According to some estimates, 40 percent of the population suffers with some form of low thyroid function. Women, especially older women, are the most susceptible group for developing hypothyroidism. People who are elderly or who have other existing autoimmune diseases – like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease, for example – are also at a higher risk.
The thyroid gland uses iodine (mostly from foods in the diet like seafood, bread, and salt) to produce thyroid hormones. The two most important thyroid hormones are thyroxine (tetraiodothyronine or T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3), which account for 99% and 1% of thyroid hormones present in the blood respectively. However, the hormone with the most biological activity is T3. Once released from the thyroid gland into the blood, a large amount of T4 is converted as needed into T3 - the active hormone that affects the metabolism of cells.
The diagnosis of “subclinical” hypothyroidism that I discussed last week depends on having a TSH level higher than 5 m IU/ml and lower than 10 m IU/ml. As I mentioned above, new guidelines suggest anything over 3 is abnormal. While an improvement, practitioners following these guidelines may still miss many people who have normal test results and a malfunctioning thyroid system.
If you have subclinical hypothyroidism, discuss treatment with your doctor. For a relatively mild increase in TSH, you probably won't benefit from thyroid hormone therapy, and treatment could even be harmful. On the other hand, for a higher TSH level, thyroid hormones may improve your cholesterol level, the pumping ability of your heart and your energy level.
l-Thyroxine monotherapy, the novel and physiologically savvy method for treatment of hypothyroidism, contrasted with the traditional approach of natural thyroid preparations that was marred by potency concerns. In less than a decade, there was a major shift in treatment of hypothyroidism such that normalization of TSH with l-thyroxine monotherapy became the new standard of care (Appendix Table) (52). Many clinicians advocated for this to be first-line therapy and for patients previously treated with desiccated thyroid to be transitioned to l-thyroxine monotherapy (50).
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.
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.
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
Hypothyroidism diet tips: Some foods, especially cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower) contain natural goitrogens, compounds that can cause the thyroid gland to enlarge by interfering with thyroid hormone synthesis. Cooking has been reported to inactivate this effect in Brussels sprouts. Cassava, a starchy root that is the source of tapioca, can also have this effect. Other goitrogens include corn, sweet potatoes, lima beans, and soy. Some practitioners recommend that people with under-active thyroid glands avoid these foods, even though most have not been proved to cause hypothyroidism in humans.
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.
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.
Kale reigns supreme in the land of leafy green vegetables that we often eat raw, but beware if you have an iodine deficiency. “Kale gets a big baddy,” Blum says. “Eat it cooked.” When raw, this dark green leaf steals the iodine from the thyroid gland. If you must, it’s ok to nosh on the green veggie in your salad, but stop at two servings a day. No need to get extra credit on the superfood.
I suspect that there is actually enough iodine in the environment to go around, and that we actually need less than 150 micrograms per day of iodine. From the above list, you can see that animal foods are much richer in iodine than plant foods—so how do herbivores (animals which eat a plant-based diet, such as rabbits and deer) get enough iodine? I suspect that there is something about the human diet which interferes with our ability to absorb, utilize, and/or retain iodine, and that this is why we appear to be iodine-deficient compared to other animals. So, what might the possible culprits be? Hmmm….
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.
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.
Studies have indicated that individuals with lower selenium levels are at higher risk for low T3 (50). Selenium has been shown to reduce rT3 levels and improve active T3 status (51). It also reduces anti-thyroid anti-body formation (52). Be sure to get selenomethionine which is the most effective form of selenium for reducing anti-body formation and improving thyroid function.
Keep in mind, however, that if you switch to a high-fiber diet, you should get your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) rechecked in eight to twelve weeks to see if you need a dosage readjustment, as fiber can affect the absorption of thyroid hormone replacement medication. Moreover, a high-fiber diet may worsen bloating (usually temporarily), which is a common symptom in people with hypothyroidism.
In summary, I do NOT believe that we need to cut these wonderful vegetables out. Just don’t juice them and don’t eat them excessively in a raw form. Their nutritional profile is so high that we are doing ourselves a dis-service by cutting them out, only to load up on supplements instead. Most people who suffer from hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s disease – you need to take care of your gastrointestinal health as your #1 priority, followed by stable sugar levels (see above) and lastly, by supporting your liver function (listen to our free Workshop on thyroid and liver connection).
