There are so many reasons for low thyroid function, yet I see many patients whose doctors have ignored this problem. One young female patient had more than 30 percent body fat and was unable to change her body no matter how hard she worked. She ate perfectly, exercised with a trainer every day, yet her body wouldn’t budge. She also had a slightly depressed mood and other vague symptoms.
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.
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.
“The effects of fluoride on various aspects of endocrine function should be examined, particularly with respect to a possible role in the development of several diseases or mental states in the United States. Major areas of investigation include . . . thyroid disease (especially in light of decreasing iodine intake by the U.S. population).” (National Research Council, 2006)
Thyroid disease presents unique challenges due to undesired weight changes, significant cardiovascular risks, and symptoms such as fatigue, mood changes, and gastrointestinal upset, which can hinder the development of healthful behaviors. It’s vital that dietitians focus on setting realistic goals for heart-healthy changes and regular exercise when counseling clients. With so many potential nutrient deficiencies and interactions with medications and supplements, it will be important for dietitians to coordinate with their clients’ healthcare team for optimal health outcomes.
Almost 5 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 has some form of hypothyroidism. (1) Some estimates suggest up to 40 percent of the population suffers from at least some level of underactive thyroid. Women — especially older women — are the most susceptible group for developing hypothyroidism. People who are elderly or who have other existing autoimmune diseases — like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease, for example — are also at a higher risk.
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.
Foods that contain some vitamin D include fatty fish, milk, dairy, eggs, and mushrooms. Sunlight also is a potential source, but the amount of vitamin production depends on the season and latitude. If clients have low vitamin D levels, supplemental D3 may be necessary, and the client’s physician should monitor progress to ensure the individual’s levels stay within an appropriate range.
Iodine is an essential ingredient in thyroid hormone, and thyroid hormone is critical to the growth and development of the bodies and brains of all baby vertebrates (animals with backbones). Since they need iodine just as much as we do, and they do not have access to artificially iodized salt, how do they get their iodine? Do they have a secret stash somewhere that they’re not sharing with us? I assume they are getting enough iodine because if they weren’t, they would all be born brain-damaged runts, and many would be infertile if they survived to adulthood. To the best of my knowledge, wild inland animals are not herds of sterile, stupefied miniatures roaming the landscape in search of iodine…
“The biggest factors that help with weight loss are calorie- and carbohydrate-controlled meal plans,” says Sheila Dean, DSc, RD, LD, CCN, CDE, of the Palm Harbor Center for Health & Healing in Florida. “Naturally I try to ensure [clients are] eating a whole foods-based, minimally processed diet with at least 2 L of water daily.” Schneider agrees that a heart-healthy eating plan is fundamental. “The diet should emphasize more vegetables, leaner meats, more beans, fiber, and fluids. We need to look at intake of sugars, added fats, fast food, and meals out.”
To offer some perspective: up to 95% of the thyroid hypothyroidism in the US is caused not by an iodine deficiency, but occurs as the result of an autoimmune disease so avoiding cruciferous vegetables will do little to fix your underactive thyroid, and may deprive you of valuable healthy benefits such as dietary fiber, and anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting antioxidants.5
You must take synthetic thyroxine every day in the morning on an empty stomach. Wait at least 30 minutes before eating or drinking (with the exception of water). Skipping doses can cause your thyroid to go off balance. If you do miss a dose, be sure to take it the next day according to your regular schedule. Don’t double up on your dose by taking two pills at a time, because this can increase your levels by too much.
Iodine intake often isn’t readily apparent on a dietary recall since the amount in foods is largely dependent on levels in the soil and added salt. However, Schneider says, “Clients taking iodine tablets are a red flag. Frequent intake of foods such as seaweed or an avoidance of all iodized salt may serve as signs that further exploration is needed.”
Since having hypothyroidism can cause your body's metabolism to act really slow, you should understand that maintaining a hypothyroidism diet can save your life. Anyone with hypothyroidism has a slow metabolism, thus gaining weight is inevitable. If you gain weight, you can acquire a couple more health problems linked to weight gain, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
The tendency to put on weight if you have hypothyroidism can cause people to starve themselves or eat an extremely low-calorie diet. This can cause more harm than good and lead to several other health complications. Instead of fad or crash dieting, learn to eat a healthy balanced meal that provides you with all the necessary nutrients, vitamins and minerals required to function optimally. In addition to this add at least an hour of exercise thrice a week and you can boost your metabolism and reduce symptoms such as fatigue as well.
