The thyroid gland is a 2-inch butterfly-shaped organ located at the front of the neck. Though the thyroid is small, it’s a major gland in the endocrine system and affects nearly every organ in the body. It regulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism, respiration, body temperature, brain development, cholesterol levels, the heart and nervous system, blood calcium levels, menstrual cycles, skin integrity, and more.1
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as wild salmon, trout, tuna, or sardines make this food an excellent choice for lunch or dinner, says Virginia Turner, MS, RD, LDN, clinical nutrition manager at The University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. Unmanaged hypothyroidism can increase the risk for heart disease as a result of higher levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol. "Omega-3s are known to decrease inflammation, help with immunity, and lower the risk for heart disease," she adds. Fish is also a good source of the nutrient selenium, which is most concentrated in the thyroid. Selenium also helps decrease inflammation.
AGEs cause massive destruction throughout the body and have an affinity for thyroid tissue. Elevated HgA1C (a measure of glycation) is correlated with increased TSH and decreased free T3 & T4 (57). When the blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia), it increases stress hormone (cortisol and adrenaline) to boost up blood sugar. Cortisol directly inhibits the enzyme (5’-deiodinase) which converts inactive T4 into active T3.
Blood sugar imbalances are major contributers to the development of hypothyroidism. When our blood sugar gets too high (hyperglycemia) the sugar molecules bind to proteins in the body and create Advanced Glycolytic Enzymes (AGEs) (56). The AGEs destroy cell membrane function and damage insulin receptor activity creating a vicious cycle of elevated blood sugar and inflammatory stress.
Why does this happen? The immune system mistakenly thinks that the thyroid cells are not a part of the body, so it tries to remove them before they can cause damage and illness. The problem is that this causes widespread inflammation, which can result in many different problems. 90 percent of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s that inflames the thyroid gland over time, but this isn’t the only cause of hypothyroidism.
*In the years prior to the discovery of peripheral T4-to-T3 conversion, most groups recommended treatment with natural thyroid preparations, such as desiccated thyroid, thyroid extract, or thyroglobulin, which contain both T4 and T3. However with the discovery of T4-to-T3 conversion and the development of the radioimmunoassay for TSH in the early 1 970s, not only was there a trend toward l-thyroxine monotherapy, but the recommended daily maintenance doses decreased significantly. These trends led to the adoption of the contemporary standard of care: l-thyroxine monotherapy administered at doses to maintain a normal serum TSH level.
Correcting these problems requires an integrative approach. It involves more than simply taking a thyroid pill. As you’ll see, it involves nutritional support, exercise, stress reduction, supplements, reducing inflammation, and sometimes eliminating certain foods and detoxification from heavy metals (such as mercury and lead) and petrochemical toxins (such as pesticides and PCBs).
The majority of people who have an underactive thyroid such as Hashimoto’s disease, have an autoimmune disease whereby the immune system attacks thyroid tissue. So, in order to find an underactive thyroid natural treatment it is important to address the autoimmune issue. Just taking prescription medication for low thyroid function will simply just mask the symptoms.
According to a Journal of the American Medical Association article, “when thyroid function is too low, the pituitary increases its output of TSH to stimulate the thyroid to work harder.” (4) Therefore, subclinical hypothyroidism — someone without obvious symptoms yet still with low thyroid function — represents a situation in which thyroid function is only mildly low, with the blood level of thyroxine near the normal range. Meanwhile, however, the blood level of TSH is elevated, and this indicates mild thyroid failure.
The thyroid uses iodine to convert T4 into freeT3. If you have hypothyroidism, you may not have an iodine deficiency per se, but your thyroid is almost certainly struggling in some way to get ahold of the iodine available to it and do what it needs to do with it. If the root cause is left unaddressed, simply increasing iodine is not always useful and at worst can be dangerous depending on how high you’re increasing your supplementation thinking if a little is good, then more will “solve” your problem.
