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
Goitrogen Foods — People with hypothyroidism may want to stay away from eating large amounts of raw Brassica vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, soy and Brussels sprouts. These vegetables might impact thyroid function because they contain goitrogens, molecules which impair thyroid perioxidase. (11) When consuming these cruciferous vegetables, it’s best to steam them for 30 minutes before consuming and keep portions moderate in size. These pose more of a risk for people with iodine deficiencies.
A complete thyroid diet solution includes more than just food. I cannot emphasise how important these are for managing stress and emotions, especially for people with hyperthyroidism. We underestimate what stress and emotions do to us; each flare-up of anger, feelings of guilt, fear, hostility, jealousy, etc. fires up the adrenals which release cortisol, and cortisol has a detrimental impact on the thyroid.
Although it’s not very common, newborns are sometimes born with a dysfunction of the thyroid gland, a genetic condition called congenital hypothyroidism. Some evidence shows that people are more likely to develop hypothyroidism if they have a close family member with an autoimmune disease. But according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the likelihood of congenital hypothyroidism is very low and only about 1 out of every 4,000 newborns is born with a thyroid disorder. (8b)
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.
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 commonly believed that hypothyroidism is due to insufficient iodine, but this isn’t true. Dr. Kharrazian states that if you have Hashimoto’s, taking supplemental iodine is like throwing gasoline on a fire, so eschew iodine supplements and iodized salt. Primary sources of iodine: sea vegetables and seafood. Secondary sources: eggs, asparagus, lima beans, mushrooms, spinach, sesame seeds, summer squash, Swiss chard, and garlic.
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.
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Finding a competent natural healthcare professional who can restore your health back to normal is not always an easy task. There simply are not a lot of natural healthcare professionals who focus on endocrine conditions, such as hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I usually advise people to contact some of the naturopathic doctors and chiropractors in their area, along with medical doctors who practice functional medicine, as if they contact enough of them there is a good chance they will find one who focuses on endocrine conditions. If they’re unable to find such a doctor this way then many people can be helped by consulting with someone remotely over the phone or through Skype, although it’s a good idea to first get examined by an endocrinologist or a different type of medical doctor before taking this approach. I personally conduct remote consultations and have helped a lot of people this way, and there are other healthcare professionals out there who also work with their patients remotely, but I realize that some people prefer to speak with someone face-to-face.
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.”
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).
Most patients report improvement with a thyroid supplement too, but if you consistently eat a healthy and wholesome diet they are unnecessary. If you still want to try one however (under the supervision of your doctor), see this Thyroid Support Supplement (disclosure: this is an affiliate link). It contains both selenium and iodine for thyroid health, as well as vitamin B12 for improved energy levels. Additionally, it is one of the few available that is 100% vegetarian.
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
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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