Thyroid Disease & Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Cold temperatures have an effect on many people – especially for those with autoimmune disease.  What I’d like to share with you today is about a bizarre set of symptoms related to winter weather but also to Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.  Several years ago when I initially experienced painful symptoms that felt like frostbite in my hands and later in my feet, I thought it was related to poor circulation due to family history.  What I later learned was that it was actually related to low thyroid and Vitamin D.

It turns out that Raynaud’s phenomenon & thyroid disease have a connection.

Thyroid Disease & Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Raynaud’s phenomenon is common for people who have Hashimoto’s.  It’s not that you actually have Raynaud’s disease necessarily, (which is also an autoimmune disease) but rather it’s that you experience “Raynaud-like” symptoms during colder months.  But, why?

I’ll get to that in a second.

My initial experience with Raynaud’s was frightening.  The first season it happened I thought it was due to poor circulation (which I’ve been told “runs in my family.”  In fact, I do have family members who’ve had limbs amputated due to poor veins and arteries.

When the symptoms suddenly disappeared and resurfaced again two seasons later, I honestly believed that I had another autoimmune disease due to the relapsing/remitting pattern of the symptoms.

While studying the treatment available (steroids to basically shut down the immune system) as the standard of care, I knew that I wasn’t interested in those options and this was before I was on low-dose naltrexone (LDN) to get into remission due to Hashimoto’s.

For me, the symptoms initially first started in my hands, mainly from the knuckles to the fingertips.  I can only describe the pain as being similar to that of frostbite, feeling numb along with extreme discoloration.  The tips of my fingers would literally turn from red to very white.  It was difficult to understand or identify what the trigger was and I then learned the sudden onset of symptoms can be anything from cold air to emotional stress.

If you’ve ever experienced these symptoms, you know it isn’t the kind of cold sensation that gloves, socks, a warm bath or a hair dryer can help.  I actually use to try blowing my cold hands with a hair dryer to warm them up.  A heating pad didn’t work either; in fact, both the hairdryer and heating pad actually made the pain worse.

Later, the bone-chilling cold, numbness, and pain eventually began to affect primarily my toes for reasons that aren’t as obvious as it was with my hands and it was much worse.  I could understand it with my hands, as they could have been exposed to cold air; however, this didn’t apply to my feet.

Once the symptoms actually start it can be challenging to reverse.  In my case, the 2nd, middle, and 3rd toes would turn red, appear swollen at the tips and the sensation of frostbite felt more like they’d been burned making it difficult to walk with or without shoes.

Socks hurt…bed sheets and blankets hurt…bath water hurts regardless of the temperature, and those hand & feet warmers available in the colder months – please avoid those, they’re not helpful and can exacerbate the pain.

It’s maddening just how distressful this type of pain actually is, so I empathize deeply with those who experience it because I’ve been there too.

One of the reasons I promote the notion of “winterizing your thyroid” along with optimizing Vitamin D is because Raynaud’s phenomenon is a potential consequence if you don’t.  Researchers are not sure WHY it happens as a result of low thyroid but what they do know is that there is a connection, and they also know the symptoms of cold fingers and/or cold feet lessen when thyroid hormone is optimal and not simply “in range.”

Even though your thyroid levels may be normal to optimal for example in October, doesn’t necessarily mean your levels will remain optimal even though you are taking the same dose of thyroid hormone (and Vitamin D) as you were taking the previous summer.

The body doesn’t metabolize thyroid hormone during colder months as efficiently as it does during the warmer season.  Many of us may need to raise our dose by approximately 1/4 the dose prior to winter to maintain the same levels and enjoy the same effects.  In addition, vitamin D levels naturally drop during winter months – so it is essential for you to discuss this with your doctor as well to make sure your vitamin D is not just “in range,” but is optimal.

It’s extremely important to maintain optimal vitamin D levels.  As a hormone (vitamin D is not a vitamin!) one of its functions is to produce T3 receptors inside the nucleus of the cell.   If T3 receptors are low, there isn’t access for the cell to receive T3, even from exogenous sources (thyroid medication).

