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.
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.
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.
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).
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that controls metabolic activities. It does this by producing thyroid hormones that regulate things like heart rate and calorie burning. Underactive thyroids don’t produce enough of these hormones, which can leave you feeling tired, depressed, and like just looking at food is enough to make you gain weight .
The thyroid is considered a “master gland.” In addition to producing crucial hormones, it helps control the process of turning nutrients from food into usable energy on which the body runs. Because the thyroid plays such a major part in your metabolism, dysfunction can affect almost every part of the body, including your energy levels and ability to burn calories.
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.
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.
l-Thyroxine monotherapy for athyreotic rats results in a high T4:T3 ratio at doses sufficient to normalize serum TSH levels (8). Yet, the brain, liver, and skeletal muscle tissues of these l-thyroxine–treated animals continue to exhibit markers of hypothyroidism (9), probably because of the inability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to restore tissue levels of T3 (8). This is probably a direct consequence of lower serum T3 levels and the relatively high T4 concentration in these tissues, which inactivates the type 2 iodothyronine deiodinase (D2). In the hypothalamus, loss of D2 is minimal in the presence of T4, which increases sensitivity to T4 levels and explains TSH normalization, despite relatively lower levels of serum T3. Only combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine normalized all thyroid hormone–dependent measures (9), including serum and tissue T3 levels (8). Whether tissue-specific markers of hypothyroidism are restored with l-thyroxine monotherapy in humans remains to be determined, as does the ability of l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine combination therapy to normalize the serum T4:T3 ratio without adverse events. The development of a novel drug delivery system for l-triiodothyronine would facilitate these studies (5).
Refined Flour Products – Any food made with refined carbohydrates, like enriched wheat flour, for example, negatively impacts hormone levels and can contribute to weight gain. Refined flour products include bread, cereals, pastas and all baked goods. If possible, remove most grains from your diet all together, or at least try to greatly limit the amount of products you eat that are made with any flour by choosing 100 percent whole, ancient grains instead (like quinoa, buckwheat, etc.)
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
Essential fatty acids found in fish oil are critical for brain and thyroid function. DHA and EPA omega-3s found in fish oil are associated with a lower risk for thyroid symptoms, including anxiety, depression, high cholesterol, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, diabetes, a weakened immune system and heightened autoimmune disease. Omega-3 fish oil supplements can also help balance levels of omega-6s in the diet, which is important for ongoing health.
**Note: It’s important to realize that thyroid medication is not one size fits all, and there is no ONE right solution for everybody. Dosage is incredibly important, your specific thyroid labs will impact what type of medication is needed and we all have different needs, budgets, goals, and symptoms. So work with a functional medicine practitioner to find the thyroid medication that makes the most sense for YOU!
Some calcium rich foods and supplements interfere with levothyroxine absorption. A gap of 4 hours between the two would be adequate to ensure there is no significant impact on blood thyroxine levels. If you are trying to lose weight and using lower fat milk (i.e. semi-skimmed or skimmed) note that these remain high in calcium despite being lower in fat.
Since iodine is found in soils and seawater, fish are another good source of this nutrient. In fact, researchers have long known that people who live in remote, mountainous regions with no access to the sea are at risk for goiters. "The most convincing evidence we have [for thyroid problems] is the absence of adequate nutrition," says Salvatore Caruana, MD, the director of the division of head and neck surgery in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at ColumbiaDoctors.
*Cassava bears special mention here. You may have heard of it because it is the starchy root vegetable from which tapioca is made, but cassava is also a popular staple food in many Third World countries, where it is eaten boiled, mashed, or ground into flour. Fresh cassava root contains a harmless substance called linamarin, which can turn into hydrocyanic acid (aka cyanide!) when the plant is damaged or eaten. Flaxseeds also contain linamarin. Cyanide is very toxic, so the human body converts it into thiocyanate (which, although it does interfere with thyroid function, is less toxic than cyanide and easier for the body to eliminate).
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.
The thyroid gland needs iodine, therefore if you have an underactive thyroid gland you should increase the iodine intake in your diet. A well-balanced diet that includes iodine can help in alleviating the symptoms that you encounter with your condition. With the simplest intake of the foods mentioned above, you can greatly assist your thyroid in keeping up with your body's metabolism. (See Hypothyroidism and Iodine for more information)
72. Garber JR, Cobin RH, Gharib H, Hennessey JV, Klein I, Mechanick JI, et al. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American Thyroid Association Taskforce on Hypothyroidism in Adults. Clinical practice guidelines for hypothyroidism in adults: co-sponsored by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American Thyroid Association. Thyroid. 2012;22:1200–1235. [PMID: 22954017] [PubMed]
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.
I don’t know all your symptoms or health challenges, but if you have thyroid issues and if you are losing hair (alopecia areata?), you may want to consider getting tested for celiac disease. It is quite common for people to have celiac disease and thyroid disease. It’s important not to eliminate gluten from your diet before being tested as it would cause a false-negative test result.
Caffeine has been found to block absorption of thyroid hormone replacement, says Dr. Lee. "People who were taking their thyroid medication with their morning coffee had uncontrollable thyroid levels, and we couldn't figure it out," she says. "I now have to be very careful to tell people, 'Only take your medication with water.'" You should wait at least 30 minutes after taking your medication before having a cup of joe.
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