Symptoms of hypothyroidism often develop gradually and can sometimes take years to manifest. Women in their fifties and older are more likely to have hypothyroidism then men; however, teenagers, children and even infants can be affected by this condition. Typical signs that you may have hypothyroidism include increasing fatigue and weakness, often with unintentional weight gain. Skin can become dry, rough and pale, with hair loss and dry, brittle nails. Other frequent problems are sensitivity to cold, muscle or joint aches, constipation, depression, irritability, memory loss, abnormal menstrual cycles with heavy blood flow, and decreased sex drive.
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.
If that’s not enough to calm your concerns, some experts suggest that eating cruciferous vegetables may actually be beneficial if you have autoimmune hypothyroidism since the thiocyanates may slow the absorption of iodine in people getting too much, which is possible if you are eating a typical Western diet of fast foods, French fries, and other processed products, that contain iodized salt, and you are heavy-handed with the salt shaker.
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.
When it comes to thyroid medications, it’s important for RDs to know the medications can interact with common nutritional supplements. Calcium supplements have the potential to interfere with proper absorption of thyroid medications, so patients must consider the timing when taking both. Studies recommend spacing calcium supplements and thyroid medications by at least four hours.21 Coffee and fiber supplements lower the absorption of thyroid medication, so patients should take them one hour apart.22 Dietitians should confirm whether clients have received and are adhering to these guidelines for optimal health.
High-fiber foods – People with hypothyroidism may have digestive difficulties, so aim for 30–40 grams of fiber daily. In addition to a high-fiber diet helping with digestive health, it improves heart health, balances blood sugar levels and supports a healthy weight by making you feel fuller. Some easy ways to increase fiber intake include eating more fresh vegetables, berries, beans, lentils and seeds.
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.
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. 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.
A cup of cooked white beans serves up 8mg of iron—a mineral that many people, especially premenopausal women, have trouble getting enough of . But getting your fill is important. “If you don’t, it can impair the activity of enzymes that produce thyroid hormones,” Dr. Lee says. (Women aged 19 to 50 need 18mg iron daily, while men and women 51 and older need 8mg .)
Similar to processed foods, fast food chains also aren't required to use iodized salt in their foods. And even when they do, it might not boost the iodine content all that much, according to one 2010 commentary in the journal Endocrine Practice, which tested products from two fast food restaurants in the Boston area. The study authors concluded that drive-thru fare might be pretty low in iodine.
Whether you take these minerals in a multivitamin or alone, calcium and iron supplements may counteract the medication you take to treat your underactive thyroid. These supplements may affect your ability to absorb levothyroxine, the synthetic thyroid hormone found in medications such as Synthroid and Levothroid, according to the Mayo Clinic. “There’s a very strict way to take thyroid medication,” Blum says. You take it the same way every day, at least one hour before food and never with calcium, iron or other minerals. Blum recommends taking your thyroid medication as soon as you wake up and consuming the mineral supplements with food at dinnertime or before bed.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage naturally release a compound called goitrin when they’re hydrolyzed, or broken down. Goitrin can interfere with the synthesis of thyroid hormones. However, this is usually a concern only when coupled with an iodine deficiency.17 Heating cruciferous vegetables denatures much or all of this potential goitrogenic effect.18
Pregnancy . The reason isn’t clear, but sometimes, inflammation of the thyroid occurs after pregnancy. This is called postpartum thyroiditis. Women with this condition usually have a severe increase in thyroid hormone levels followed by a sharp drop in thyroid hormone production. Most women with postpartum thyroiditis will regain their normal thyroid function.
In areas of the world where there is an iodine deficiency in the diet, severe hypothyroidism occurs in about 5% to 15% of the population. Examples of these areas include Zaire, Ecuador, India, and Chile. Severe iodine deficiency occurs in remote mountain areas such as the Andes and the Himalayas. Since the addition of iodine to table salt and to bread, iodine deficiency is rare in the United States.
If you have celiac disease or wheat/gluten sensitivity, going on a gluten-free diet may lower or even eliminate your thyroid antibodies and cause an autoimmune thyroid disease remission. If you have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, but are suspicious for it based on symptoms and/or a family history, be sure to get it checked out by your doctor.
Hypothyroidism is generally treated with a single daily dose of levothyroxine, given as a tablet. An experienced physician can prescribe the correct form and dosage to return the thyroid balance to normal. Older patients who may have underlying heart disease are usually started at a low dose and gradually increased while younger healthy patients can be started on full replacement doses at once. Thyroid hormone acts very slowly in some parts of the body, so it may take several months after treatment for some features to improve.
If for some reason the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus are unable to signal the thyroid and instruct it to produce thyroid hormones, it may cause decreased T4 and T3 blood levels, even if the thyroid gland itself is normal. If pituitary disease causes this defect, the condition is called "secondary hypothyroidism." If the defect is due to hypothalamic disease, it is called "tertiary 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).
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.
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)
When the hypothalmus decides we need more thyroid hormone in circulation (cold weather or increased activity level for example) it sends a chemical messenger called thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) which goes to the pituitary gland. The pituitary than sends thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) over to the thyroid. TSH activates the production of a protein called thyroglobulin.
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.
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.
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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