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.
If hypothyroidism is left untreated, symptoms of myxedema can appear. These include very dry skin, and swelling around the lips and nose called non-pitting (firm) edema. More severe symptoms can be life-threatening and include low blood pressure, decreased body temperature, shallow respirations, unresponsiveness and even coma. Fortunately, advanced hypothyroidism such as this is quite rare.
I think most people with hypothyroidism would agree that their condition is not due to a deficiency of synthetic thyroid hormone. Even though this is obviously true, most endocrinologists tell just about all of their patients with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis to take synthetic thyroid hormone medication for the rest of their life without trying to find out why the person developed a hypothyroid condition to begin with. Although some people do need to take synthetic or natural thyroid hormone on a permanent basis, many people can have their health restored back to normal through natural hypothyroid treatment methods.
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)
This can lead to low T3 levels (58). In addition, elevated cortisol will cause thyroid hormone receptor insensitivity meaning that even if T3 levels are high enough, they may not be able to bind normally to receptor sites. And when this happens it doesn’t get into the cells. Cortisol will also increase the production of reverse T3 (rT3), which is inactive (11).
While you can’t control all the risks that come with hypothyroidism, experts recommend following a nutritious diet and loading up on a variety of nutrients. “Be mindful of what you’re eating, get in colors and organics and no artificial colors or flavors. It’s about balance, right?” says Marcelle Pick, a nurse practitioner of functional medicine in Falmouth, Maine, with a program for balancing hormones and reducing fatigue. Read up on the worst foods for hypothyroidism, and then check out these 15 Subtle Thyroid Disease Symptoms You’re Ignoring.
Hypothyroidism is a secondary cause of dyslipidemia, typically manifesting in elevation of low-density lipoprotein and total cholesterol levels. It is clear that treatment resulting in the normalization of the serum TSH is associated with reduction in total cholesterol levels (54), but whether total cholesterol is fully normalized by l-thyroxine monotherapy is less well-defined. An analysis of 18 studies on the effect of thyroid hormone replacement on total cholesterol levels in overt hypothyroidism showed a reduction in the total cholesterol level in all 18 studies; however, in 14 of the 18 studies, the mean post treatment total cholesterol level remained above the normal range (>200 mg/dL [>5.18 mmol/L]) (55). These findings suggest that lipid measures are not fully restored despite normalization of the serum TSH (56). Whether the degree of dyslipidemia remaining in l-thyroxine-treated patients with a normal TSH is clinically significant is unknown, given that the benefit of thyroid hormone replacement in subclinical hypothyroidism is itself controversial (57, 58).
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil: Extra virgin coconut oil is known to support and stimulate the functioning of the thyroid gland. Coconut oil consists of lauric acid, which possesses thyroid stimulating properties. Extra virgin coconut oil is more effective, as compared to regular coconut oil and is very stable. The oil can be either added to the food while cooking or a spoonful can be ingested as a supplement.
Bone broth – Beef and chicken stock contain the amino acids l-proline and l-glycine, which can help repair the digestive lining and improve hypothyroidism. Bone broth also contains numerous important minerals that nourish the digestive tract and prevent deficiencies like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and silicon. As part of your hypothyroidism diet, bone broth has been shown to help overcome food sensitivities, improve energy and fight fatigue, increase immunity, and lower pain of the muscles and joints.
It is absolutely critical for any physician who is treating someone with a thyroid disorder to test for thyroid antibodies. Unfortunately, few mainstream medical doctors test for thyroid anti-bodies and so most do not ever get the proper diagnosis. In the medical system, an auto-immune condition, a sluggish thyroid, a burned out pituitary gland and a T4-T3 conversion problem are all treated the same way, with synthetic T4 such as synthroid or a T3 medication like levothyroxin.
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.
