In my freshman year of college, I found myself struggling with an onslaught of bizarre body changes. I gained 20 pounds in a month, had skin so dry it felt reptilian, and my hair was falling out so fast I could’ve stuffed a pillow with the lost strands.
I knew something was wrong but didn’t think my random complaints were enough to merit a medical diagnosis. For months, I chalked it all up to the stress of moving across the country for college.
However, as the symptoms worsened and my face bloated so big it looked like the moon emoji, I began to accept the fact that I was sick. I embarked on an anxious midnight WebMD deep dive. I searched for symptoms like puffy face, weight gain, constipation, fatigue, and dry skin and found they all added up to one condition: hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism affects about one in 20 Americans ages 12 and over (majority women), and its leading cause is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s. When I received my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I felt validated, but my fight was far from over. Sometimes it can take years for Hashimoto’s patients to stabilize, even with medication.
If you also suffer from Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism, here are some of the unsavory Hashimoto’s symptoms you can expect and how to manage them.
The Symptom: Hair Loss
One of the most common, persistent, and––let’s be honest––annoying symptoms of Hashimoto’s is hair loss. According to the British Thyroid Foundation, abnormal thyroid function disturbs your hair regrowth cycle. Hashimoto’s hair loss is distinct, involving the entire scalp rather than small and specific patches of thinning hair. Without proper treatment, your hair may appear sparse all over.
The Remedy: An Iron-Rich Diet and Biotin
Though the most effective measure you can take to reverse Hashimoto’s-induced hair loss is to regulate your thyroid levels through medication, some holistic remedies can help. When your endocrinologist runs labs, be sure to advocate for yourself and insist that your TSH and T4 levels are not just normal but optimal.
Iron intake and absorption are also crucial to thyroid function and hair growth. To ensure all your bases are covered, eating an iron-rich diet, reducing stress, and supplementing with biotin and minoxidil may help halt hair loss while you wait for your thyroid levels to stabilize.
The Symptom: Weight Gain
For many women, weight gain is synonymous with thyroid issues. And they would be right; for such a small organ, the thyroid has a massive impact on the metabolism. Even if you’re active and eating healthy, you will gain weight if your thyroid levels aren’t in a normal range. It can be extremely frustrating to see your fitness efforts go unrewarded, but with the right medication and a sensible diet and exercise strategy, you can bounce back.
The Remedy: Take Your Medication Properly and Exercise
If you are already diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, chances are you take Levothyroxine (Synthroid®, Levothyroid®, Levoxyl®,). In some cases, your doctor may also prescribe T3 and T4. For the best results, you must be careful to take these medications properly. T3, T4, and Levothyroxine are most effective when taken on an empty stomach—one hour before any other prescription pills and at least four hours before any other supplements.
It is important to remember that while your thyroid meds will prevent you from putting on any more unexplained weight, they won’t get rid of the weight you’ve already gained. To get back to your pre-Hashimoto’s physique, adopting a low-impact exercise regimen is paramount. I found HIIT workouts send me right into a flareup and heavy weights are too punishing on my joints. Power yoga and barre, however, have allowed me to build muscle without incurring extra pain.
The Symptom: Dry Skin
Skin cells have a short lifespan and depend on the thyroid to keep their cellular turnover fast. When thyroid production drops, eccrine gland secretion slows down, and this results in dry, flaky skin that over 74 percent of hypothyroid patients cite as a significant symptom of the condition. Water alone isn’t enough to keep your skin supple. If Hashimoto’s has your skin feeling scaly, adopting a multi-step skincare routine can help.
The Remedy: Hydrants and Oil-Based Moisturizers
Though it may seem like a good solution, showering or bathing too much can actually make your skin dryer. When showering, strive to use warm water rather than hot and choose a mild cleanser that contains emollients. Once out of the shower, lather on a hydrating moisturizer that has either hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, or honey. These are humectant ingredients that will lock water into your skin.
Follow up with an oil-based moisturizer like shea butter to seal the surface of your skin and prevent the water and hydrator from escaping.
The Symptom: Low Sex Drive
Sex may be something some people think about constantly. People with thyroid problems? Not so much. After all, who wants to have sex when you’re constipated, have zero energy, and your hair is falling out? On a more scientific level, Hashimoto’s can lower vaginal lubrication, leading to uncomfortable, unsatisfying, and painful sex. When thyroid levels are low, testosterone can decrease as well, making a healthy sex drive hard to find.
The Remedy: Sleep, Lube, and Synthroid
Fortunately, most sexual issues go away once Hashimoto’s is treated, whether through prescription medication or supplements. However, having a sexless life while you wait for your medication to balance your levels can be frustrating. To get yourself back on the saddle, invest in a high-quality natural lubricant to combat dryness, communicate your needs with your partner, and get plenty of sleep.