Diagnosis of hypothyroidism is based on your symptoms and the results of blood tests that measure the level of TSH and sometimes the level of the thyroid hormone thyroxine. A low level of thyroxine and high level of TSH indicate an underactive thyroid. That's because your pituitary produces more TSH in an effort to stimulate your thyroid gland into producing more thyroid hormone.
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) is believed to be one of the most underdiagnosed health conditions in the United States. Many of its symptoms—lethargy, depression and weight gain—can be easily attributed to other factors, making hypothyroidism difficult to diagnose. Some reports estimate that around 15 percent of the population suffers from the condition; other reports estimate more than twice that. Risk increases with age, particularly in menopausal women. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), the opposite of hypothyroidism, is considerably less common and is characterized by extreme nervousness and restlessness.
Apart from conventional medical treatment of hypothyroidism and changing your diet and eating habits, there are also a variety of alternative therapies that could help treat the condition. Physical fitness programs can help cope with the disease. Studies into the effects of yoga on hypothyroidism patients have supported claims of its health benefits, as the practice was found to be useful in the management of disease related symptoms.
While you can’t control all the risks that come with hypothyroidism, experts recommend following a nutritious diet and loading up on a variety of nutrients. “Be mindful of what you’re eating, get in colors and organics and no artificial colors or flavors. It’s about balance, right?” says Marcelle Pick, a nurse practitioner of functional medicine in Falmouth, Maine, with a program for balancing hormones and reducing fatigue. Read up on the worst foods for hypothyroidism, and then check out these 15 Subtle Thyroid Disease Symptoms You’re Ignoring.
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil: Extra virgin coconut oil is known to support and stimulate the functioning of the thyroid gland. Coconut oil consists of lauric acid, which possesses thyroid stimulating properties. Extra virgin coconut oil is more effective, as compared to regular coconut oil and is very stable. The oil can be either added to the food while cooking or a spoonful can be ingested as a supplement.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism are often subtle. They are not specific (which means they can mimic the symptoms of many other conditions) and are often attributed to aging. People with mild hypothyroidism may have no signs or symptoms. The symptoms generally become more obvious as the condition worsens and the majority of these complaints are related to a metabolic slowing of the body. Common symptoms and signs include:
When a patient is suspected to have a thyroid disorder a comprehensive thyroid profile is ordered, in the form of a blood test. The test results will give precise measurements of Free T3 and T4 and their ratios to each other. If the results indicate that for example, the patient’s T3 level is too low then the patient will be checked for deficiencies in essential nutrients which are required for hormone production. Many times this will correct the thyroid without the need for prescription hormones.
Thyroid surgery - Thyroid surgery may be performed if a patient is experiencing hyperthyroidism, goiters, thyroid nodules, or thyroid cancer. Thyroid surgery involves removing either all of the thyroid or a large portion of the thyroid gland, both of which diminish and/or halt thyroid hormone production. In this case, hypothyroidism will be a lifelong condition and the patient will need to take a supplemental thyroid hormone for the rest of their life.
Dr. George Springer has practiced alternative medicine for 31 years with an emphasis on treating chronic disease conditions. He received his undergraduate BA from the University of Missouri in St. Louis and his Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) from Logan University where he graduated magna cum laude. He went on to receive his Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.M.D.) from the American Naturopathic Medical Institute a division of Breyer State University in Los Angeles, California.
Before you read on, it’s key to know that 90% of hypo- and hyper-thyroidism results from an autoimmune disorder. (Most people do not realize this, as doctors often don’t take time to explain things.) Most hypothyroid conditions are Hashimoto’s and most hyperthyroid conditions are Graves’ Disease, which means that your immune system is attacking your thyroid. Since the immune system resides in the gut or our intestine (Did you know that?!) a lot of what you will read here is about rebuilding the digestive system.
Making dietary changes is your first line of defense in treating hypothyroidism. Many people with hypothyroidism experience crippling fatigue and brain fog, which prompts reaching for non-nutritional forms of energy like sugar and caffeine. I’ve dubbed these rascals the terrible twosome, as they can burn out your thyroid (and destabilize blood sugar).
