Although it’s not very common, newborns are sometimes born with a dysfunction of the thyroid gland, a genetic condition called congenital hypothyroidism. Some evidence shows that people are more likely to develop hypothyroidism if they have a close family member with an autoimmune disease. But according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the likelihood of congenital hypothyroidism is very low and only about 1 out of every 4,000 newborns is born with a thyroid disorder. (8b)
T4 circulates through to the liver where 60% of it is converted into T3 through the glucoronination and sulfation pathways. If the liver is sluggish it will cause a problem in T4-T3 conversion (6). Another 20% is converted into reverse T3 which is permanentely inactive. The final 20% is converted into T3 sulfate and T3 acetic acid which can then be further metabolized by healthy gut bacteria to produce more active T3 (6).
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 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.
Try this: Cut apples crosswise (don’t peel them—the skin is the richest source of pectin!), dredge in brown sugar, then pan-fry in coconut oil until tender; top with shredded basil and crumbled blue cheese. Spiralize a whole apple with skin, lightly steam in apple juice until tender, and serve with yogurt, hemp seeds, and blueberries as a breakfast noodle bowl. Simmer chopped apples, parsnips, shallots, and sprigs of thyme in broth until tender; remove thyme sprigs and purée until smooth; top with additional thyme and a dollop of crème fraîche.
Try this: Soak wakame seaweed in hot water for 20 minutes, then drain and combine with rice vinegar, sesame oil, grated ginger, honey, or agave, and thinly sliced scallions for an easy seaweed salad. Brush sheets of nori with olive oil; sprinkle with a mix of brown sugar, salt, smoked paprika, and cayenne; and pan fry for 15 seconds. After allowing this to cool, cut into triangles. Soak hijiki seaweed in hot water for 10 minutes; drain and toss with a mixture of minced red onion, shredded carrots, cooked quinoa, and green peas; drizzle with a dressing of white miso, black sesame seeds, sesame oil, and garlic.
Try this: Make a lassi, a traditional Indian beverage: purée yogurt, frozen mango chunks, and lime juice, then pour into glasses and garnish with slices of lime. Purée yogurt with blackberries, honey, and grated ginger; stir in vanilla yogurt to make swirls and then spoon into Popsicle molds and freeze. Dump a container of yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined strainer and refrigerate overnight; stir in your favorite herbs and seasonings, and use as a substitute for sour cream.
Other noticeable effects of hypothyroidism include moodiness and a sluggish metabolism. Essentially when your thyroid is underactive your metabolism will slow down, which might mean you always feel tired or struggle to keep off weight. Your mood is especially susceptible to changes in hormone levels, so some people with hypothyroidism wind up dealing with depression, anxiety, trouble getting good sleep, and low immunity. The thyroid gland helps regulate chemical messengers called neurotransmitters that control your emotions and nerve signaling, which is the reason an out-of-balance thyroid can mean drastic emotional changes at times.
Clinicians noted several differences in the ability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to normalize markers of hypothyroidism at doses that normalized serum TSH (45). For instance, in many l-thyroxine-treated patients with a normal serum TSH, the BMR remained at about 10% less than that of normal controls even after 3 months of therapy (53). At the same time, doses of l-thyroxine that normalize the BMR can suppress serum TSH and cause iatrogenic thyrotoxicosis (28, 45, 46). The clinical significance of this was not fully understood because many patients appeared clinically euthyroid with a BMR between −20% and −10% (36, 37).
Most patients report improvement with a thyroid supplement too, but if you consistently eat a healthy and wholesome diet they are unnecessary. If you still want to try one however (under the supervision of your doctor), see this Thyroid Support Supplement (disclosure: this is an affiliate link). It contains both selenium and iodine for thyroid health, as well as vitamin B12 for improved energy levels. Additionally, it is one of the few available that is 100% vegetarian.
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.