High-fat fried foods, like mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers and um…fried chicken and French fries can contribute to inflammation in the body, says Blum. Inflammation from Hashimoto’s disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leads to an underactive thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism primarily affects middle-aged women, according to the Mayo Clinic, but it can target anyone at any age.
Other causes of hypothyroidism include surgical removal of the thyroid (usually for cancer), radiation therapy of the head and neck, or complications of medical therapies for hyperthyroidism. (Patients with overactive thyroids are often treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications that reduce thyroid functioning. These effects can be extensive and permanent, and thyroid supplementation is often required flowing these interventions.) Certain medications can worsen or promote hypothyroidism or interfere with thyroid replacement therapy. One such drug is lithium, used for treating psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder.
Your thyroid is your body's silent workhorse—most of the time, it functions so smoothly that we forget it's there. But this little, butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of your neck helps regulate your metabolism, temperature, heartbeat, and more, and if it starts to go haywire, you'll notice. An underactive thyroid—when the gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone (TH)—can bring on weight gain, sluggishness, depression, and increased sensitivity to cold. An overactive thyroid, on the other hand, happens when your body produces too much TH, and can cause sudden weight loss, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nervousness, and irritability.
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 altogether. 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.).
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.
Wild-caught fish — These provide the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, essential for hormone balance and thyroid function. Balancing the level of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your hypothyroidism diet can reduce inflammation and support healthy neurological function. Fish such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon, Atlantic mackerel and Pacific sardines are some of the best sources of omega-3s to increase neurotransmitter activity and support a healthy mood and immune system. Just be aware of the fish you should never eat and choose the best varieties available.
Hyperthyroidism, particularly Graves’ disease, is known to cause bone loss, which is compounded by the vitamin D deficiency commonly found in people with hyperthyroidism. This bone mass can be regained with treatment for hyperthyroidism, and experts suggest that adequate bone-building nutrients, such as vitamin D, are particularly important during and after treatment.13
Fine needle aspiration biopsy of the thyroid is used to obtain tissue for analysis. Fine needle aspiration is also performed to treat thyroid cysts. The fine needle aspiration biopsy procedure may be recommended to make the diagnosis and/or select therapy of a thyroid nodule. Fine needle aspiration biopsy may also be recommended to drain or shrink a thyroid cyst.
In the developed world, where protein is plentiful and many countries add iodine to salt and processed foods, we don’t typically need to worry about protein malnutrition or iodine deficiency. However, the rest of the world is not so lucky. More than 2 billion people around the world suffer from hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency. 2 billion! We are told that the reason for this planetary epidemic is that iodine comes from the ocean, and that the soil of inland areas has had most of its iodine washed away over time by erosion:
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.
It has been hypothesized that these compounds activate a complex defense system that maintains normal thyroid function by protecting the gland from both hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), produced by thyrocytes and oxidative stress. This is the major cofactor for the key thyroid enzyme 5’deiodinase which is what converts T4 into T3. 5’deoidinase also degrades the inactive rT3.
The goal of natural remedies or alternative medicine is to fix the root cause of the thyroid problem. Thyroid problems sometimes start as the result of poor diet, stress, or missing nutrients in your body. Changing your diet and taking an herbal supplement are two ways you can help your thyroid condition. These options may have fewer side effects than taking thyroid medicine. Also, using an herbal supplement for treatment of a low or underactive thyroid may be helpful for people who aren’t responding well to medicines.
Before you read on, it’s key to know that 90% of hypo- and hyper-thyroidism results from an autoimmune disorder. (Most people do not realize this, as doctors often don’t take time to explain things.) Most hypothyroid conditions are Hashimoto’s and most hyperthyroid conditions are Graves’ Disease, which means that your immune system is attacking your thyroid. Since the immune system resides in the gut or our intestine (Did you know that?!) a lot of what you will read here is about rebuilding the digestive system.
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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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