Central or pituitary hypothyroidism: TSH (Thyroid-stimulating hormone) is produced by the pituitary gland, which is located behind the nose at the base of the brain. Any destructive disease of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus, which sits just above the pituitary gland, may cause damage to the cells that secrete TSH, which stimulates the thyroid to produce normal amounts of thyroid hormone. This is a very rare cause of hypothyroidism.
Seaweed — Good seaweeds are some of the best natural sources of iodine and help prevent deficiencies that disturb thyroid function. I’d recommend having some every week as part of your hypothyroidism diet. Try kelp, nori, kombu and wakame. You can look for dried varieties of these at health food stores and use them in soups, with tuna fish or in fish cakes.
Going “natural” is an evolving trend in healthcare. Even hypothyroid patients are exploring their options outside of synthetic thyroid hormone. One such option is a so-called natural thyroid supplement made from dried animal thyroid glands. These are usually derived from pigs (called Armour Thyroid) but are also sometimes made from dried cow thyroids. (3)
An early symptom of hypothyroidism is weight gain. Low-calorie, high-density foods such as fresh produce are the cornerstone of every successful weight loss program. Include either fresh fruits or veggies at each meal, if possible. Specific foods such as blueberries, cherries, sweet potatoes, and green peppers are also rich in antioxidants, nutrients that are known to lower risk for heart disease.
Thyroid hormones regulate cholesterol synthesis, cholesterol receptors, and the rate of cholesterol degradation. Hypothyroidism increases LDL levels, and increased cholesterol levels have been shown to induce hypothyroidism in animal models. Normalization of thyroid hormone levels has a beneficial effect on cholesterol, which may be worth noting especially for clients who choose not to take prescribed thyroid medications.7
The thyroid is the organ with the highest selenium content in the whole body. Selenium is necessary for the production of the T3 thyroid hormone and can reduce autoimmune affects. In patients with Hashimoto’s disease and in pregnant women with thyroid disturbances, selenium supplementation decreases anti-thyroid antibody levels and improves the structure of the thyroid gland.
Subclinical hypothyroidism refers to a state in which people do not have symptoms of hypothyroidism and have a normal amount of thyroid hormone in their blood. The only abnormality is an increased TSH on the person’s blood work. This implies that the pituitary gland is working extra hard to maintain a normal circulating thyroid hormone level and that the thyroid gland requires extra stimulation by the pituitary to produce adequate hormones. Most people with subclinical hypothyroidism can expect the disease to progress to obvious hypothyroidism, in which symptoms and signs occur.
In developing countries, insufficient amounts of iodine in the diet account for most cases of hypothyroidism. Iodine is necessary for the production of the two main thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T-4) and triiodothyronine (T-3). In the U.S. – where salt is iodized, and most Americans get plenty of iodine from table salt – an autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause. Hashimoto’s is more common in women and in those with a family history of autoimmune diseases. It involves immune-related inflammation and destruction of the thyroid gland, which reduces proper functioning and production of thyroid hormone. The exact cause and triggers of Hashimoto’s still remains unknown.
“More than 70 countries, including the United States and Canada, have salt iodization programs. As a result, approximately 70% of households worldwide use iodized salt, ranging from almost 90% of households in North and South America to less than 50% in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean regions. In the United States, salt manufacturers have been adding iodine to table salt since the 1920s, although it is still a voluntary program.” [http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/#h3]
Fat is your friend and cholesterol is the precursor to hormonal pathways; if you’re getting insufficient fat and cholesterol, you could be exacerbating hormonal imbalance, which includes thyroid hormones. Natural, healthful fats include olive oil; ghee; avocados; flax seeds; fish; nuts and nut butters; hormone- and antibiotic-free full fat cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese (yes, full fat, not skim); and coconut milk products.
