Many of us find it harder to stay healthy during the winter months to begin with - the shorter days affect our sleep cycle and circadian rhythm, there is more junk food around during the holidays, and the cold weather discourages many from going outside and staying active.
However, the winter months may be particularly difficult for those who suffer from thyroid dysfunction as research shows that thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels rise in winter — a sign that the thyroid is not functioning properly and not keeping up the body’s hormone needs.
How Does the Cold Affect Your Thyroid?
With hypothyroidism, which means the thyroid is already underractive, the metabolism slows down even further, body temperature drops, cutaneous (skin) vasoconstriction occurs, and the patients may feel cold even in a warm environment.
Experts at the Centre for Endocrinology and Diabetes have cited hypothyroidism patients are likely to suffer from cold intolerance, which means during cold weather patients will experience the normal metabolic increase to keep the body warm that normally occurs. So, hypothyroid patients will not experience with biological compensation and will also endure a worsening of symptoms.
It is important to note even people who have never had a thyroid problem might be diagnosed with subclinical hypothyroidism (slightly elevated TSH) in winter. These individuals may also exhibit symptoms such as constipation, depression, slow movements and thoughts, muscle aches, fatigue, tiredness, and more.
There is even evidence that there is increased T3 synthesis and T3 clearance with a transient increase in TSH during the winter, which can present as new onset subclinical hypothyroidism.
Thus, any new onset thyroid function abnormality, especially if it’s mild need to be re-evaluated before deciding to treat since it may be a normal response of the body to the change in season.
How Should You Address Hypothyroidism During the Winter Months?
If you are hypothyroid, you may notice that if you stay on a steady dose of thyroid hormone replacement medication during colder months, you may feel somewhat more hypothyroid. Some physicians routinely recommend that their hypothyroid patients raise their medication dosage slightly during colder months and drop back down to a lower dose during warmer temperatures. If you notice hypothyroidism symptoms becoming more troublesome during colder weather, you may want to ask your doctor about a seasonal dosage adjustment.
Symptoms are not the only risk of colder temperatures. Now, research shows that living in a colder climate is also a risk factor for developing thyroid cancer.
Researchers looked at correlations between average temperature by state, and the rates of thyroid cancers. (They adjusted for exposure to radiation, a key risk factor for thyroid cancer.)
What they found was that living in colder areas significantly increases the risk of developing thyroid cancer. For example, living in Alaska actually doubled the risk of thyroid cancer, compared to a warmer state such as Texas. Maybe the snowbirds who head to a warmer climate for the winter have the right idea! At a minimum, it’s clearly better for their thyroid health!
Finding Thyroid Care
If you’re interested in addressing your thyroid health with comprehensive medical guidance, call us at (877) 508-1177