In the 1995 American Thyroid Association (ATA) guidelines, biological and synthetic thyroid hormone preparations containing T4 plus T3 were not recommended out of concern for fluctuating and often elevated serum T3 concentrations (71). In conjunction with the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists in 2012, the ATA continued to recommend l-thyroxine monotherapy and noted that evidence does not support using synthetic combination therapies; in addition, they stated that “desiccated thyroid hormone should not be used for the treatment of hypothyroidism” (72). In 2014, the ATA recommendations evolved with the recognition that 1) serum T3 levels might not be normalized in all l-thyroxine–treated hypothyroid patients and 2) some patients remain symptomatic while receiving l-thyroxine monotherapy. Titration of l-thyroxine dose to achieve normal TSH concentrations remains a first-line approach, but trials with combination therapy can be considered. In addition, the guidelines recognize that although superiority data are lacking, some patients do experience a clinical response with desiccated thyroid preparations or combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine (1). The European Thyroid Association has similar recommendations (2).
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil: Extra virgin coconut oil is known to support and stimulate the functioning of the thyroid gland. Coconut oil consists of lauric acid, which possesses thyroid stimulating properties. Extra virgin coconut oil is more effective, as compared to regular coconut oil and is very stable. The oil can be either added to the food while cooking or a spoonful can be ingested as a supplement.
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.
90% of all hypothyroid conditions are autoimmune in nature. In other words, most people with hypothyroidism have the condition Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. But what causes this condition? Numerous factors can trigger an autoimmune response and result in the elevated thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and/or thyroglobulin antibodies you see with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. These antibodies will damage the thyroid gland, which is what leads to the decreased production of thyroid hormone. And while taking synthetic or natural thyroid hormone might be necessary for someone who has low or depressed thyroid hormone levels, this won’t do anything to improve the health of the immune system. So the goal is to detect and then remove the trigger which is causing the autoimmune response, get rid of the inflammation, and suppress the autoimmune component of the condition.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as wild salmon, trout, tuna, or sardines make this food an excellent choice for lunch or dinner, says Virginia Turner, MS, RD, LDN, clinical nutrition manager at The University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. Unmanaged hypothyroidism can increase the risk for heart disease as a result of higher levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol. "Omega-3s are known to decrease inflammation, help with immunity, and lower the risk for heart disease," she adds. Fish is also a good source of the nutrient selenium, which is most concentrated in the thyroid. Selenium also helps decrease inflammation.
Hypothyroidism Supplements: Your thyroid is impacted greatly by specific nutrients, like Iodine, Selenium, Zinc, Copper, Vitamin B, Vitamin D3, Vitamin A, Iron, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Instead of taking a dozen separate vitamins every day, I recommend finding a thyroid-specific multi-vitamin that already contains optimal levels of these nutrients. Dr. Meyer’s makes my favorite thyroid multi-vitamin, and it contains methylated vitamins to help with absorption and efficacy. Adaptogenic herbs like ashwaghanda and reishi are also really helpful for managing stress and anxiety, which are linked with your thyroid.
Some findings suggest that many people with Hashimoto’s disease (the most common type of hypothyroidism) have lower levels of vitamin D compared to the general population . That’s bad news, since low D is tied to higher levels of thyroid antibodies. “The antibodies activate the immune system to attack the thyroid tissue, which creates inflammation and makes it harder for the thyroid to do its job,” explains Lisa Markley, RDN, co-author of The Essential Thyroid Cookbook.
The development of TSH radioimmunoassay (43) provided the first sensitive and specific marker of systemic thyroid hormone status (Figure). Clinicians could now titrate therapy to achieve a serum TSH within the normal range as a specific marker of replacement adequacy (44). For patients who were once treated with doses that normalized their symptoms, BMR, or serum PBI, the use of serum TSH revealed such doses to be typically supratherapeutic (45, 46). Maintenance doses of l-thyroxine ranged from 200 to 500 mcg/d before the institution of the TSH assay and then became typically closer to 100 to 150 mcg/d (Appendix Table). Implementation of the TSH radioimmunoassay also provided a means to diagnose much milder, or even subclinical, cases of hypothyroidism that may have been undiagnosed with earlier, less sensitive, diagnostic methods (47).
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.
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
Those with hypothyroidism may want to consider minimizing their intake of gluten, a protein found in foods processed from wheat, barley, rye, and other grains, says Ruth Frechman, RDN, a dietitian in the Los Angeles area and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten can irritate the small intestine, and may hamper absorption of thyroid hormone replacement medication.
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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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