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
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….
In fact, more and more people with hypothyroidism are turning to holistic care, as many people are simply sick and tired of covering up their symptoms by taking thyroid hormone medication. While there are some great endocrinologists and medical doctors out there who are trying to help their patients the best that they can, just about all of these healthcare professionals are trained to treat conditions through the use of drugs and surgery. And while this sometimes is necessary, many times there are other options. Although symptom management is without question important, just think about how great it would feel if you were able to fully restore your thyroid health back to normal through a natural hypothyroid treatment protocol, and not have to rely on taking synthetic or natural thyroid hormone for the rest of your life.
Dry skin (xeroderma) may be caused by external factors, like cold temperatures, low humidity, harsh soaps, and certain medications, or internal factors, such as thyroid disease, diabetes, psoriasis, or Sjogren's syndrome. Symptoms and signs of dry skin include itching and red, cracked or flaky skin. The main treatment for dry skin is frequent, daily lubrication of the skin.
*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).
People with celiac disease—the autoimmune disease that's characterized by an intolerance to the gluten in wheat, barley, and rye—are also more likely to have higher rates of thyroid problems, according to a 2007 report by researchers in the United Kingdom. "Eating a gluten-free diet helps control the symptoms, which may also help protect the thyroid gland," says Ilic. But unless you have celiac disease—and we're not talking an L.A.-aversion to gluten, here — you might not want to avoid breads after all. In fact, thanks to some of the baking processes, bread can actually contain some iodine.
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) is believed to be one of the most underdiagnosed health conditions in the United States. Many of its symptoms—lethargy, depression and weight gain—can be easily attributed to other factors, making hypothyroidism difficult to diagnose. Some reports estimate that around 15 percent of the population suffers from the condition; other reports estimate more than twice that. Risk increases with age, particularly in menopausal women. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), the opposite of hypothyroidism, is considerably less common and is characterized by extreme nervousness and restlessness.
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.).
Goitrogen Foods – Eating large amounts of raw Brassica vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, soy and Brussels sprouts might impact thyroid function because these contain goitrogens, molecules that impair thyroid perioxidase. When consuming these cruciferous vegetables, it’s best to steam them for 30 minutes before consuming to reduce the goitrogenic effect and keep portions moderate in size. These pose more of a risk for people with iodine deficiencies.
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You may find that changing your diet will help. One suggestion is to reduce or eliminate sugar, limit fruit, dairy, and grains, and get your carbohydrates mainly from vegetables. Round out your diet with lean proteins and healthy fats. In addition, eating two to three meals a day, no snacks, and avoiding food after 8 p.m. seems to help balance hunger hormones and blood sugar—and promote fat burning.
The purpose of treating hypothyroidism is to maintain normal metabolism by correcting a deficient output of thyroid hormone. Once replacement therapy begins, the thyroid will stop producing hormones all together, and replacement must be continued for life. Most mainstream physicians prescribe the drug Synthroid, also known as levothyroxine, a synthetic analog of thyroxine (T-4) and monitor how much to give based on symptoms and levels of TSH. Physicians will generally check TSH levels after a couple of months of being on the medication and adjust it accordingly. They will often used a more cautious course in patients who have cardiovascular disease. This allows the heart time to adjust to an artificially increased metabolism. Side effects of taking too much thyroid hormone include shakiness, palpitations, insomnia and changes in appetite.
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.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t properly make or release thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland normally releases many crucial hormones that travel through the bloodstream to reach receptors found throughout the whole body. So a disturbance in thyroid function can cause widespread, noticeable health problems.
Moreover, a strong relationship exists between thyroid disorders, impaired glucose control, and diabetes. Thirty percent of people with type 1 diabetes have ATD, and 12.5% of those with type 2 diabetes have thyroid disease compared with a 6.6% prevalence of thyroid disease in the general public. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism affect carbohydrate metabolism and have a profound effect on glucose control, making close coordination with an endocrinologist vital.8
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.
Dr. George Springer has practiced alternative medicine for 31 years with an emphasis on treating chronic disease conditions. He received his undergraduate BA from the University of Missouri in St. Louis and his Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) from Logan University where he graduated magna cum laude. He went on to receive his Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.M.D.) from the American Naturopathic Medical Institute a division of Breyer State University in Los Angeles, California.
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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