By Dr. Annika
We are currently finding ourselves in the part of the year when the days are shortest. Do you find yourself wanting to sleep more? Are you feeling less energetic and putting on a little weight? What happens in this time of year is that we have less exposure to sunlight, which means that we make less Vitamin D, which in turn means that our bodies are starting to produce RT3 (reverse active thyroid hormone) instead of T3 (active thyroid hormone). RT3 acts like a brake on the metabolism – which makes perfect sense in winter, when we need to conserve our stores and don’t burn up fuel trying to hunt and gather food.
I actually think that the pineal gland – a tiny gland right in the middle of the brain that responds to light and runs most of our daily, lunar and yearly cycles – is involved, but the pineal gland is still very much a medical mystery, with hormones as yet undiscovered and the discovered ones yet to find out what they do. So let’s give medical research a couple of decades to back this statement up ;).
So if the above is your situation, you’re in tune with the season! Don’t worry, once the days lengthen, you’ll pick up again, get active and lose that extra bit of weight. Do what the people resident in the Northern hemisphere do in midwinter: Have a rest!! This is why they invented midwinter holidays. In Australia, we just keep going as if it were any other season, and then we wonder why we’re exhausted by Christmas.
Do make sure that you get yourself into natural daylight, having said that, especially if you are one of the people who has to work in a fully enclosed space lit by artificial light sources, getting to work and home in the dark. (Being of Danish origin, this is still a mystery to me – I guess in Denmark, sunlight is often in short supply due to the days being short in winter and/or the skies being overcast, and Danes have therefore become extremely good at building as to capture any stray sunlight in the vicinity.)
It is, of course, more complicated than that for a lot of people. RT3 can easily become too high, usually in times of extreme and prolonged stress. This leads to elevated stress hormones in the body, which favour T4 (the much more inactive thyroid hormone and precursor to T3 and RT3) converting into RT3 rather than T3. I think of this as the body’s way to force you to rest, as this really is the only cure for stress – remember stress is supposed to be short term! Also, if you have a latent underactive thyroid issue, it will often show up in winter, just by virtue of the fact that we need to create more heat in our bodies.
The tricky thing about RT3 is that it is not usually tested for in a thyroid blood test. It is, in fact, counted as a T3(!!). So if you have low thyroid symptoms (such as tired all the time, high cholesterol, depression, unexplained weight gain, cold-sensitivity, difficulties concentrating and remembering, hair loss ….) but your blood tests are “normal”, chances are RT3 is at fault!
So what can you do to restore your RT3/T3 balance?
Get some sunlight every day.
Eat foods rich in iodine, such as seafood, seaweed, and rosemary (makes a nice tea, too).
Eat coconut oil.
Avoid the foods that are bad for your thyroid, such as gluten, unfermented soy foods and alcohol.
Avoid chlorine and fluoride (as found in tap water and toothpaste) as they displace the iodine from its place in the thyroid hormone molecule.
Address any issues that cause you stress, especially long-term stress (we can probably help with that).
Only do very gentle exercise. No heart-pounding, sweat-pouring activities, please! They will only deplete you further. Stick with walking, yoga, swimming and other gentle exercise.
This is, of course, not specifically tailored to you, so feel free to ask us about your thyroid at your next visit!