As a person who is now diagnosed with an autoimmune disease (Graves’ disease) it is in your best interest to become educated on your disease and become an advocate for your health care. A good place to start your education is our list of recommended reading.
Become Your Own Advocate
Our support group recommends that you get a hard copy of every lab test that you have done. Learn to read them. Keep a file at home with all of the copies of your lab reports. We also recommend that you write down any symptoms that you are having on the day of the blood draw and the dose and name of the medications you are taking at that time. When you receive your copy of the lab report, staple your symptoms list to the lab report. Over time, as you collect more lab reports, a pattern will emerge and you will be able to tell what your thyroid levels were when you felt your best and had the least symptoms. This magic number will become your goal.
De-stress Your Life
Graves’ is aggravated and possibly even triggered by stressful events. It will serve you well to incorporate stress reduction techniques into your daily life. As we are all individuals, the stress reduction techniques you choose will vary. It may be taking time to read a book, walk your dog, take a bubble bath, meditate, do yoga or listen to music. Whatever it is, start making time each day to do it.
One of the hardest and most important things you can do (and this is not even an option for many) is to whittle down the number of responsibilities that you undertake. Like many of us, you may have responsibility thrust upon you as a parent, a spouse, a student, or an employee. That is why it is all the more important to honestly communicate how much responsibility you are able to handle and to proactively ask for help and support from family members and employers. Graves’ disease is legitimately debilitating and it is important that those close to us are able to realize how it affects our abilities and emotions.
Always remind yourself of what is truly important to you, because when Graves’ is causing anxiety it is easy to lose perspective. The following relaxation techniques may be used to help you regain the focus and clarity that you need. Many of these can be done in your own home for no cost whatsoever.
- Yoga – Therapeutic Massage – Breathing Exercises – Meditation/Visual Imagery – Progressive Muscle Relaxation – Acupuncture – Music – Hypnosis
Limit iodine intake to daily requirement. With Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism, foods high in iodine should be avoided. Thyroid hormone is made from iodine atoms, so whenever you eat a high iodine food you are essentially throwing gas on an already raging fire. High iodine foods consist of iodized salt, seafood, kelp and seaweed (as in sushi) and multivitamins which contain iodine. Some dairy products contain iodine (because iodine is used to sterilize udders and milk tanker trucks). Carrageenan, alginates, agar and red dye #3 all contain iodine. More about high iodine foods and a low iodine diet located here.
The following are other dietary recommendations that may help ease the symptoms of hyperthyroidism:
- Use noniodized natural Sea Salt in place of table salt
- Limit sugar and white flour
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits
- Eat at least 60 grams of protein daily
- Eat whole grains instead of refined grains
- Consume a sufficient amount of Omega-3 fatty acids
- Avoid trans fat and refined vegetable oils
- Eliminate aspartame from diet
- Avoid MSG
- Avoid Red #3 which contains Iodine
- Avoid other perservatives
Vitamin/mineral deficiency is prevalent in hyperthyroidism since the hyperactivity of the digestive tract greatly limits nutrient absorption. A diet high in fat may help if constant hunger and hypoglycemia are a problem. Fat not only slows down digestion, allowing more time for nutrient absorption, but it is also necessary for the absorption of many vitamins in which Graves’ disease (GD) patients may easily become deficient.
Antioxidants – Easing oxidative stress is one of the best things you can do for your body during a hyperthyroid state. Avoiding foods that produce free radicals such as trans fats and refined vegetable oils (such as soybean and safflower oil) and increasing intake of antioxidant containing foods such as fruits and vegetables may help reduce inflammation.
Essential Fatty Acids – Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids are also recommended for inflammation. Seafood contains a high amount of these acids but can also be high in iodine, so sources from nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed and walnuts) are preferred by most.
Organic Foods – Some people find that eating a completely organic whole foods diet greatly helps their body cope with stress and accelerates the healing process. The role of pesticides and food additives in Grave’s Disease is difficult to observe, but it is assumed that anything that puts undue stress on the body can worsen the symptoms of Grave’s Disease. Since the liver must process food additives and pesticides to render them harmless it may help reduce bodily stress to eat an all-natural organic diet.
Food Allergies – Many patients have found that locating a hidden food allergy has helped them achieve better health, and even remission. If you often experience severe abdominal discomfort or other related symptoms after eating, you may have a food allergy. Conducting an elimination diet may be one way you can locate such a sensitivity. Some of the more common foods include dairy, wheat, corn, nightshade vegetables, and eggs. Some food allergies may actually be caused by certain food additives, so consuming an organic diet may help instead.
If you suspect a food allergy, make a list of foods you most highly suspect. Pick one food and then completely eliminate that food from your diet for three full days. On the third day, eat that food on an empty stomach, with no other food, and observe any symptoms. Reactions should be more obvious and easy to pinpoint using this technique.
Note: In autoimmune hyperthyroidism the digestive tract is in a very sensitive state. You may feel ill and experience allergy-like symptoms after eating many kinds of foods that you would normally be able to tolerate. Do not be discouraged if you find you have to severely limit the variety of food in your diet, or if you find you are ill no matter what you eat. Usually these symptoms will cease when the body reaches a normal metabolic rate.
Many people who want to be proactive about their diet experience a great amount of anxiety when given advice about what to eat and what not to eat (incidentally the anxiety is usually caused or exaggerated by the disease itself). Just remember that hyperthyroidism is a wasting disease; it is better to eat something “bad” than nothing at all.
Thyroid Eye Disease (TED, Graves’ Ophthalmology (GO)
Some things that you can do to help yourself deal with the symptoms of Thyroid Eye Disease/Graves’ Ophthalmopathy are:
- Raise the head of your bed by 5-7 inches or use a wedge pillow to sleep on. This helps reduce overnight swelling of the tissues surrounding the eyes.
- Utilize warm and cold compresses as necessary to alleviate pain and swelling.
- Minimize salt use as high sodium will make you retain fluid creating edema.
- Use preservative free moisturizing drops during the day for dry eyes. (Do not use anything that says it will “get the red out”)
- Use preservative free moisturizing gel or ointment at night to relieve dry eyes or to protect the corneas of eyes that do not close all the way during sleep. Genteal Gel, Refresh PM or Lacrilube are a few brands you may want to try.
When hyperthyroid you may experience changes in the texture of your hair and you may experience hair breakage or an overall shedding of hair. The following are hair care tips gathered from other Graves’ disease patients.
- Use a wide toothed comb to brush your hair to minimize breakage
- Use a good conditioner, preferably one that is left in the hair after shampooing
- For dry, brittle hair try a small amount of Queen Helene’s Cholesterol Creme or Infusium 23 which will add some moisture back to your hair
- Don’t use a hair thickening shampoo which causes hair to break off at the ends and make the hair look frizzy
- Look for shampoos that do not contain Sodium laurel Sulfate which can cost more problems for the hair
- Shampoos/Conditioners containing herbs seem to work the best for people with Thyroid Disease