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.”
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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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.
Although relatively low serum T3 levels could contribute to these residual manifestations, the higher serum T4:T3 ratio should also be considered. This has been well-established for 4 decades (28, 50, 59), but only recently has it been recognized as a relevant measure given that higher serum T4 levels will impair systemic T3 production via downregulation of a deiodinase pathway (9). Thus, some emphasis has recently been directed toward establishing the clinical significance of this ratio (1, 5).
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Many allergies and food intolerances today are from wheat and dairy products. This is because of the hybridized proteins of gluten and a1 casein. These proteins can lead to “leaky gut”, which in turn will cause inflammation of the thyroid and effect its function. If you can’t follow a grain-free diet, at least cut out gluten. Additionally, only consume dairy products that come from A2 cows, goat milk, or sheep milk. (2)
Could kale, that superstar among superfoods, actually not be quite so awesome? Kale is a mild goitrogen -- in rare cases it prevents the thyroid from getting enough iodine. But kale shouldn't be a problem for you unless you get very little iodine in your diet and you’re eating large amounts of kale. This is also the case for cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
Short of eating a few kelp salads, you probably don't have to worry about getting too much iodine from any other foods. In particular, dairy products are full of this nutrient (and in more manageable amounts), according to a 2012 research in the journal Nutrition Reviews. Part of the reason is because livestock are given iodine supplements and the milking process involves iodine-based cleaners. Plain, low-fat yogurt, or Greek yogurt is a good source—it can make up about 50% of your daily intake of iodine.
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)
Physicians hesitated to use l-thyroxine monotherapy over concern that it could result in a relative T3 deficiency, despite growing discontent with potency of natural thyroid products (39) and reduced cost of l-thyroxine, such that the 2 treatments were approximately equivalent (36, 41). The seminal discovery of peripheral T4-to-T3 conversion in athyreotic individuals largely obviated this concern (42). This laid the foundation for the corollary that treatment with l-thyroxine could replace thyroid hormone in such a way that the prohormone pool would be restored and the deiodinases would regulate the pool of active T3. Within a decade there was a major transition toward l-thyroxine monotherapy as first-line therapy (Appendix Table and Figure) (38).
As hypothyroidism becomes more severe, signs and symptoms may include puffiness around the eyes, the heart rate slows, body temperature drops, and heart failure. Severe hypothyroidism may lead to a life-threatening coma (myxedema coma). In a person with severe hypothyroidism, a myxedema coma tends to be triggered by severe illness, surgery, stress, or traumatic injury. Myxedema coma requires hospitalization and immediate treatment with thyroid hormones given by injection.
If that’s not enough to calm your concerns, some experts suggest that eating cruciferous vegetables may actually be beneficial if you have autoimmune hypothyroidism since the thiocyanates may slow the absorption of iodine in people getting too much, which is possible if you are eating a typical Western diet of fast foods, French fries, and other processed products, that contain iodized salt, and you are heavy-handed with the salt shaker.
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).
As for what’s causing your condition, this of course can vary. Many times it is caused by lifestyle factors, such as poor eating habits, lack of sleep, not handling stress well, etc. Other times it can be environmental toxins or an infection causing or contributing to such a condition. Genetics can also be a factor, although research shows that lifestyle and environmental factors play a much greater role in the development of these conditions. In fact, many people with a genetic marker for hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis can be helped a great deal by modifying some of their lifestyle factors, which is great news.
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.
If you do choose to eat gluten, be sure to choose whole-grains varieties of bread, pasta, and rice, which are high in fiber and other nutrients and can help improve bowel irregularity, a common symptom of hypothyroidism. Also be sure to take your hypothyroidism medication several hours before or after eating high-fiber foods, to prevent them from interfering with the absorption of your synthetic thyroid hormone.
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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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