Winter is well and truly upon us, and while the season brings cozy moments and hot chocolates, it can also be a challenging time for women with Hashimoto’s and Hypothyroidism.
Not only are we struggling to stay warm no thanks to our tendency to have a lower basal temperature due to thyroid hormone deficiency but moods tend to drop and we seem to be more vulnerable to infections too. That’s why in this article, I am super excited to dive into this topic with you today. We’re going to explore some ways Hashi’s women can naturally support a robust immune system, from simple lifestyle changes to powerful nutritional supplements. So, get ready to arm your immune system and equip yourself with some valuable knowledge!
Understanding the Immune System in Hashimoto’s:
Before we jump into the strategies for boosting immunity, let’s quickly understand how the immune system works its magic. Think of your immune system as your body’s defence system, working tirelessly to keep you healthy and protected. It consists of a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to identify and eliminate harmful substances, such as bacteria, viruses, and toxins.
When your immune system is robust and in balance, it’s better equipped to fend off invaders and keep you well. But when it’s weak, it’s like the world’s worst security guard, letting anyone in and causing all kinds of trouble.
When you have an autoimmune disease your immunity isn’t necessarily deficient. A better word to describe it would be disordered. Your immune system is mounting an attack against your body’s own cells, in our case the thyroid cells. So you are not necessarily immunodeficient but the trend I have noticed is that due to all the life disrupting symptoms of Hashimoto’s, those with it can be perpetually burnt out and struggling to function. You might feel like you get sick more than your friends or family or for the mums, you might notice you get hit harder and it takes you longer to recover than the rest of the family.
When you are operating from a place of burn out your immune system is impacted significantly. The last thing you need is to be constantly falling ill and battling low energy levels during the chilly months. Fear not, for I’ve got some fabulous strategies up my sleeve to help you strengthen your immune system and sail through winter with more cozy, open fire and hot chocolate vibes than snotty tissues, sick days and bed rest vibes – although bed rest sounds nice too lol.
Nourish with Immunity Supportive Foods
What you put on your plate can make a world of difference. Embrace a nutrient-dense diet filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, animal and vegetarian proteins, healthy fats, and gluten free whole grains (if you’ve got autoimmunity). These whole food basics provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support your immune system’s fighting power. Remember to include immune supporting goodies like citrus fruits, leafy greens, garlic, and ginger. Let’s eat our way to winter wellness! Variety, particularly in colour is key with your vegetable intake if you want to improve your resilience to winter bugs – so make sure that all the colours of the rainbow are represented in your fridge or shopping trolley.
Of course I can’t not talk about my favourite topic. Can you guess? Eating whole foods is amazing but you need to do it in a way that keeps your blood sugar nice and even. Dysregulated blood sugar upregulates inflammation and downregulates immune function. Sugar has been shown to reduce white blood cell function and trust me you need those cells firing on all cylinders if you want to break the illness cycle this winter. How do you regulate your blood sugar? Ensure each meal contains protein, fats, complex whole food carbs (fruit, GF whole grains, potato etc) and plenty of vegetables. Don’t overeat so you feel stuffed to the ears with food and avoid meals or snacks with lonely carbs.
Prioritize Sleep and Rest
Ah, the power of a good night’s sleep! Adequate rest is crucial for maintaining a strong immune system. I swear every single time I get sick I can trace it back to a couple of poorly timed late nights. Make sleep a priority by establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, ensuring a cool and dark sleep environment, and aiming for 8-9 hours of quality sleep each night. If you need a little extra help check out this blog, soothing herbal teas or a warm bath before bed can work wonders. Keep the lights down low after sundown to promote the production of melatonin. Rest like your life depends on it my friend!
High circulating stress hormones wreak havoc on your immune function, so let’s show them the door, shall we? Incorporate stress management practices that resonate with you, be it meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or even indulging in your favourite hobbies. Remember, finding joy and balance in your daily life is a masterpiece in itself. Otherwise what else are we here for? Take a moment to breathe, find your zen and then find ways to make it routine because raving stress monsters who spend very little time in rest & digest mode have poor defence against winter bugs.
