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.
“Excess iodine is generally well tolerated, but individuals with underlying thyroid disease or other risk factors may be susceptible to iodine-induced thyroid dysfunction following acute or chronic exposure. Sources of increased iodine exposure include the global public health efforts of iodine supplementation, the escalating use of iodinated contrast radiologic studies, amiodarone administration in vulnerable patients [amiodarone is a drug used to treat heart rhythm problems], excess seaweed consumption, and various miscellaneous sources.” [Leung]
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The most common thyroid condition is hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. In the United States, hypothyroidism usually is caused by an autoimmune response known as Hashimoto’s disease or autoimmune thyroiditis. As with all autoimmune diseases, the body mistakenly identifies its own tissues as an invader and attacks them until the organ is destroyed. This chronic attack eventually prevents the thyroid from releasing adequate levels of the hormones T3 and T4, which are necessary to keep the body functioning properly. The lack of these hormones can slow down metabolism and cause weight gain, fatigue, dry skin and hair, and difficulty concentrating (see table).2 Hashimoto’s affects approximately 5% of the US population, is seven times more prevalent in women than men, and generally occurs during middle age.3
Vitamin B12 and thiamine are important for neurologic function and hormonal balance. Research shows that supplementing with thiamine, also known as thiamin or Vitamin B1, 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. Vitamin B12 is another important nutrient for fighting fatigue since it benefits the central nervous system in many important ways: maintaining the health of nerve cells (including neurotransmitters), protecting the covering of nerves called the cell’s myelin sheath, and turning nutrients from food into useable energy for the brain and body. Designs for Health B-Supreme has an array of B vitamins (including thiamine and Vitamin B12) and additional co-factors that help the body utilize the B vitamins.
Goitrogen Foods – Eating large amounts of raw Brassica vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, soy and Brussels sprouts might impact thyroid function because these contain goitrogens, molecules that impair thyroid perioxidase. When consuming these cruciferous vegetables, it’s best to steam them for 30 minutes before consuming to reduce the goitrogenic effect and keep portions moderate in size. These pose more of a risk for people with iodine deficiencies.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones. This can happen after the surgical removal of the thyroid gland, if infants were born with congenital hypothyroidism, stress or simply if the thyroid gland is tired of working and is not functioning well. If these hormones are not produced adequately, symptoms like cold intolerance, constipation, fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, goiter and even depression can occur. (See Hypothyroidism Symptoms for more symptoms)
90% of all hypothyroid conditions are autoimmune in nature. In other words, most people with hypothyroidism have the condition Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. But what causes this condition? Numerous factors can trigger an autoimmune response and result in the elevated thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and/or thyroglobulin antibodies you see with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. These antibodies will damage the thyroid gland, which is what leads to the decreased production of thyroid hormone. And while taking synthetic or natural thyroid hormone might be necessary for someone who has low or depressed thyroid hormone levels, this won’t do anything to improve the health of the immune system. So the goal is to detect and then remove the trigger which is causing the autoimmune response, get rid of the inflammation, and suppress the autoimmune component of the condition.
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.
Clinicians noted several differences in the ability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to normalize markers of hypothyroidism at doses that normalized serum TSH (45). For instance, in many l-thyroxine-treated patients with a normal serum TSH, the BMR remained at about 10% less than that of normal controls even after 3 months of therapy (53). At the same time, doses of l-thyroxine that normalize the BMR can suppress serum TSH and cause iatrogenic thyrotoxicosis (28, 45, 46). The clinical significance of this was not fully understood because many patients appeared clinically euthyroid with a BMR between −20% and −10% (36, 37).
It is doubtful that nutritional deficiencies are the sole cause of an underactive thyroid, but not having enough of these micronutrients and minerals can aggravate symptoms of low thyroid function. Increasing the intake of; vitamin D, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, zinc, copper, vitamin A, the B vitamins, and iodine can help in natural hypothyroid treatment.
Like vitamin D deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency is common in people with Hashimotos' disease. Due to its important role in red blood cell formation and nerve function, a deficiency in vitamin B12 may cause fatigue, loss of energy, and shortness of breath from anemia (low red blood cell count), as well as numbness and tingling from impaired neurologic function.