For people with autoimmune disease, including Hashimoto’s, most integrative medicine doctor advocate that a Vitamin D should be somewhere between 70 to 90.  For any concerns over liver toxicity, if you’re supplementing with Vitamin A, you should be fine.  Both Vitamins D and A protect one from the other from toxicity.

While a person may be in remission from Hashimoto’s, Raynaud’s phenomenon can still happen particularly if thyroid or Vitamin D levels drop.  So be sure to get updated thyroid and vitamin D levels ASAP in the winter (preferably in November) and make adjustments accordingly, if applicable.

What I will share with you from personal experience is that Raynaud’s always shows up suddenly…literally “out of nowhere” and it causes a fair amount of anxiety.

Additional tips:

  • Avoid the emotional and physiological effects of stress caused by low sunlight and cold weather by practicing regular daily activities like meditation, journaling, prayer, gentle exercise, and taking naps.
  • Always protect your hands and feet by keeping them warm. Have gloves with you at all times just in case.
  • Apply ginger essential oil diluted with fractionated coconut oil to hands and feet as often as desired.  Ginger is also an excellent oil to add to a bath of warm Epsom salts. It’s very warming and a little goes a long way.
  • Avoid showers/baths that are too hot – this really only makes symptoms worse.
  • Don’t assume that you actually have “Raynaud’s” the autoimmune disease – know that your symptoms may be related to low thyroid especially if you have Hashimoto’s.  Many conventional physicians will prescribe drugs like calcium channel blockers, Prozac, antidepressants, and steroids.  It’s important to consider the risks and benefits of these interventions.
  • Supplement with an oral high-potency vitamin D product.  This one is highly bioavailable and is the one I personally use and recommend to people with Hashimoto’s.
  • Optimize nutrition by following an anti-inflammatory nutrient-dense diet which excludes foods your immune system (leukocytes) may be sensitive to in an effort to reduce inflammation in those channels. I use and recommend the ALCAT test in my practice because of the science behind it and greater patient compliance.
  • Supplement with magnesium buffered chelate to help the blood vessels relax as well as for the transport of calcium and potassium.
  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing to also help relax the vascular system.
  • Inflammatone is actually one of the best combination nutraceuticals (contains Boswellia and powerful antioxidants).
  • Rest and take it easy – but make sure that you also keep moving for circulation and warmth.

 

References:

Shagan BP, Friedman SA. Raynaud’s phenomenon and thyroid deficiency. Arch Intern Med 1980 Jun;140(6):832-3.
Shomon, M. (2014). Cold Hands, Cold Feet, Sluggish Thyroid? Raynaud’s Syndrome in Thyroid Patients.

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/600024

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/arthritis_and_other_rheumatic_diseases/raynauds_phenomenon_85,P00063

 


 

2 Comments

  • Sonia

    Reply Reply November 11, 2015

    Hi Shannon, many thanks for such an informative and clear article about secondary autoimmune conditions like Raynaud’s. Thank you for the tips oh how to manage symptoms. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s last Nov 2014 and with Raynaud’s symptoms early in 2015. I am not taking thyroxine. It pays to say that I do not have the extreme Raynaud’s but it is uncomfotable enough to always be anxious about getting cold. The journey is not easy but is comforting to know that we are not alone and there are strategies that help in the clinical management. Thank you again. Kind regards,
    Sonia
    Canberra-Australia

  • Brittany

    Reply Reply November 14, 2015

    Thank you Shannon for your research. Before I was first diagnosed, I LOVED the fall season. Now those slightly lower temps send my body crying for warmth, despite knowing that it truly does feel good outside. I despise the winter season. When my body is cold, I cannot focus and be productive. And like you said, a jacket or electric blanket may not do the trick. I miss having a body that can adjust with the change of temperatures. Thank you for the tips.

    Brittany
    Mississippi, USA

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