Feeling cold and tired this winter – is it your Thyroid?
SJ cold

Feeling cold and tired this winter – is it your Thyroid?


Yes, a common complaint at this time of year in wintry Melbourne. But have you considered that it may be more than just the weather that’s making you cold? This is a topic that is of great personal interest to me as I’ve suffered from sub-clinical thyroid issues for around 10 years.

My symptoms weren’t too bad which is why my steadily rising TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone, the clinical marker for thyroid function) and the fact I wasn’t presenting the other major signs of underactive thyroid (Hypothyroidism) such as weight gain, depression, hair loss or dry skin, didn’t cause concern for my GP. My main issues were cold intolerance (I’d complain a lot!) and hibernate until warmer weather appeared, my morning temperature would often sit around 35 degrees, that’s almost 2 degrees lower than normal body temperature.

It doesn’t sound like much but I now realise it was making me feel the cold much more than the average person and certainly made winters painful. Looking back my energy levels probably weren’t as good as they should have been but I was too busy to be concerned about that, I was running off adrenal energy i.e. my stress hormones were keeping me going! But unfortunately that doesn’t last for ever and the stress possibly caused further damage as I then developed low levels of thyroid auto-antibodies which means my own immune system was starting to attack my thyroid gland. This is called Hashimoto’s disease.
I made some changes to my diet, avoiding wheat, although I wasn’t religious with that and took supplements like selenium, B vitamins and zinc which aid the conversion of  inactive thyroid hormone into the active form. I was taught as a student that dosing with too much iodine, also required for thyroid hormone production, was not a good idea if you had auto-antibodies so I avoided this and increased my food sources where it is mainly found in seaweed and sea food – luckily I’m a fan of sushi!

My TSH improved but I still felt cold….so what was going on? Well since my student days I now understand much more on this subject of healthy thyroid function and I should point out this is a massive topic, but there are few salient points I’d like to share:

TSH is a poor indicator for thyroid function, when it is raised to the clinical levels of concern there are often severe symptoms.  There is an art and science to medicine, the art is being able to read symptoms and use them to evaluate blood tests. So if your doctor tells you that your TSH is fine but you’re feeling any of the following symptoms then it would be advisable to investigate further:

Feeling cold and intolerance to cold
Hair loss on scalp and thinning at the ends of the eyebrows
Flaky nails
Weight gain
Low libido
High oestrogen levels – in women this can result in conditions such as PMS, fibrocystic breasts, fibroids and infertility.

Additional tests are often only carried out if TSH is out of range which is unfortunate as it leaves many with undiagnosed thyroid issues, tests which present a much more complete picture of thyroid function these  include free T3, free T4, reverse T3 and thyroid auto-antibodies. If you doctor won’t consider this then a naturopath can refer for further tests but these won’t be covered by Medicare rebates.

Another useful test is urinary iodine, which should be done after taking a high dose of iodine and the urine collected over a 24 hour period which provides a guide of how much iodine is in your tissues. When I did my test the result was ‘very deficient’ indicating that high dosages of iodine were required – much more than I’d ever get from eating sushi and other sea foods.

It is important to get yourself assessed properly before dosing with supplements as a thorough consultation and test results will determine the most appropriate supplement plan. The symptoms listed above can also relate to other conditions and remember an over active thyroid is also an issue!

If you are diagnosed with an under active thyroid then diet and lifestyle changes are also essential –

Avoid wheat and gluten, some people will benefit from avoiding grains altogether but for many it is sufficient to limit it to a couple of small serves of whole grains daily such as quinoa, buckwheat, brown or black rice.

Avoid soy foods which are goitrogens (substances that work against the thyroid), includes soy milk, tofu, edamame and soy sauce. Fermented soy such as tempeh and miso may be enjoyed if your iodine levels are at an acceptable level and you also eat iodine rich foods.

Lightly cook your cruciferous veg, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussel sprouts as these also contain goitrogenic compounds.

Manage your stress, this is often at the root of many conditions and the endocrine system, which includes the thyroid, adrenal and sex glands works well when each gland is functioning optimally.

Drink filtered water, removing the chlorine and fluorine from water is beneficial since these elements ‘compete’ with iodine. Thyroid issues are incredibly common and often undiagnosed and untreated.

So if you feel something is just not quite right, whether it is one or all of the symptoms listed above, then further investigation may make a big difference…. I can assure you winter is now much more enjoyable for me, and my partner who suffers less of my complaining!
Keep warm and be warm,