Effect of your location on thyroid function

Do you know of any research into the effects of where you live on thyroid function? I've had an underactive thyroid for about 15 years. The amount of medication I have needed has fluctuated over the years and in the last 3 years it decreased to 25mmg 5 times a week. Last year I spent 7 months in a place called Al Baha, a high altitude town in the mountains of Saudi Arabia. after about 2-3 months of being there my thyroid started functioning normally, i came off all medication and felt normal - as I had 17 years ago.

Since I left Saudi I have been living in Thailand and I'm back on medication 50mmg per day (and it's been increasing since I've been here - 6 months). Asia is where my thyroid function is at its worst. I spent 2 years in Tanzania before Saudi and that's where I reduced my medication quite significantly.

I had forgotten what it felt like to feel healthy and happy so obviously, I'm interested to know how my thyroid can get better just by moving! I don't want to go and live in the Saudi mountains permanently!!

45 Replies

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  • What a wonderful question!

    Yes indeed where you live could affect your thyroid health. While I am not too familiar with the soil characteristics of Saudi or Tanzania - that's kind of a specialized subject, I do know that areas where the soils are iodine deplete will cause thyroid problems. Cases in point being the famous Derbyshire neck and the Goiter belt around the Great Lakes in America. These areas are known to produce thyroid problems. Now, because of your experience we might conclude that Saudi and Tanzania probably have good iodine rich soils and as a result your thyroid is happy.

    A second influence on the thyroid is the presence of radioactivity either geologically, e.g. in the granite around Aberdeen in Scotland or man made as in New Jersey in America around Three Mile Island.

    I think your strategy should be to have a look at a geological map of the country you wish to settle in and pick out the one with the most iodine rich soils and absent a defunct nuclear power station - easy, right?

    Anyway, I found this very interesting article about the influence of geography, and how it affects various illnesses:

    wholehealthinsider.com/news...

  • Thanks for your reply. I'd also heard that selenium in the soil is another factor. However, am I correct in thinking that this is only relevant if your food is coming from said soil? I've lived in multiple places and I have to say that I don't really know where my fresh food is coming from except that it's usually not local!

    Thanks for the article. I'll have a read now.

  • Gingerpro, I've just returned to UK after 8+ yrs in SW then more N'ly part of France, the last being a flat agricultural region. The 1st place there was 400m up mountain, not too far from Pyrenees. It was GP in SW who noticed changes in my blood tests. Our drinking water came from the mountains.

    Now I'm back in UK, I still drink bottled water but night after I had first glass tap water, I had the runs. Only time thank goodness. However in Nov blood test here my TSH shot up to 28.? - 3 weeks ago was down to 20.? With no change in medication dose but my joint pain and nerve sclerosing has and is rapidly getting worse. I'm also not now overweight, my bmi is good - though I was 4 yrs ago.

    So yes where you live and ingredients of what you eat/drink in which country can make a difference, according to manufacturing methods and ingredients use. I have for a few years anyway only ever used olive oil based spreads, not butter or based buttermilk ones. I also don't the check health/nutrition info on any different foods I buy - I check the actual ingrédients themselves.

    I hope above helps, even if it sounds whacky, but we are all individual and must find what suits us personally in our diets.

    I'm not medically qualified, I just think outside the box these days because it keeps me off loads of meds for different conditions/symptoms, Which can be too often and too quickly handed out by GP's, though not always compatible with each other!

    PS I'm now back living by the sea, in same area I lived when my Hypo Thyroid was first diagnosed here in 2003!

  • Yes I definitely agree that what we consume has an impact. However, I mostly don't eat much processed food when I'm not living in the UK (which has been for the majority of the last 20 years). And my diet has not changed that much. But what i think is probably the biggest difference is where the food is sourced. the other thing could be the local ingredients - herbs and green leafy veg but I wasn't having any of that in Saudi. But I don't know, it's so difficult to isolate the key factor!

  • I agree with you saying where food is sourced from is Important, honey being a classic example, if bought from a local producer, not a supermarket! Bees inhabit and use local plants, agriculture as their source of pollen! At least they don't consume alcohol or I assume use hop fields or vineyards as their source of pollen. The local vineyard owners where I used to live, planted rose bushes at the end of their rows of vines, which may well have been visited by bees.

