting Your Thyroid
Whether you enjoy the chill of winter or not, the reduced temperature can negatively impact your body. Because the thyroid plays such an important role in temperature regulation, those with a thyroid condition are particularly susceptible to the effects of winter weather.
If you have a thyroid condition, it is important that you appropriately prepare and respond to any decrease in temperature. You can do so by implementing some or all of the body-warming and thyroid-supporting tips mentioned above. Make your thyroid a priority to help keep your body warm and running at its best all winter long.
Resources1. Kim, T., Kim K., et al. “Effect of Seasonal Changes on the Transition Between Subclinical Hypothyroid and Euthyroid Status.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 98, Issue 8, 1 August 2013.
2. Mackawy AM et al. “Vitamin d deficiency and its association with thyroid disease.” Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2013;7(3):267-75.