As mentioned above, most thyroid conditions are auto-immune diseases. There are tons of lymphocytes and other immune cells in the gut, which protect the body from viruses, bacteria, and other invaders. This is why most people with thyroid conditions also experience frequent bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea. A diet change will help your gut tremendously. “All disease begins in the gut“, said Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. I’m not sure why this is not taught in schools today, but it’s an important part of the thyroid diet plan.
Thyroid hormone replacement has been used for more than a century to treat hypothyroidism. Natural thyroid preparations (thyroid extract, desiccated thyroid, or thyroglobulin), which contain both thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), were the first pharmacologic treatments available and dominated the market for the better part of the 20th century. Dosages were adjusted to resolve symptoms and to normalize the basal metabolic rate and/or serum protein-bound iodine level, but thyrotoxic adverse effects were not uncommon. Two major developments in the 1970s led to a transition in clinical practice: 1) The development of the serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) radioimmunoassay led to the discovery that many patients were overtreated, resulting in a dramatic reduction in thyroid hormone replacement dosage, and 2) the identification of peripheral deiodinase-mediated T4-to-T3 conversion provided a physiologic means to justify l-thyroxine monotherapy, obviating concerns about inconsistencies with desiccated thyroid. Thereafter, l-thyroxine mono-therapy at doses to normalize the serum TSH became the standard of care. Since then, a subgroup of thyroid hormone–treated patients with residual symptoms of hypothyroidism despite normalization of the serum TSH has been identified. This has brought into question the inability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to universally normalize serum T3 levels. New research suggests mechanisms for the inadequacies of l-thyroxine monotherapy and highlights the possible role for personalized medicine based on deiodinase polymorphisms. Understanding the historical events that affected clinical practice trends provides invaluable insight into formulation of an approach to help all patients achieve clinical and biochemical euthyroidism.
Thyroiditis refers to inflammation of the thyroid gland. Lymphocytic thyroiditis is a condition in which the inflammation is caused by a particular type of white blood cell known as a lymphocyte. Lymphocytic thyroiditis is particularly common after pregnancy, and can affect up to 8% of women after they deliver their baby. In this type of thyroid disorder there usually is a hyperthyroid phase (in which excessive amounts of thyroid hormone leak out of the inflamed gland), which is followed by a hypothyroid phase that can last for up to six months. In the majority women with lymphocytic thyroiditis, the thyroid eventually returns to its normal function, but there is a possibility that the thyroid will remain underactive.
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.
A cup of cooked white beans serves up 8mg of iron—a mineral that many people, especially premenopausal women, have trouble getting enough of . But getting your fill is important. “If you don’t, it can impair the activity of enzymes that produce thyroid hormones,” Dr. Lee says. (Women aged 19 to 50 need 18mg iron daily, while men and women 51 and older need 8mg .)
Probiotic-Rich Foods – These include kefir (a fermented dairy product) or organic goat’s milk yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, natto, sauerkraut and other fermented veggies. Part of your hypothyroidism diet, probiotics help create a healthy gut environment by balancing microflora bacteria, which reduces leaky gut syndrome, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation and autoimmune reactions.
In other words, taking supplements and herbs alone is usually not the solution. Plus, while nutritional supplements can help, one must remember that different people will need to take different types of supplements, take different dosages, etc. Plus the quality of the supplements you take is important, and the truth is, many supplements are of low quality. So just taking a general thyroid support formula is usually not the answer to restoring your health back to normal. Doing so not only can worsen your symptoms, but often times taking this approach will be a complete waste of money. In most cases it takes a combination of different factors to restore one’s health back to normal. This includes eating well, doing a good job of managing stress, getting sufficient sleep, improving the health of the gut, minimizing your exposure to environmental toxins, etc.