    One of my first neighbours in our mountains kept his Beehives on land where lavender grew wild in abundance! The honey once in 1 litre jars, was lovely as well! None of the family including his 90yr old grandmother suffered from any serious conditions back then between 2008-2013 when I left the area. Now back in UK, with Thyroid health rapidly deteriorating, especially nerve sclerosis and pain, it's the muscle strength loss which means I can no longer lift a pan of water, never mind it having food added, so unfortunately I find myself relying more and more, weekends esp on processed meals, and occasionally a cooked meal from a local cafe during week. The list of added chemical ingredients is beyond belief! Sure the "pretty picture" on outside of processed food packaging shows us what the meal is but does it look or taste as good when served up - of course not!

    I emphasised my old neighbour, who worked as a scientist in Montpellier, because his parents looked after the biggest vegetable/flower allotment I have ever seen, right beside a flowing mountain river, the calcium free water which was used by them on the allotment, so yes ate all their own produce, including rabbit which they purpose bred. As for the wild lavender it was what we call here French Lavender, it is shorter and clumpier than we plant or have in UK. More flowers and pollen for the bees in a smaller area of domestic garden here!

    None of which helps my health improve much back here, but I'm still working on it for myself, including going lactose free with milk, which I can say has helped marginally so far. Too soon to tell longterm.

  • Great article thank you! Condition of the air is something that I react to quickly. I hope Bejing can take care of their smog as I am hoping to travel there in 2018. As I read this, it made sense, just based on how I feel in different parts of the country.

  • I don't know of any good articles, however, I too have have found that I have much higher energy levels in certain areas. Coincidentally or not, all of these areas have steppe climate.

  • That's interesting. If other people have experienced differences then it's worth investigating!

  • What you say is very interesting, especially regarding altitude. However, I was adopted at birth and was brought up in Salisbury UK. One sister was brought up on the very west coast of Wales, and the other was living in rural France for many years. We are all in our 70's so not too much pollution when growing up. We all have thyroid problems I have had mine removed.

  • Thanks for your reply. I also grew up in the South West but was diagnosed with (and i believe developed) thyroid problems in Asia. Having said that, I think my mum also suffered from hypothyroidism but wasn't diagnosed. I'd go back to where i lived in Saudi to participate in research but not for any other reason! I'd love to know how to be well again!

  • gingerpo,

    Welcome to our forum.

    I would say there are areas in the world where hypothyroidism is more prevalent due to iodine & selenium deficiency but this would take years and the effects wouldn't suddenly change overnight with a move to a new country.

    If you didn't live in one of these areas, your hypothyroidism is more likely to be caused by autoimmune disease which can fluctuate depending on our general health, diet and weather. I always feel better when it is warm.

    Hashimotos can be initiated by a natural genetic predisposition and possible gluten, etc intolerance which sends our immune system haywire causing intestinal permeability and so low nutrient levels, imbalanced oestrogen, etc, all of which can effect how thyroid hormones work.

    Then of course there is environmental toxins (mercury//lead) and infections such as viruses//bacteria, parasites, etc and it can be difficult to know what causes what.

    As LAHs said... what a wonderful question.

    Have you has thyroid antibodies TPOAb & TGAb checked ? ? ..

    .

    Hashimotos

    thyroiduk.org.uk/tuk/about_...

    .

    Thyroid Antibodies

    thyroiduk.org.uk/tuk/about_...

  • I didn't get my thyroid levels tested when i was in Saudi although it might have been useful.

    I've lived in various places (about 15 since I was first diagnosed) with various climates (but not too cold!) and only in Saudi did my thyroid cease to be a problem. In both Tanzania and Saudi I was living at fairly high altitudes. Saudi was dry and arid while where I lived in TZ was quite green during rainy season but could also be dry and arid.

    There was nothing much else that was significantly different about my lifestyle except where my fresh food was sourced.

    I would love to feel as physically and mentally well as I did in Saudi but unfortunately other aspects make it an undesirable place to live!

  • Vitamin D is a great one for improving thyroid function and sunlight is the best source, this varies a lot with geography. Those of us in the north such as Scotland have to supplement especially in the winter so often feel rough. I am at the moment looking forward to having some sun.

    There are loads of factors with geography that may have influenced how well you felt in dry high altitude places. I am battling some kind of nose problem which may be fungal and that might mean that my conversion of T4 to T3 is not good so I need more hormone to feel half way well. It may be that your thyroid function is also influenced by other problems you have and fungal infections (or the lack of them) in dry upland areas compared with warm and wet may be another factor.

    It is heartening to hear though that you did feel well for a long period of time, may be the rest of us can find similar remission!