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Most physicians diagnose hypothyroidism by simple blood tests that measure the level of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which is made by the pituitary gland in response to thyroid hormone and the body’s needs, and indicates thyroid status. As levels of thyroid hormones fall, the pituitary releases TSH to stimulate the thyroid to produce more hormone. Clinicians may also measure circulating levels of T-3 and T-4, which are the thyroid hormones themselves. Low levels of T-4 and high levels of TSH reveal an underactive thyroid. Other variants of hypothyroidism can exist. Patients can have no symptoms and normal serum thyroid hormone levels, but elevated TSH. Others can have symptoms, but normal TSH and T-4 levels. Patients with either of these variants may benefit from supplementation. In addition, someone with a temporary illness might have a completely normal thyroid but high TSH, a condition called “sick euthyroid” which usually resolves without any intervention.
The disease process for Hashimoto’s is a spectrum, and not all patients require treatment. Some patients have autoimmune antibodies but retain enough thyroid function without the need for intervention for years. Generally, once the body can no longer produce an adequate amount of thyroid hormone for necessary physiological functions, thyroid replacement medication is necessary to correct the hormonal imbalances associated with hypothyroidism.
Medications that are used to treat an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) may cause hypothyroidism. These drugs include methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil (PTU). The psychiatric medication, lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), is also known to alter thyroid function and cause hypothyroidism. Interestingly, drugs containing a large amount of iodine such as amiodarone (Cordarone), potassium iodide (SSKI, Pima), and Lugol's solution can cause changes in thyroid function, which may result in low blood levels of thyroid hormone.
Your mood is especially susceptible to changes in hormone levels, so some people with hypothyroidism deal with depression, anxiety, trouble getting good sleep and low immunity. The thyroid gland helps regulate chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, which control your emotions and nerve signaling. This is the reason an out-of-balance thyroid can mean drastic emotional changes at times.
The goal of natural remedies or alternative medicine is to fix the root cause of the thyroid problem. Thyroid problems sometimes start as the result of poor diet, stress, or missing nutrients in your body. Changing your diet and taking an herbal supplement are two ways you can help your thyroid condition. These options may have fewer side effects than taking thyroid medicine. Also, using an herbal supplement for treatment of a low or underactive thyroid may be helpful for people who aren’t responding well to medicines.
Pregnancy . The reason isn’t clear, but sometimes, inflammation of the thyroid occurs after pregnancy. This is called postpartum thyroiditis. Women with this condition usually have a severe increase in thyroid hormone levels followed by a sharp drop in thyroid hormone production. Most women with postpartum thyroiditis will regain their normal thyroid function.
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“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]
Muscle cramps are involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscles that do not relax. Extremely common, any muscles that have voluntary control, including some organs, are subject to cramp. Since there is such variety in the types of muscle cramps that can occur, many causes and preventative medications are known. Stretching is the most common way to stop or prevent most muscle cramps.
Thyroid hormone tells all of the cells in your body how busy they should be. Too much thyroid hormone (hypERthyroidism), and your body goes into overdrive; not enough thyroid hormone (hypOthyroidism), and your body slows down. The most common causes of hypothyroidism worldwide are dietary—protein malnutrition and iodine deficiency. This is because the two main ingredients needed to make thyroid hormone are tyrosine (an amino acid from dietary protein) and iodine (a naturally-occurring salt).
Thank you for the information. I’ve been on the meds four years and I keep on getting fat and sluggish plus all the other symptoms. I’m exhausted. I also want to share that the medication and a good diet don’t cure this disease in everybody. A reliable herbalist told me it’s possible to replace the medication for a natural iodine source; to slowly lower the synthetic medication as I start ingesting algae supplements. It’s very dangerous to stop talking the synthetic med all at once. So the switch has to be very slow into the algae. I’m gonna order the algae and start giving it a chance.
Vitamin B12 and thiamine are important for neurologic function and hormonal balance. Research shows that supplementing with thiamine can help combat symptoms of autoimmune disease, including chronic fatigue. In one clinical study, when patients with Hashimoto’s were given 600 milligrams per day of thiamine, the majority experienced complete regression of fatigue within a few hours or days. (18)
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).