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]
Because it helps balance hormone levels, selenium can lower the risk for experiencing thyroid disorder during pregnancy (postpartum thyroiditis) and afterward. (15) Other studies have shown that when selenium deficiency is resolved through supplementation, patients experience on average 40 percent reduction in thyroid antibodies compared to a 10 percent increase when given a placebo. (16)
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t properly make or release thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland normally releases many crucial hormones that travel through the bloodstream to reach receptors found throughout the whole body. So a disturbance in thyroid function can cause widespread, noticeable health problems.
Zinc is another key nutrient for your thyroid—your body needs it to churn out TH. Take in too little zinc, and it can lead to hypothyroidism. But get this: If you develop hypothyroidism, you can also become deficient in zinc, since your thyroid hormones help absorb the mineral, explains Ilic. And when that happens, you may also experience side effects like severe alopecia, an autoimmune condition that attacks hair follicles and makes it fall out in clumps, according to one 2013 report.
People with celiac disease who can’t tolerate the gluten found in many baked goods, pasta and cereals often have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and vice versa. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid. Once rare, Hashimoto’s is now the most common autoimmune disease, according to the May 2017 study in the journal Endocrine Connections.
Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid gland, is another common thyroid condition. The most prevalent form is Graves’ disease in which the body’s autoimmune response causes the thyroid gland to produce too much T3 and T4. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include weight loss, high blood pressure, diarrhea, and a rapid heartbeat. Graves’ disease also disproportionately affects women and typically presents before the age of 40.4
People who have been treated for hyperthyroidism (underactive thyroid) like Graves' disease, and received radioactive iodine may be left with little or no functioning thyroid tissue after treatment. The likelihood of this depends on a number of factors including the dose of iodine given, along with the size and the activity of the thyroid gland. If there is no significant activity of the thyroid gland six months after the radioactive iodine treatment it usually means that the thyroid gland no longer functioning adequately. The result is hypothyroidism. Similarly, removal of the thyroid gland during surgery cause hypothyroidism.
Peripheral Neuropathy - Long-term untreated hypothyroidism can cause damage to the peripheral nerves - the nerves that transmit information from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. Signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy might include numbness and tingling or pain in the affected area. Peripheral neuropathy can also cause weakness of the muscles and loss of muscle control.
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.
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
The vast majority of individuals—one in seven are women—with hypothyroidism in the US have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, but this isn’t caused by iodine levels in the diet.2 Other less common causes of hypothyroidism include a deficiency of iodine in the diet, taking certain medications that interfere with thyroid absorption, surgical removal of the thyroid, and a genetic disorder.
There are also certain risk factors for hypothyroidism including radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications for hyperthyroidism, lithium, Congenital disease or tumors on your pituitary gland, pregnancy, miscarriage, premature delivery and/or preeclampsia, Iodine deficiency, autoimmune disease, enlarged thyroid glands or goiters, and high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
One of the fastest rising health conditions in the US is hypothyroidism. The most common symptoms experienced are lethargy, depression and weight gain. More than 12% of the US population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime with most of these being hypothyroidism (1). In this article, I take a deep dive into thyroid physiology and go over 18 strategies to beat hypothyroidism naturally.
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:
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.
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.
Cases of myxedema were reported in the mid–19th century but were not initially connected with a deficiency from the thyroid gland until surgeons identified incident myxedema after thyroidectomy (11). Initial treatment strategies were largely insufficient and primarily symptom directed, including hot baths and institutionalization (12). The significant morbidity and mortality in the absence of efficacious treatment were clear, and thus the need to “replace” the thyroid through surgical transplantation or oral or intravenous routes was established. Thyroid transplant had some early successes, but for many patients symptoms recurred and the procedure even had to be repeated (13). Because of the rapidity and transiency of improvement (12), it was hypothesized that symptoms improved by absorption of the “juice” of the donor gland (14).
A discussion on thyroid disease and good health isn’t complete without stressing the importance of physical activity. Lisa Lilienfield, MD, a thyroid disease specialist at the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Virginia, and a certified yoga instructor, is a firm believer in the importance of exercise, particularly for clients with a thyroid disorder. “With hypothyroid patients, certainly exercise can help with weight gain, fatigue, and depression. With hyperthyroidism, anxiety and sleep disturbances are so common, and exercise can help regulate both.”
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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