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Correcting these problems requires an integrative approach. It involves more than simply taking a thyroid pill. As you’ll see, it involves nutritional support, exercise, stress reduction, supplements, reducing inflammation, and sometimes eliminating certain foods and detoxification from heavy metals (such as mercury and lead) and petrochemical toxins (such as pesticides and PCBs).
There are so many reasons for low thyroid function, yet I see many patients whose doctors have ignored this problem. One young female patient had more than 30 percent body fat and was unable to change her body no matter how hard she worked. She ate perfectly, exercised with a trainer every day, yet her body wouldn’t budge. She also had a slightly depressed mood and other vague symptoms.
A diet low in nutrient-rich foods, especially in iodine and selenium (which are trace minerals crucial for thyroid function), increases the risk for hypothyroid disorders. The thyroid gland needs both selenium and iodine to produce adequate levels of thyroid hormones. (6) These nutrients also play other protective roles in the body. For example: severe selenium deficiency increases the incidence of thyroiditis because it stops activity of a very powerful antioxidant known as glutathione, which normally controls inflammation and fights oxidative stress. (7) Getting on track with a hypothyroidism diet ensures that you get the appropriate amounts of selenium and iodine in your diet.
Since iodine is found in soils and seawater, fish are another good source of this nutrient. In fact, researchers have long known that people who live in remote, mountainous regions with no access to the sea are at risk for goiters. "The most convincing evidence we have [for thyroid problems] is the absence of adequate nutrition," says Salvatore Caruana, MD, the director of the division of head and neck surgery in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at ColumbiaDoctors.
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.
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
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.
However, iodine intake has dropped during the past few decades. Americans get approximately 70% of their salt intake from processed foods that, in the United States and Canada, generally don’t contain iodine. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicates that, on average, Americans are getting adequate amounts of iodine, with the potential exception of women of childbearing age.10
To find out if you have hypothyroidism, your doctor will run blood tests to check for levels of the hormones known as T4 (thyroxine) and TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). Hypothyroidism is diagnosed in your thyroid test when TSH is high. Sometimes, TSH can be high, but the thyroid is still producing enough hormones. This condition is referred to as subclinical (or mild) hypothyroidism.
Essential fatty acids found in fish oil are critical for brain and thyroid function. DHA and EPA omega-3s found in fish oil are associated with a lower risk for thyroid symptoms, including anxiety, depression, high cholesterol, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, diabetes, a weakened immune system and heightened autoimmune disease. Omega-3 fish oil supplements can also help balance levels of omega-6s in the diet, which is important for ongoing health.
The thyroid is the organ with the highest selenium content in the whole body. Selenium is necessary for the production of the T3 thyroid hormone and can reduce autoimmune affects. In patients with Hashimoto’s disease and in pregnant women with thyroid disturbances, selenium supplementation decreases anti-thyroid antibody levels and improves the structure of the thyroid gland.
It is absolutely critical for any physician who is treating someone with a thyroid disorder to test for thyroid antibodies. Unfortunately, few mainstream medical doctors test for thyroid anti-bodies and so most do not ever get the proper diagnosis. In the medical system, an auto-immune condition, a sluggish thyroid, a burned out pituitary gland and a T4-T3 conversion problem are all treated the same way, with synthetic T4 such as synthroid or a T3 medication like levothyroxin.
The main job of the thyroid gland is to combine the salt iodine with the amino acid tyrosine to make thyroid hormone. Whenever the thyroid gland has a hard time making enough thyroid hormone, it becomes stressed and grows bigger to try to do its job better, forming a “goiter” (enlarged thyroid). Substances that interfere with normal thyroid function are called “goitrogens” because they have the potential to cause goiter.
Probiotics can help heal the gut and aid in nutrient absorption while reducing inflammation. Other benefits of a high-quality probiotic include helping to maintain a stronger immune system; increasing energy from production of vitamin B12; reducing bacterial or viral growth in the gut such as candida; improving skin health and helping with appetite control and weight loss.
It is doubtful that nutritional deficiencies are the sole cause of an underactive thyroid, but not having enough of these micronutrients and minerals can aggravate symptoms of low thyroid function. Increasing the intake of; vitamin D, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, zinc, copper, vitamin A, the B vitamins, and iodine can help in natural hypothyroid treatment.
Thus, neither desiccated thyroid nor l-thyroxine monotherapy recreates a biochemical state of euthyroidism as defined by the serum T4:T3 ratio. l-Thyroxine and l-triiodothyronine combination therapy theoretically could be titrated to restore this measure, but such a method would be challenging because of the frequent dosing schedule needed to achieve stable serum T3 levels (5). New technology is needed to allow for steady delivery of l-thyroxine; only then would high-quality clinical trials best investigate the utility of the serum T4:T3 ratio as an outcome measure in hypothyroidism.
Also available on the market are combination medications that contain both synthetic T4 and T3 hormones, but such medications aren’t usually recommended. For one thing, most patients see their condition improve with synthetic T4 alone because of the ability of the thyroid to convert these hormones to T3 when needed. Also, synthetic T3-T4 combination drugs can cause anxiety — if you have a preexisting mental health disability, such side effects may be even greater. (3)
If you're thinking about upping your intake of salty, processed foods just to fit more iodine into your diet, think again. More than 75% of our dietary sodium intake comes from restaurant, pre-packaged, and processed fare. (In fact, you'd probably be surprised to learn just how many foods are actually just hidden salt traps.) But "manufacturers don't have to use iodized salt in their products," says Ilic. And according to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, they "almost never" do. The upshot: You may be taking in too much sodium (which can set you up for high blood pressure, then heart disease), minus the iodine.
It’s commonly believed that hypothyroidism is due to insufficient iodine, but this isn’t true. Dr. Kharrazian states that if you have Hashimoto’s, taking supplemental iodine is like throwing gasoline on a fire, so eschew iodine supplements and iodized salt. Primary sources of iodine: sea vegetables and seafood. Secondary sources: eggs, asparagus, lima beans, mushrooms, spinach, sesame seeds, summer squash, Swiss chard, and garlic.
Hyperthyroidism, particularly Graves’ disease, is known to cause bone loss, which is compounded by the vitamin D deficiency commonly found in people with hyperthyroidism. This bone mass can be regained with treatment for hyperthyroidism, and experts suggest that adequate bone-building nutrients, such as vitamin D, are particularly important during and after treatment.13
If you have been diagnosed with both hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency, there are some things you can do to make these vegetables less harmful. Cooking them can reduce the effect that cruciferous vegetables have on the thyroid gland, and limiting your intake of these (cooked) vegetables to 5 ounces a day may help as well, since that amount appears to have no adverse effect on thyroid function.
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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