Stay Active, even in Winter’s Chill
Don’t let the darker & colder mornings & evenings freeze up your movement routine. You might just need to change it up a little in winter. Engaging in regular exercise not only helps keep those winter blues at bay but also boosts your immune system. Bundle up and explore fun indoor activities like hiking or even a playful workout with the kids. I took my kids to laser tag recently and I’m not exaggerating when I say I sweated bucketloads and had a lot of fun doing it. Indoor movement like yoga & dancing, doing weights with tin cans (anyone else???) totally count! If you’re a fan of winter sports (and a kabillionaire lol) embrace the snow season and go shred. If possible combine movement with your stress management and kill two birds with one stone. Move that body!
Support Your Gut Health
The gut, where true health begins! A thriving gut means a thriving immune system. Focus on nourishing your gut with gut-friendly foods like fermented probiotic foods (think yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut) and prebiotics (hello bananas, onions, garlic, oats, asparagus, apples etc). Regulating blood sugar really does wonders for your gut health too. A diet full of variety is the best medicine for a poorly gut.
I’m also a big fan of The GEMM Protocol. I take it, my family takes it and my autoimmune clients take it. The GEMM protocol uses the power of nutrigenomics. Don’t worry I had to google that word when I first came across it too, it basically means the effects of nutrients on your genes.
There are a couple of foundational elements to the protocol that improve gut health AND immune function. The first is sulforaphane which boasts many functions but in this immune context is a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that enhances the function of certain immune cells, improving the body’s ability to fight off infection. It also positively influences cytokines which are signalling molecules that regulate immune response and activates the Nrf2 cellular pathway which is involved in the body’s detoxification processes. Enhancing detoxification protects from cell damage and helps clean up your body, removing potential threats to the immune system. Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal!
But sulforaphane really shines in its ability to improve the gut microbiome (the bacteria that live in your gut) through the growth of beneficial bacteria and suppression of pathogenic bacteria. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for optimal immunity as 70-80% of your immune function occurs in the gut.
The second crucial element to the GEMM Protocol is the probiotic strain, Lactobacillus plantarum HK137, which has a similarly impressive list of immune supportive mechanisms. It also supports a healthy microbiome composition and enhances gut barrier function through the production of short-chain fatty acids which is really crucial in autoimmunity and improving your immunity overall. It also stimulates the productions of important immune molecules like cytokines, immunoglobulins, natural killer cells while also lowering inflammation that can negatively affect immune function. So you can see why I insist my family take it too.
Embrace the Power of Vitamin D
During winter, our exposure to sunlight decreases, which can impact our vitamin D levels. This essential nutrient plays a crucial role in immune function and is often low in Hashimoto’s cases. Consider getting your vitamin D levels checked and discuss supplementation with your healthcare provider if necessary. And a step further than that is to ensure you build up high levels of Vitamin D in summer with short, sun smart exposure to the sun. BTW sunscreen blocks Vitamin D production so you need to be smart and strategic about how you go about it.
While you’re at it, other essential immune nutrients which are often low in those with Hashimoto’s are Selenium, Iodine, Zinc and Iron so maybe it’s time for a full check up if you are finding that you’re catching everything and taking ages to recover.
*Note* Be wary of some health food store or chemist immune supporting blends as they may contain herbs that are too immune stimulating for autoimmunity. Only take herbs prescribed by a qualified herbalist or naturopath who knows your health history.
Please understand that for your safety any nutrients I mention in this blog posts should only be prescribed by a qualified practitioner with an in-depth understanding of your health history, pathology results, medications, or diagnoses you may have.
So I hope you’ll agree that winter doesn’t have to be a constant battle with weakened immunity for women with Hashimoto’s and autoimmunity. By implementing these strategies, you can give your immune system the love it needs to thrive through the chilly months.
My dear, take care of yourself, nourish your body, embrace rest and movement, and manage stress like a pro. If you’re juggling kids, work and some kind of social life you can’t afford not to take care of yourself. Your health is your biggest asset. And so you now have the knowledge to reclaim this winter season with wellness instead of illness.
Stay warm, stay well.