**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!
Postpartum thyroiditis: Five percent to 10 percent of women develop mild to moderate hyperthyroidism within several months of giving birth. Hyperthyroidism in this condition usually lasts for approximately one to two months. It is often followed by several months of hypothyroidism, but most women will eventually recover normal thyroid function. In some cases, however, the thyroid gland does not heal, so the hypothyroidism becomes permanent and requires lifelong thyroid hormone replacement. This condition may occur again with subsequent pregnancies.
Most people with hypothyroidism don’t need to steer clear of soy completely. But it’s a good idea to limit your consumption to a few servings a week, and to stick with minimally processed forms of soy like tempeh or miso. Foods containing processed soy protein isolates (like soy protein powder, soy protein bars, or soy-based meat analogs) tend to have a higher concentration of isoflavones, says Markley.
Hypothyroidism is a very common condition. Approximately 3% to 4% of the U.S. population has some form of hypothyroidism. This type of thyroid disorder is more common in women than in men, and its incidence increases with age. Examples of common causes of hypothyroidism in adults include Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune form of overactive thyroid, lymphocytic thyroiditis, which may occur after hyperthyroidism (underactive thyroid), thyroid destruction from radioactive iodine or surgery, pituitary or hypothalamic disease, medications, and severe iodine deficiency.
Coconut Oil – Provides medium-chain fatty acids in the form of caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid that support a healthy metabolism, increase energy and fight fatigue. A staple of the hypothyroidism diet, coconut oil is easy to digest, nourishes the digestive system and has antimicrobial, antioxidant and antibacterial properties that suppress inflammation. Coconut oil helps improve immunity and can increase brain function, endurance and your mood while stabilizing blood sugar levels.
While there is no specific diet regime that hypothyroid patients are supposed to follow, they should make sure that they eat a well-balanced diet full of all the nutrients and vitamins that are required by the body. Doctors suggest that eating too much of any food is going to be harmful to thyroid patients. Hence, a generous mix of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables are going to be helpful for people suffering from hypothyroidism.
AGEs cause massive destruction throughout the body and have an affinity for thyroid tissue. Elevated HgA1C (a measure of glycation) is correlated with increased TSH and decreased free T3 & T4 (57). When the blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia), it increases stress hormone (cortisol and adrenaline) to boost up blood sugar. Cortisol directly inhibits the enzyme (5’-deiodinase) which converts inactive T4 into active T3.
The thyroid is considered a master gland and in addition to producing crucial hormones, it also helps control the process of turning nutrients from food into useable energy that your body runs on. Because the thyroid plays such a major part in your metabolism, dysfunction can wind up affecting almost every part of the body, including your energy levels and ability to burn calories.
Clara Schneider, MS, RD, RN, CDE, LDN, of Outer Banks Nutrition and author of numerous books, including The Everything Thyroid Diet Book, says, “The No. 1 priority is to get the thyroid disease under control. Clients need to have labs and medications addressed first. Weight changes are just not going to happen before all of that is under control.” She notes that Hashimoto’s typically occurs around menopause, which compounds the weight gain issue that many women experience during that time.
Most people with hypothyroidism don’t realize that the malfunctioning thyroid gland is usually not the primary cause of their condition. After all, one’s thyroid gland doesn’t just stop producing thyroid hormone on its own, as there is always a cause behind this. So while giving thyroid hormone may do a good job of managing one’s symptoms (although this isn’t always the case), it is not doing anything for the cause of your condition.
The normal values for the serum T4:T3 ratio are seldom discussed in the literature because measurement of serum T3 levels is not a recommended outcome in hypothyroidism (1). In a large study of approximately 3800 healthy individuals (4), the serum free T4:free T3 ratio was around 3, as opposed to a ratio of 4 in more than 1800 patients who had undergone thyroidectomy and were receiving l-thyroxine monotherapy. The corresponding serum free T4:free T3 ratio in patients continuing to receive desiccated thyroid is not well-defined, but the serum total T4:T3 ratio is known to be low (28, 50). In one study, the serum total T4:total T3 was about 40 in patients receiving desiccated thyroid and about 100 in those taking l-thyroxine monotherapy (60). Of course, this is affected by the timing of blood collection in relation to the timing of l-triiodothyronine administration, which is not commonly reported. Other key factors are the well-known poor reproducibility of the serum total T3 assay (61) and the interferences with direct measurement of free T3 (5).