  • Yes, I thought initially that my thyroid might be reacting to menopause but now i think that it was my thyroid causing differences in my cycle. Interestingly in Saudi I did not get much sun as I was covered up and spent much of my time indoors! However, in other places in Asia and Africa I do get a lot more sun than i did in the UK!

    I agree about the remission - imagine if it is something so small and simple that could make our lives physically and mentally healthy again!!!

  • Yes remission would be good! Strange that less sun made you feel better but then if we could work out the often strange ways our bodies respond we would all feel better. For example when I have a really nasty cold my sense of smell comes back whereas other people lose theirs. It really seems strange at times. Good luck with working it all out!

  • Thanks! Our bodies are so finely tuned and balanced it's little wonder we don't understand how all these things affect us. I wouldn't go so far as to say that less sun made me feel better but it's interesting that there was something even more influential than the sun obviously working its magic!

  • gingerpo,

    One of the books on my shelf is a thick volume of medical geology.

    It has a phenomenal amount of information about the distribution of diseases/disorders and location. One classic was the work of the British Geological Survey in China. Their analysis of selenium and iodine showed that the levels of these two elements varied at least village by village. Further, that what they found from surface sampling did not always correlate to human consumption. For example, the water consumed in one village might have carried selenium from the next village uphill. But that uphill village might itself be low in selenium because its water comes from even further up the hill.

    In our ever more industrialised world, with ever more management of the environment, we are divorcing our actual consumption from the "natural" world. We might see more iron in our water due to the use of iron/steel pipes. Less organic material due to processing. And the source of our drinking and cooking water might be far from local (all who consume Evian, Volvic or even Malvern water!) So the fundamental geology is not always as relevant as once it was.

    Your observation is fascinating. I don't suppose you have any hard information such as an analysis of the water in Al Baha? Or could it be atmospheric pollution? Or your diet has more arsenic due to eating more rice in Asia? (Arsenic in rice has been discussed quite a bit recently after the Trust me I'm a doctor program discused it.)

  • Yes I agree with you that we are getting further and further away from where our food/water is sourced and our connection to the natural world. It makes it very difficult to identify and evaluate the effect of so many factors on our minds/bodies.

    at the time, I put the differences down to juicing and/or menopause - both of which i have now ruled out - so I didn't investigate anything else. I did look up altitude but all i could see was that hormone production was more likely to be inhibited but this was research conducted at much higher altitudes for climbers.

    Does anyone have any idea as to how/who one might contact to suggest a possible study?

  • You could try this post for a starter:

    healthunlocked.com/thyroidu...

    Also visit British Geological Survey's website and see what they have.

  • Altitude, distance from sea and rain are very complicated.

    Iodine is, it seems, critical to rainfall around the globe. Some rain contains an appreciable level of iodine, some much less.

    Here are a couple to get you started:

    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK28/

    healthunlocked.com/thyroidu...

  • Thank you for these. I will have a read. Apologies for my delay in replying - i've moved again :)

  • Wow bet that is really interesting! Reading through the post it does make sense when you think on the coast more iodine in the air and the effect of more fluoride in places not to mention different levels of nutrients in the soil. No wonder different treatment regime in different areas!

  • I have an earlier version of this:

    amazon.co.uk/Essentials-Med...

  • So tempting! May be see if a used one turns up!

  • There is a scholarly article about this:

    Effects of the Environment, Chemicals and Drugs on Thyroid Function ...

    thyroidmanager.org

    If you put into Google: "effect of climate on thyroid function", this article is four items down on the first page. It is readily accesible to read.

  • Great, I'll have a read. Thanks :)

  • Thanks for this! And to think many doctors think one little pill solves all! Will read, saved for later. I so wish my late husband was still around. He did his PhD on TRH and over the years mover onto brain peptides. I wonder where he would have suggested we live though he was working with people in several countries!

  • One other thought, between hot & cool countries - we use about 80% of our energy just existing. Presumably we use more if trying to keep warm.

    Since being on Levo, I notice a difference if flying from a hot country back to chilly UK. But going in other direction is fine.

    Vitamin D levels must be significant difference. Incidence of MS shows increase in lower sunlight regions.

  • I was going to mention temperature, too, as that must have some effect, unless all 3 countries you've mentioned turn out to be similarly warm? Many members report feeling better in a hot country, and I think most of it is down to this effect SlowDragon mentions. It gives the body a rest in having to warm up your body.

  • I know I'm sensitive to cold and heat but I wasn't paying too much attention to temp. It's been very hot and very cold in the last 3 countries (not as cold as winter in the uk though) but humidity, temp range and other weather factors have been different.