11. Methylation: Methylation is a key process that protects DNA, turns on and off genetic traits and helps to detoxify environmental chemicals. Many individuals have certain genetic polymorphisms that limit their ability to appropriately methylate. Methylation plays a very important role in T cell function and poor methylation status is associated with the development of auto-immunity (31).
The development of TSH assays led to a dramatic reduction in thyroid hormone replacement dosage and the ability to diagnose with certainty milder forms of hypothyroidism. Discovery of peripheral T4-to-T3 conversion gave a physiologic means to justify l-thyroxine monotherapy. In combination with the concerns over consistency and safety of natural thyroid preparations, synthetic l-thyroxine was perceived as a more reliable therapy. These findings laid the foundation for the clinical practice trend away from natural thyroid preparations and toward l-thyroxine monotherapy at doses to normalize the serum TSH. Later, a subpopulation of patients with residual symptoms of hypothyroidism was recognized. It remains to be determined whether this is due to a trend of attributing nonspecific symptoms to minimal thyroid dysfunction, relatively low serum T3 levels and/or high T4:T3 ratio, or the role of Thr92AlaD2 polymorphism, and whether combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine will be beneficial.
The foods listed above do not contain any thiocyanate when they are in their living, intact state, because thiocyanates do not form until the plant is cut, crushed, or chewed. For example, fresh broccoli contains a harmless substance called glucosinolate, which turns into a thiocyanate called sulforaphane when the vegetable is damaged (see my broccoli blogpost for more information).
Try this: Arrange sardines in a glass casserole dish and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice; broil till hot and then shower with parsley before serving. Mash boneless, skinless sardines with olive oil, chopped olives, capers, coarse black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne for an easy, spreadable fish dip. Simmer boneless, skinless sardines in tomato sauce with minced rosemary leaves and crushed red pepper flakes; serve over cooked penne pasta with grated Asiago cheese.
Over my several decades working as a Functional Medicine doctor, I can assure you that even in the toughest cases, you can heal your thyroid. With some patients, I can do this through the dietary, nutrient, and lifestyle factors I’ve discussed here. For others, that healing requires trial and error using several medications and working closely with a physician.
One root vegetable that is the exception, and which can negatively impact an underactive thyroid is cassava, a common staple in certain parts of Africa. This plant “is known to produce toxins that can slow an already underactive thyroid,” Dr. Nasr says. But, “that’s not relevant here in the United States, unless you cook cassava and you eat it every day.”
Kale reigns supreme in the land of leafy green vegetables that we often eat raw, but beware if you have an iodine deficiency. “Kale gets a big baddy,” Blum says. “Eat it cooked.” When raw, this dark green leaf steals the iodine from the thyroid gland. If you must, it’s ok to nosh on the green veggie in your salad, but stop at two servings a day. No need to get extra credit on the superfood.
For instance, soy foods and the broccoli family (broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens) have all been said to cause thyroid dysfunction, but they also have many other health benefits. Research on these foods to date has been less than conclusive. In one study, rats fed high concentrations of soy had problems with their thyroid.
Exercise: Many patients with hypothyroidism have reported benefits from practicing a yoga pose called the Shoulder Stand, or sarvangasana, which increases circulation to the thyroid. Lie on your back with your arms (palms up) along your sides. Raise your legs at a right angle to the floor. Then raise your hips so your chin rests on your chest, supporting yourself with your elbows and upper arms on the floor and your hands on your hips. Keep your neck and shoulders flat on the floor, and stretch your torso and legs as straight as possible. Hold as long as comfortable, slowly working up to 5 minutes a day. Don’t do this pose if you are pregnant or menstruating, nor should you try it if you have glaucoma, sinus problems or high blood pressure. The Shoulder Stand may be more effective if you use visualization practices, imagining the thyroid gland waking up from a long period of inactivity and producing more thyroid hormone.
