Do a little Googling, and you might turn up a page or two claiming that cruciferous vegetables can cause thyroid troubles. The truth is a little murkier. While it's true that these veggies contain compounds called glucosinolates, which might interfere with your body's production of thyroid hormones in high amounts, it's pretty unlikely that they'll harm your thyroid if you're eating normal-size servings. One case report in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted the story of an 88-year-old woman who showed up to the ER with hypothyroidism after eating about 2 or 3 pounds of bok choy a day—but, as Ilic points out, "that's not a normal amount."
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).
It is extremely important that women planning to become pregnant are kept well adjusted, since hypothyroidism can affect the development of the baby. During pregnancy, thyroid hormone replacement requirements often change, so more frequent monitoring is necessary. Various medications and supplements (particularly iron) may affect the absorption of thyroid hormone; therefore, the levels may need more frequent monitoring during illness or change in medication and supplements.
Over my several decades working as a Functional Medicine doctor, I can assure you that even in the toughest cases, you can heal your thyroid. With some patients, I can do this through the dietary, nutrient, and lifestyle factors I’ve discussed here. For others, that healing requires trial and error using several medications and working closely with a physician.
A clinical trial investigating symptoms found that patients receiving l-thyroxine monotherapy, even with a normal TSH, displayed substantial impairment in psychological well-being compared with controls of similar age and sex (3). Because some hypothesized that this phenomenon came about only after adoption of l-thyroxine monotherapy, a study assessed combination therapy with l-thyroxine and l-triiodothyronine. Remarkably, the latter study showed that psychological measures improve in patients receiving combination therapy until serum TSH level is normal (6). In another study comparing l-thyroxine monotherapy versus desiccated thyroid, in which both groups had a normal TSH, many patients preferred desiccated thyroid and lost weight (60). Unfortunately, the solution to this complex problem is not as simple as reverting to combination therapy; the more than a dozen clinical trials on the subject have not shown benefit of superiority and preference for combination therapy, as previously reviewed (1, 3, 70).
If you have signs or symptoms the same or similar to hypothyroidism, discuss them (for example, weight gain, constipation, or fatigue) with your doctor or other healthcare professional. A simple blood test is the first step in the diagnosis. If you need treatment for hypothyroidism, let your doctor know of any concerns or questions you have about the available treatment, including home or natural remedies.
The most common treatment I use is Armour thyroid, (9) a prescription drug made from desiccated (dried) porcine thyroid. It contains the full spectrum of thyroid hormones, including T4, T3, and T2 (10). That last one – T2 – is a little-known product of thyroid metabolism that actually may be very important. The right dose ranges from 15 to 180 milligrams, depending on the person.
“Infants fed soy formula are at higher risk for hypothyroidism and for later development of autoimmune thyroid diseases. In humans, goiter has been seen in infants fed soy formula; this is usually reversed by changing to cow milk or iodine-supplemented diets . After the 1960s, manufacturers reportedly began adding iodine to formulas to mitigate thyroid effects.” [Doerge]
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.
On the flip side, there are certain foods that people with underactive thyroids should minimize or avoid altogether, like cruciferous vegetables, particular raw Brassica vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, soy, and Brussels sprouts. While these are healthy foods for most people, they contain a compound called goitrogens, which might impact thyroid function by impairing thyroid peroxidase. Gluten, conventional dairy, refined sugar and refined flour, caffeine and alcohol (which stress your adrenals) are also contraindicated for hypothyroid patients.
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.
Gluten – Many people with thyroid issues are also sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that results in an allergy to gluten. Gluten is found in all wheat, rye and barley products, so carefully check ingredient labels to avoid hidden gluten that is lurking in many packaged foods. Undiagnosed sensitivities to gluten can further raise inflammation, create nutrient deficiencies and worsen hormonal problems.
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
To offer some perspective: up to 95% of the thyroid hypothyroidism in the US is caused not by an iodine deficiency, but occurs as the result of an autoimmune disease so avoiding cruciferous vegetables will do little to fix your underactive thyroid, and may deprive you of valuable healthy benefits such as dietary fiber, and anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting antioxidants.5
Seaweed — Good seaweeds are some of the best natural sources of iodine and help prevent deficiencies that disturb thyroid function. I’d recommend having some every week as part of your hypothyroidism diet. Try kelp, nori, kombu and wakame. You can look for dried varieties of these at health food stores and use them in soups, with tuna fish or in fish cakes.
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)
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).
Iodine: Iodine is critical for thyroid hormone production in the body. A true iodine deficiency will cause hypothyroidism (43). In western culture we often see subclinical iodine deficiencies which contribute to hypothyroidism (44). I typically don’t recommend high doses of iodine as it could be problematic with individuals with Hashimoto’s – especially with TPO anti-bodies.
Typically we obtain the iodine we need from a normal healthy, balanced diet. Table & cooking salt in the UK contains little or no iodine. Too little iodine can result in thyroid swelling (a goitre). Goitre in the UK is not due to iodine deficiency Too much iodine can be dangerous and cause either under activity of the thyroid (hypothyroidism) or, in some cases over activity (hyperthyroidism).
Hypothyroidism symptoms include: family history of thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, infertility, constipation and other digestion issues, weight gain, bloating, puffy face, irregular hair loss and/or thinning of your hair and/or your hair has become coarse, dry, breaking, brittle, and/or is falling out, acne and/or dry or thinning skin, mood disorders, like anxiety or depression, fatigue, low energy and/or low libido, increased sensitivity to cold, low body temperature usually below 98.6 degrees and/or cold hands and feet, muscle weakness, aches, tenderness and stiffness and/or pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, numbness or tingling in your hands & fingers, difficulty concentrating, focusing or remembering things and brain fog.
Thyroid blood tests determine the adequacy of the levels of thyroid hormones in in a patient. The blood tests can determine if the thyroid gland's hormone production is normal, overactive, or underactive. The level of thyroid hormones may help to diagnose hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. The test may also point to other diseases of conditions of the thyroid gland.
Fat is your friend and cholesterol is the precursor to hormonal pathways; if you’re getting insufficient fat and cholesterol, you could be exacerbating hormonal imbalance, which includes thyroid hormones. Natural, healthful fats include olive oil; ghee; avocados; flax seeds; fish; nuts and nut butters; hormone- and antibiotic-free full fat cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese (yes, full fat, not skim); and coconut milk products.
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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In humans, a factor associated with response to combination therapy in a large clinical trial is the Thr92Ala polymorphism in the type 2 deiodinase gene (DIO2), wherein the subpopulation of patients with this genetic alteration had improved well-being and preference for combination therapy (7). This has led investigators to consider whether this polymorphism could confer a defect in the D2 pathway, but normal Thr92AlaD2 enzyme kinetics have been demonstrated (73). Only recently has the Thr92AlaD2 protein been found to have a longer half-life, ectopically localize in the Golgi apparatus, and significantly alter the genetic fingerprint in cultured cells and in the temporal pole of the human brain without evidence of reduced thyroid hormone signaling (74). The significance of these studies transcends the thyroid field—this polymorphism has now been associated with a constellation of diseases, including mental retardation, bipolar disorder, and low IQ (75). If hypothyroid carriers of Thr92AlaD2 benefit from alternate therapeutic strategies in replicate studies, then personalized medicine—based on genotype— may have a role.
Caffeine has been found to block absorption of thyroid hormone replacement, says Dr. Lee. "People who were taking their thyroid medication with their morning coffee had uncontrollable thyroid levels, and we couldn't figure it out," she says. "I now have to be very careful to tell people, 'Only take your medication with water.'" You should wait at least 30 minutes after taking your medication before having a cup of joe.
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