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Do you see “gluten-free”, “dairy-free” etc. popping up at the health stores today? This is because many people get off the “big five” (gluten, dairy, corn, eggs and soy) and experience significant changes. To find the culprits, I always start off with an Elimination Diet (I teach how to do the Elimination Diet at this free workshop) and this produces clear, unbiased results. You can also get a food intolerance test (not allergy; it’s different) done but they are far from accurate. Gluten is an infamous food for contributing to thyroid conditions, and eliminating it is key. However, often times, you would need to cut out more than just gluten if you wish to shape your diet for thyroid fitness.
55. National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) final report. Circulation. 2002;106:3143–3421. [PMID: 12485966] [PubMed]
Radioimmunoassays for measurement of serum T3 (48) and T4 (49) were soon developed, and it was observed that l-thyroxine monotherapy could normalize both T4 and T3 levels at the expense of a high T4:T3 ratio. In contrast, l-triiodothyronine, desiccated thyroid, thyroglobulin, and l-thyroxine/l-triiodothyronine combination all typically resulted in low or low-normal serum T4 values with usually elevated serum T3 levels, and thus a low T4:T3 ratio (28). Desiccated thyroid resulted in a T3 peak about 2 to 5 hours after administration that corresponded to thyrotoxic symptoms in some patients (50). That a single daily dose of l-thyroxine resulted in stable blood levels of T4 and T3 throughout the day (48) was understood to result from a steady rate of conversion of T4 to T3 (51).
Since nutritional supplements are not regulated to the same stringent level as medications, you’ll also want to find a trusted source for any supplement you do take, so you can have some certainty of what you are getting, as you want to avoid any unnecessary or undesirable filler ingredients. For more on this read this EndocrineWeb article: Thyroid Supplements.
A diet low in nutrient-rich foods, especially in iodine and selenium (which are trace minerals crucial for thyroid function), increases the risk for thyroid disorders. The thyroid gland needs both selenium and iodine to produce adequate levels of thyroid hormones. And these nutrients also have other protective roles in the body; for example, severe selenium deficiency increases the incidence of thyroiditis because it stops activity of a very powerful antioxidant known as glutathione which normally controls inflammation and fights oxidative stress.
I had no idea that I had type II diabetes. I was diagnosed at age 50, after complaining to my doctor about being very tired. There is no family history of this disease. I’m a male and at the time of diagnosis, I weighed about 215. (I’m 6’2″)Within 6 months, I had gained 30 to 35 pounds, and apparently the diabetes medicines (Actos and Glimiperide) are known to cause weight gain. I wish my doctor had mentioned that, so I could have monitored my weight more closely. I was also taking metformin 1000 mg twice daily December 2017 our family doctor started me on Green House Herbal Clinic Diabetes Disease Herbal mixture, 5 weeks into treatment I improved dramatically. At the end of the full treatment course, the disease is totally under control. No case blurred vision, frequent urination, or weakness
Clara Schneider, MS, RD, RN, CDE, LDN, of Outer Banks Nutrition and author of numerous books, including The Everything Thyroid Diet Book, says, “The No. 1 priority is to get the thyroid disease under control. Clients need to have labs and medications addressed first. Weight changes are just not going to happen before all of that is under control.” She notes that Hashimoto’s typically occurs around menopause, which compounds the weight gain issue that many women experience during that time.
Hypothyroidism Diet: One of the main causes of hypothyroidism is inflammation, so following an anti-inflammatory diet is key to improving your thyroid function. Likewise, ensuring your diet is rich in nutrient-dense foods, particularly iodine and selenium, will also help your thyroid produce sufficient levels of thyroid hormones. Some of the best foods to eat for your thyroid: wild-caught fish, coconut oil and ghee, seaweed, probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and miso, sprouted whole grains and nuts, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, bone broth, and plenty of good ole’ H20. Getting plenty of protein, healthy fat and fiber is of utmost importance when you have thyroid dysfunction.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Unless you've been diagnosed with celiac disease, it probably won’t affect your thyroid. Gluten can damage the small intestines of people with celiac disease. They can have other autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s disease (which leads to an underactive thyroid) and Graves' disease (which leads to an overactive thyroid). If you have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet may help prevent these thyroid diseases.