A diet low in nutrient-rich foods, especially in iodine and selenium (which are trace minerals crucial for thyroid function), increases the risk for hypothyroid disorders. The thyroid gland needs both selenium and iodine to produce adequate levels of thyroid hormones. (6) These nutrients also play 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. (7) Getting on track with a hypothyroidism diet ensures that you get the appropriate amounts of selenium and iodine in your diet.
Hyperthyroidism usually is treated with medications, surgery, or oral radioactive iodine. However, these treatments are imprecise and may cause the thyroid to secrete inadequate amounts of T3 and T4 and function insufficiently after treatment. Seventy percent to 90% of patients with Graves’ or thyroid cancer eventually need treatment for hypothyroidism as a result of treatment.6
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.
The thyroid gland is located in your throat area, so it literally connects the mind and body. When you rush while eating, the food moves so quickly from mouth to stomach that the connection from mind to body is not strong. The mouth doesn’t know what the stomach is doing and vice versa. This is good health advice no matter what: sit down, slow down, savor, breathe and chew your food. Since the thyroid is the master of your metabolism, you want to eat slowly enough so it can record the message that food is entering the body.
The thyroid gland uses iodine (mostly from foods in the diet like seafood, bread, and salt) to produce thyroid hormones. The two most important thyroid hormones are thyroxine (tetraiodothyronine or T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3), which account for 99% and 1% of thyroid hormones present in the blood respectively. However, the hormone with the most biological activity is T3. Once released from the thyroid gland into the blood, a large amount of T4 is converted as needed into T3 - the active hormone that affects the metabolism of cells.
On the flip side, there are certain foods that people with underactive thyroids should minimize or avoid altogether, like cruciferous vegetables, particular raw Brassica vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, soy, and Brussels sprouts. While these are healthy foods for most people, they contain a compound called goitrogens, which might impact thyroid function by impairing thyroid peroxidase. Gluten, conventional dairy, refined sugar and refined flour, caffeine and alcohol (which stress your adrenals) are also contraindicated for hypothyroid patients.
High-fiber foods – People with hypothyroidism may have digestive difficulties, so aim for 30–40 grams of fiber daily. In addition to a high-fiber diet helping with digestive health, it improves heart health, balances blood sugar levels and supports a healthy weight by making you feel fuller. Some easy ways to increase fiber intake include eating more fresh vegetables, berries, beans, lentils and seeds.
Supplements may also mess with your treatment and can be harmful. Iodine supplements, for example, can cause your thyroid to make too much or too little hormone. Too much of a healthy vitamin isn't good for you. Fiber supplements can absorb medication and keep the full dose from working in your body. Herbs may interfere with your medication and may not be safe or effective.
In humans, a factor associated with response to combination therapy in a large clinical trial is the Thr92Ala polymorphism in the type 2 deiodinase gene (DIO2), wherein the subpopulation of patients with this genetic alteration had improved well-being and preference for combination therapy (7). This has led investigators to consider whether this polymorphism could confer a defect in the D2 pathway, but normal Thr92AlaD2 enzyme kinetics have been demonstrated (73). Only recently has the Thr92AlaD2 protein been found to have a longer half-life, ectopically localize in the Golgi apparatus, and significantly alter the genetic fingerprint in cultured cells and in the temporal pole of the human brain without evidence of reduced thyroid hormone signaling (74). The significance of these studies transcends the thyroid field—this polymorphism has now been associated with a constellation of diseases, including mental retardation, bipolar disorder, and low IQ (75). If hypothyroid carriers of Thr92AlaD2 benefit from alternate therapeutic strategies in replicate studies, then personalized medicine—based on genotype— may have a role.
Like many people living with thyroid problems, you may wonder what the best thyroid diet to follow is. The truth is that the ideal diet for those who are living with a thyroid condition depends on personal needs and goals. If your goal is weight loss, you will want to optimize your blood sugar and leptin levels and eliminate toxins and allergens, among other things. If your goal is to support your thyroid health but not necessarily lose weight, there are some foods (such as goiter-producing vegetables and soy) that you may wish to minimize or avoid.
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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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