The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland found near the base of the neck. It produces hormones that regulate vital metabolic processes throughout the body. A deficiency in the production of thyroid hormone, known as hypothyroidism, causes these processes to slow down or stop. Receptors for thyroid hormone are found throughout the body, and disturbance in thyroid functioning can cause problems in almost every system of the body from the heart and GI tract to sleep, mood, even the growth of hair, skin and nails.
Emphasizing lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, heart-healthy fats and omega-3s, high-fiber foods, and appropriate portions can help manage or prevent illnesses associated with thyroid disease. As Schneider notes, “It’s eating for prevention of all these diseases that accompany thyroid disease: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.” As an added bonus, fiber can relieve constipation that people with hypothyroidism often experience.
Coconut oil — This provides medium-chain fatty acids in the form of caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid, which 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 mood while stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Trials of the first pharmacologic strategies included intravenous or subcutaneous (12) or oral (15) administration of thyroid extract, in addition to “thyroid feeding,” the consumption of raw or cooked thyroid gland (16), with sustainable successes. Oral replacement strategies quickly won favor, although “alarming symptoms” associated with treatment were noted; however, the details were not fully described (17). Thyroid transplant may one day reemerge as a viable treatment option given that functional thyroid tissue can be generated from stem cells (18).
From the early 1890s through the mid-1970s, desiccated thyroid was the preferred form of therapy for hypothyroidism (Appendix Table, available at www.annals.org). This preference was reinforced by the unique ability of desiccated thyroid to reproduce a normal serum PBI (33). The predominance of natural thyroid products was illustrated by prescribing patterns in the United States: In 1965, approximately 4 of every 5 prescriptions for thyroid hormone were for natural thyroid preparations (38). Concerns about inconsistencies in the potency of these tablets arose (26) after the discovery that some contained anywhere from double to no detectable metabolic activity (39). The shelf-life of desiccated tablets was limited, especially if the tablets were kept in humid conditions (36). There were reports of patients not responding to desiccated thyroid altogether because their tablets contained no active thyroid hormone. It was not until 1985 that the revision of the U.S. Pharmacopeia standard from iodine content to T3/thyroxine (T4) content resulted in stable potency (38), but by then the reputation of natural thyroid products was tarnished (40).
You may have read that green, leafy veggies like kale, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts can make hypothyroidism worse. But before you keep reading, ask yourself a question: Do you live in the United States? That’s key — because if you do, you likely don’t need to worry about these cancer-fighting veggies messing with your hypothyroidism management. (7)
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