Emphasizing lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, heart-healthy fats and omega-3s, high-fiber foods, and appropriate portions can help manage or prevent illnesses associated with thyroid disease. As Schneider notes, “It’s eating for prevention of all these diseases that accompany thyroid disease: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.” As an added bonus, fiber can relieve constipation that people with hypothyroidism often experience.
When the hypothalmus decides we need more thyroid hormone in circulation (cold weather or increased activity level for example) it sends a chemical messenger called thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) which goes to the pituitary gland. The pituitary than sends thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) over to the thyroid. TSH activates the production of a protein called thyroglobulin.
Your article is really helpful. I was diagnosed with hypothyroid almost 7 years back using imaging of gland and started off with 50 mcg of thyroxine which gradually increased to 100 mcg. My mother and both the brothers also have the problem but they live a normal life. However, I feel chronic throat infection (almost every month), viral fever (mild fever running for long duration), my throat reacts to the cold weather, dust etc. I feel extreme fatigue most time. Since last two years, my condition has worsen. My T3 level is usually at the lower end (even after medication). I used to take protein suppliments which caused me lot of stomach troubles and eggs too. Now I have stopped all the heavy proteins. How can I live a normal life? I am 43 years old male (a scientist) and want to have an active life and career. Please help me.
Another problem of conversion involves too much of the T4 converting into another thyroid hormone called Reverse T3. Reverse T3 is not metabolizing active and can contribute to symptoms of underactive thyroid. Again, proper testing of the thyroid will uncover this issue. Correct thyroid treatment requires the correct evaluation and that is what is performed at LifeWorks Wellness Center.
Dietary changes: For those who have existing thyroid conditions, excess consumption of soy may affect thyroid function, but this is probably a concern only in those already taking Synthroid or other thyroid replacement medication. If you consume soy on a regular basis, you may require a slightly increased dosage of replacement therapy. You should also know that if you eat soy foods at the same time that you take thyroid hormone, they may interfere with its absorption. To be safe, do not eat soy within three hours of taking your medication. Moderate soy consumption (one serving daily of whole soy foods) should not be a problem. Adequate iodine from dietary sources is also important – iodized salt, fresh ocean fish and seaweed are good sources.
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.
Before birth, a baby depends on the mother for thyroid hormones until the baby's own thyroid gland can start to function. Usually, this occurs after about 12 weeks of gestation or the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. Moreover, babies of mothers who had an underactive thyroid in the first part of their pregnancy who then were treated, exhibited slower motor development than the babies of normal mothers.
Vitamin D is important for immune system health and is made in the skin from exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Vitamin D is also found in foods like fatty fish, cod liver oil, and fortified cereals. Research suggests that vitamin D deficiency may be linked to the development of Hashimoto's thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroid disease), and that vitamin D supplementation may help with the treatment of thyroid disease.
Although the implementation of sensitive TSH assays resulted in dose reduction, it also fueled the discovery of subclinical states of hypothyroidism (i.e., serum TSH <10 mIU/L and normal serum free T4); this state is 20 times more prevalent than overt hypothyroidism (64). Hence, many patients with vague symptoms, such as depressed mood and fatigue, are commonly screened and found to have subclinical hypothyroidism. In many cases, this finding prompts the conclusion that the subclinical hypothyroidism is the cause of the nonspecific symptoms, and thyroid hormone therapy is initiated. The patients in whom the cause–effect relationship was incorrect contribute to the increasing number of euthyroid but symptomatic patients (57). The marked increase in prescribing of thyroid hormone with decreasing TSH thresholds amplifies this problem (47).
Symptoms - Hypothyroidism doesn’t have any unique characteristic symptoms - all of its symptoms could potentially present as symptoms of a different illness. One way to differentiate whether your symptoms are a product of hypothyroidism is to consider whether you’ve always had the symptoms (in which case hypothyroidism in unlikely) or whether the symptom is a departure from the way you used to feel (which means hypothyroidism is more likely).
It's important to note, however, that selenium has what doctors call a "narrow therapeutic window." In optimal amounts, it can help ensure good thyroid function and have other benefits, but is toxic in amounts not that far above "normal." This is especially important to remember if you are taking a multi-vitamin that contains zinc as well as a zinc supplement.
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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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