For anyone who doesn’t have a thyroid condition, it might be easy to forget about the gland in the front of their neck that controls hormone production. But behind the scenes, the thyroid does a lot of work to help metabolize and maintain blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate.

Thyroid disease affects approximately 20 million people in the US and about one in eight women. The two most common types of thyroid disorders are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism produces too much thyroxine hormone (an overactive thyroid) and hypothyroidism does not produce enough (an underactive thyroid). Although the two conditions have different signs and symptoms, there can be some overlap.

There is no replacement for getting the proper diagnosis and starting medication when necessary,” said Vatche Zohrabian, DO, primary care physician with the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, “but there are some lifestyle modifications that can help augment conventional treatment and help keep your thyroid on track.”

Maintaining a healthy thyroid

Here are the five things Dr. Zohrabian recommends you do to upkeep a healthy thyroid:

  1. Stick to a diet that is low in sugar and processed foods. Excessive sugar can lead to inflammation, which can worsen the symptoms of an underactive thyroid.
  2. Limit your intake of cruciferous vegetables. Vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli can interfere with thyroid hormone production.
  3. Find ways to reduce your stress. It’s been shown that stress can cause thyroid hormone resistance.
  4. Exercise three to five times a week. Increasing your muscle mass can boost your metabolism and help to avoid weight gain or lethargy.
  5. Maintain a healthy body weight. The higher your body weight, the more thyroid hormone your body will require.

When to get your thyroid checked

Dr. Zohrabian encourages anyone who experiences the following symptoms to have their thyroid function checked by their primary care provider:

  • You notice a lump in your thyroid gland or have a swollen neck.
  • You experience significant changes in your weight despite a stable diet and exercise regimen.
  • You have labile moods of anxiety or depression.
  • You are constantly tired regardless of sleep habits.
  • You develop menstrual cycle irregularities.
  • You develop tremors or palpitations.
  • You have temperature tolerance issues to heat or cold.
  • You notice thinning of your hair or changes in your skin.
  • You develop changes in your bowel habits.
  • You have a strong family history.