Unless a food is fortified with iodine, the Food and Drug Administration doesn't require manufacturers to list it on their products. That's just one of the reasons why it's hard to know how much of this nutrient is in certain foods, says Ilic. But as a general rule, shellfish like lobster and shrimp are good sources of iodine, she says. In fact, just 3 ounces of shrimp (about 4 or 5 pieces) contains more than 20% of your recommended intake. Bonus: shellfish can also be a good source of zinc, too. Three ounces of Alaskan crab and lobster contain 6.5 and 3.4 milligrams of zinc, respectively.
Iodine: Iodine is critical for thyroid hormone production in the body. A true iodine deficiency will cause hypothyroidism (43). In western culture we often see subclinical iodine deficiencies which contribute to hypothyroidism (44). I typically don’t recommend high doses of iodine as it could be problematic with individuals with Hashimoto’s – especially with TPO anti-bodies.
Pill Systems: Natural ingredients combined together to help maintain the functioning of the thyroid gland are available in the form of pill systems. A thyroid supplement called 'thyromine' is used to increase production, thereby combating hypothyroidism. Thyromine supplements are made from natural and herbal ingredients, such as Nori (seaweed rich in iodine) and thyroid bovine powder (maintains functioning of endocrine system).
Gluten intolerance is highly associated with inflammatory disorders of all kinds (63). It is also a contributing factor in many autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, autoimmune cardiomyopathy, lymphoma and dermatitis herpetiformis (skin disease) among others (64, 65). If you have a thyroid problem or just want to avoid having a future thyroid problem, the first place to start is on a gluten-free nutrition program!
Most people with hypothyroidism don’t need to steer clear of soy completely. But it’s a good idea to limit your consumption to a few servings a week, and to stick with minimally processed forms of soy like tempeh or miso. Foods containing processed soy protein isolates (like soy protein powder, soy protein bars, or soy-based meat analogs) tend to have a higher concentration of isoflavones, says Markley.
An unhealthy gut environment can contribute to nutrient deficiencies and raise autoimmune activity in the body. Food sensitivities or allergies, including those to gluten and dairy, can trigger gut inflammation. Other causes of a damaged gut are high stress levels, toxin overload from diet and the environment and bacterial imbalances. When leaky gut occurs, small particles that are normally trapped inside the gut start to leak out into the bloodstream through tiny openings in the gut lining, which creates an autoimmune cascade and a series of negative symptoms.
One of the most powerful things you can do to help your health and metabolism is to drink enough water. Water helps your metabolism function more efficiently and can help reduce your appetite, get rid of water retention and bloating, improve your digestion and elimination, and combat constipation. Some experts even say that we should drink one ounce of water per pound of scale weight.
The most common treatment I use is Armour thyroid, (9) a prescription drug made from desiccated (dried) porcine thyroid. It contains the full spectrum of thyroid hormones, including T4, T3, and T2 (10). That last one – T2 – is a little-known product of thyroid metabolism that actually may be very important. The right dose ranges from 15 to 180 milligrams, depending on the person.
• Selenium: The highest concentration of selenium is found in the thyroid gland, and it’s been shown to be a necessary component of enzymes integral to thyroid function.14 Selenium is an essential trace mineral and has been shown to have a profound effect on the immune system, cognitive function, fertility in both men and women, and mortality rate.
In effect, there is no single, specific diet or vitamin/mineral supplement that has been proven to eliminate thyroid disease, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. If you would like more guidance on the right diet to meet your individual needs, you can consider working with a registered dietitian who has a specialty in thyroid health, or an integrative medicine physician.
Getting enough fiber is good for you, but too much can complicate your hypothyroidism treatment. The government's Daily Guidelines for Americans currently recommends that older adults take in 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. Amounts of dietary fiber from whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes that go above that level affect your digestive system and can interfere with absorption of thyroid hormone replacement drugs.
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Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.
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