    What kind of difference do you notice between countries SlowDragon?

  • Hi gingerpro -

    how wonderful, getting to live in so many greatly different locations!

    My theory is not fully thought out or researched, but still:

    I noticed that I only ever felt well in very dry (over 25 or under -5 degrees) climates. I am strongly allergic to mold spores and dustmites, both of which don't thrive in those conditions.

    Looking at the mast cell / autoimmune and thyroid interconnection I think I have a clue why moving from a north sea to a continental climate zone improved part of my overall condition. Sadly I cannot prove any of this with numbers.

    I hope you figure it out!

  • Hi Milupa

    That's very interesting about the mould spores and dust mites as I suffer from a form of asthma which makes me cough. I only get this in the uk In the winter and as soon as I travel to a warm country or spring arrives it disappears!

    Mary

  • Hi MaryMary -

    a good reason to move somewhere with better weather!

    There is a community of allergy sufferers near Santa Fe, desert climate, chemical and electro smog free environment... maybe a bit extreme.

    I have an unexplained cough too, which recently returned. I found out that the fire wood was too humid and making the air in the living room unbreathable for me. my husband didn't notice a thing.

    Have a relaxing Sunday afternoon!

  • Yes, this is very interesting and reinforces what another poster wrote - climate has other effects which may be affecting thyroid.

    What is the connection between having such an allergy and its effect on the thyroid?

  • GingerPo, thinking about temperature, another thing occurs to me, were you doing different work or adopting a different lifestyle in the different countries? I find rest has an enormous impact on my fatigue and the amount of energy I have for other things. If I spend a lot of time resting, I'll feel almost like a different person.

    For me an example is if I'm visiting friends and they're cooking for me all day, so I am relieved of having to do it, suddenly I will have loads more energy for other things. I've even found a benefit of being somewhere where the bathroom is on the same level, so I don't have to go up and down stairs several times a day.

  • When I was first diagnosed yes, the amount of rest i got definitely made a difference. Now, I don't think so. I was doing the same kind of job and I don't think I really changed my lifestyle too much.

    The only thing that does make me feel a lot better is juicing - and I've discovered that i need to have 600-700ml of my own juice to have a noticeable effect. I can't reccommend it enough but i think you have to try different ingredients to get the benefit you want. My current juice is carrots, broccoli, beetroot, ginger, kiwi, apple, orange. I haven't tried eliminating anything so don't know if one has more effect that another. But i certainly notice when i don't have it. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to affect thyroid. Same juice in Saudi - no medication. Same juice in Thailand - am now settled on 100/50mcg on alternate days.

  • Hi Gingerpo

    That's really interesting about your Thyroid levels when you were in Saudi!! Amazing to be able to come off all your Meds!! I wish you all the best

    Karolly🙋🏻

  • Thanks Karolly

    Wouldn't it be great if there was a simple natural solution for us all!

  • Free holiday on the NHS! Only joking but it may be better to plan a holiday in a place to give us a boost!

  • I live on the coast in east Scotland but am in Rajasthan at the moment. It was bliss to get away from the cold. I spent a few days in the warm desert at Nagaur and was almost pain free! I am now further south in Udaipur - probably the same temperature but higher in altitude. However I am staying right beside a lake and the aches and pains are back. For me, heat works but only dry heat.

  • yes, i haven't even been cataloguing the aches and pains suffice to say they are worse again at the moment. I always forget that it's connected to thyroid. I've had achilles tendinitis for 8 years and always think my leg problems are just about that but it must be partially connected to thyroid too which would explain why the degree of pain is inconsistent.

    so because you're next to the lake there's more water in the air? i think humidity affects my knee joint too. i'll have to start cataloguing this too.

  • I think altitude probably is significant.

    UVB is apparently responsible for making vitamin D.

    UVB increases at higher altitudes due to cleaner, thinner air

  • Ok so even though I was covered up and it was often cloudy I was still probably getting more vitamin D than i realised!

  • well it might be just coincidence but, in my late teens living in West Midlands it was decided to add fluoride to the water supply. Some 12 months later I developed a goitre which the medical profession would not treat until I started too choke some years later. My goitre was removed with part of my thyroid.

    No such thing as the www society then but, since reading up on the subject fluoride interferes with the uptake of iodine.

    So fluoride levels which occur naturally but in differing levels may also come into the picture

  • yes, fluoride has a lot of effects. Where I was in Tanzania had excessively high flouride levels. It's a problem for locals. I don't think I was there long enough for it to have had an effect on me but I started reducing my medication when i was there.

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