Hypothyroidism Medication: Conventional doctors almost always put their patients on either Synthroid® (a synthetic thyroid hormone pill that contains only T4; sometimes called Levothyroxine, Levothroid, Unithroid, and Tirosint) or Armour (Natural Desiccated Thyroid derived from the thyroid glands of pigs). Both are tablets that patients will have to take daily for the rest of their lives. In some cases, these medications might help, but there are all kinds of side effects and issues that arise. So I recommend two other medications over these two instead.
Black Cohosh: Black cohosh also called Actaea racemosa or Cimicifuga racemosa is a perennial plant of the buttercup family and is a native of North America. It is sold as a dietary supplement in the market and is seen to be effective in treating hypothyroidism. As black cohosh aids in balancing the estrogen levels in the body, it is quite useful to treat thyroid problems in females.
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.
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).
With the availability of multiple forms of thyroid hormone replacement, early clinical trials were designed to assess efficacy and dose equivalency among natural thyroid (typically desiccated), synthetic l-thyroxine, and/or l-triiodothyronine. These were not designed as superiority trials, their therapeutic goals were the normalization of serum PBI or BMR, and doses were dramatically higher than used today. For example, desiccated thyroid and intravenous l-thyroxine monotherapy normalized BMR, pulse, and body weight in myxedema (29), l-triiodothyronine monotherapy was likewise effective (30), and the potency of l-triiodothyronine exceeded that of l-thyroxine (31).
Soy? If you have hypothyroidism, yes. Eating too much soy causes problems only for those with hypothyroidism, which occurs when your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormones, Dr. Nasr says. The main problem is that soy hinders absorption of the hormones such patients are taking. “Some studies show that if you eat a lot of soy, or drink a big glass of soy milk, within one hour of taking a thyroid hormone, it might affect absorption,” he says. “A lot of people depend on those hormones to achieve a steady state.
They are the building blocks of your digestive tract and of our hormones. We are fat-phobic in America, and low-fat diets are one of the worst things we’ve ever invented. Europeans and Asians have fat-rich diets (traditionally) and enjoy much better health than we do. Good fat tips: avocados, walnuts, coconut oil, coconut butter. Animal fats are the best in restoring a troubled digestion; ghee (clarified butter), butter, chicken and beef fat are essential but need to be rendered and not in fried or processed form.
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.
An amino acid used in the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Thyroxin (T4) is naturally produced from the iodination of tyrosine, a nonessential amino acid obtained both from protein-containing dietary sources and through the body making some itself. Supplementing with L-tyrosine has been shown to improve sleep deprivation and can help combat fatigue and a poor mood by improving alertness and neurotransmitter function. One reason L-tyrosine is beneficial in healing thyroid symptoms is because it plays a role in the production of melatonin, dopamine and/or norepinephrine, which are our natural “feel good” hormones. L-tyrosine is available by the brand Pure Encapsulations.
T4 circulates through to the liver where 60% of it is converted into T3 through the glucoronination and sulfation pathways. If the liver is sluggish it will cause a problem in T4-T3 conversion (6). Another 20% is converted into reverse T3 which is permanentely inactive. The final 20% is converted into T3 sulfate and T3 acetic acid which can then be further metabolized by healthy gut bacteria to produce more active T3 (6).
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Those with hypothyroidism may want to consider minimizing their intake of gluten, a protein found in foods processed from wheat, barley, rye, and other grains, says Ruth Frechman, RDN, a dietitian in the Los Angeles area and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten can irritate the small intestine, and may hamper absorption of thyroid hormone replacement medication.
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