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).
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."
8) Supplement With Omega 3’s: Omega 3 fatty acids and in particular the long chain variety EPA and DHA are critical for stabilizing blood sugar, reducing inflammation and taming the immune system. Consume grass-fed meat, grass-fed butter, wild-caught fish and spirulina to get it in your diet. It is also advisable to supplement with 2-5 grams daily of EPA/DHA along with 200 mg of GLA. Clinically, I use ProEFA to boost up omega 3’s.
Goiter - Goiter is a condition in which a gland is larger than it should be. This occurs in the thyroid gland when the gland is being overstimulated because it is receiving constant signals to produce more hormones. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is one of the more common causes of a goiter. It may not be uncomfortable, but a large goiter can affect appearances and interfere with swallowing or breathing if left untreated.
Many allergies and food intolerances today are from wheat and dairy products. This is because of the hybridized proteins of gluten and a1 casein. These proteins can lead to “leaky gut”, which in turn will cause inflammation of the thyroid and effect its function. If you can’t follow a grain-free diet, at least cut out gluten. Additionally, only consume dairy products that come from A2 cows, goat milk, or sheep milk. (2)
Soy? If you have hypothyroidism, yes. Eating too much soy causes problems only for those with hypothyroidism, which occurs when your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormones, Dr. Nasr says. The main problem is that soy hinders absorption of the hormones such patients are taking. “Some studies show that if you eat a lot of soy, or drink a big glass of soy milk, within one hour of taking a thyroid hormone, it might affect absorption,” he says. “A lot of people depend on those hormones to achieve a steady state.
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.
The goal of natural remedies or alternative medicine is to fix the root cause of the thyroid problem. Thyroid problems sometimes start as the result of poor diet, stress, or missing nutrients in your body. Changing your diet and taking an herbal supplement are two ways you can help your thyroid condition. These options may have fewer side effects than taking thyroid medicine. Also, using an herbal supplement for treatment of a low or underactive thyroid may be helpful for people who aren’t responding well to medicines.
Soy for thyroid health is controversial: There's some research that suggests soy might negatively affect your thyroid gland under certain circumstances, like if you have an iodine deficiency. (Something to keep in mind: A 2011 study of vegetarians and vegans in the Boston area found that some vegans did have a mild iodine deficiency, most likely because they don't eat animal and dairy products). But other research presented at the 2014 Endocrine Society's annual meeting found that unless you have thyroid problems already, soy probably won't have any effect on it. Again, says Ilic, as long as you're eating normal amounts of soy, there's no reason to worry it'll hurt your thyroid.
Alcohol consumption can wreak havoc on both thyroid hormone levels in the body and the ability of the thyroid to produce hormone. Alcohol appears to have a toxic effect on the thyroid gland and suppresses the ability of the body to use thyroid hormone. Ideally, people with hypothyroidism should cut out alcohol completely or drink in careful moderation.
Physicians hesitated to use l-thyroxine monotherapy over concern that it could result in a relative T3 deficiency, despite growing discontent with potency of natural thyroid products (39) and reduced cost of l-thyroxine, such that the 2 treatments were approximately equivalent (36, 41). The seminal discovery of peripheral T4-to-T3 conversion in athyreotic individuals largely obviated this concern (42). This laid the foundation for the corollary that treatment with l-thyroxine could replace thyroid hormone in such a way that the prohormone pool would be restored and the deiodinases would regulate the pool of active T3. Within a decade there was a major transition toward l-thyroxine monotherapy as first-line therapy (Appendix Table and Figure) (38).
Unlike conventional medical treatments, a natural hypothyroid treatment approach tries to get to the underlying cause of your disorder. In other words, upon seeing a competent natural healthcare professional who focuses on endocrine conditions, they will try to determine what is actually causing your thyroid gland to malfunction. In addition to looking at the typical thyroid blood tests, they might also evaluate your adrenal glands, digestive system, hormone levels, and other areas of the body which can be causing your thyroid gland to malfunction. Then assuming this natural healthcare professional feels they can help you, they will recommend a natural hypothyroid treatment protocol that won’t just manage your symptoms, but will also attempt to restore your health back to normal.
l-Thyroxine monotherapy, the novel and physiologically savvy method for treatment of hypothyroidism, contrasted with the traditional approach of natural thyroid preparations that was marred by potency concerns. In less than a decade, there was a major shift in treatment of hypothyroidism such that normalization of TSH with l-thyroxine monotherapy became the new standard of care (Appendix Table) (52). Many clinicians advocated for this to be first-line therapy and for patients previously treated with desiccated thyroid to be transitioned to l-thyroxine monotherapy (50).
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).
• Selenium: The highest concentration of selenium is found in the thyroid gland, and it’s been shown to be a necessary component of enzymes integral to thyroid function.14 Selenium is an essential trace mineral and has been shown to have a profound effect on the immune system, cognitive function, fertility in both men and women, and mortality rate.
Constipation is a common symptom of hypothyroidism. Whole-grain foods such as cereal, bread, pasta, and rice are high in nutrients in addition to fiber, which can help with bowel regularity. However, fiber can interfere with synthetic thyroid hormones, cautions Turner. Some people with hypothyroidism choose to avoid whole-grains altogether, but if you do choose to eat them, "the recommendation is to take your thyroid medication several hours before or after eating foods rich in dietary fiber," she says.
The foods listed above do not contain any thiocyanate when they are in their living, intact state, because thiocyanates do not form until the plant is cut, crushed, or chewed. For example, fresh broccoli contains a harmless substance called glucosinolate, which turns into a thiocyanate called sulforaphane when the vegetable is damaged (see my broccoli blogpost for more information).
As for what’s causing your condition, this of course can vary. Many times it is caused by lifestyle factors, such as poor eating habits, lack of sleep, not handling stress well, etc. Other times it can be environmental toxins or an infection causing or contributing to such a condition. Genetics can also be a factor, although research shows that lifestyle and environmental factors play a much greater role in the development of these conditions. In fact, many people with a genetic marker for hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis can be helped a great deal by modifying some of their lifestyle factors, which is great news.
An inexpensive and versatile food, beans are a great source for sustained energy, which can be helpful if hypothyroidism leaves you feeling drained. Beans contain protein, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, and loads of vitamins and minerals. They are also high in fiber, which can be beneficial if you suffer with constipation, a common side effect of hypothyroidism. If you're new to beans, there are many varieties to try, all of which can be used as the base for entrées, as side dishes, and to enhance soups, salads, and stews. Just be sure not to overdo it — guidelines recommend that adults get 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day, but excess fiber can interfere with your hypothyroidism treatment.
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.
The most common thyroid condition is hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. In the United States, hypothyroidism usually is caused by an autoimmune response known as Hashimoto’s disease or autoimmune thyroiditis. As with all autoimmune diseases, the body mistakenly identifies its own tissues as an invader and attacks them until the organ is destroyed. This chronic attack eventually prevents the thyroid from releasing adequate levels of the hormones T3 and T4, which are necessary to keep the body functioning properly. The lack of these hormones can slow down metabolism and cause weight gain, fatigue, dry skin and hair, and difficulty concentrating (see table).2 Hashimoto’s affects approximately 5% of the US population, is seven times more prevalent in women than men, and generally occurs during middle age.3
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.
“The effects of fluoride on various aspects of endocrine function should be examined, particularly with respect to a possible role in the development of several diseases or mental states in the United States. Major areas of investigation include . . . thyroid disease (especially in light of decreasing iodine intake by the U.S. population).” (National Research Council, 2006)
The disease process for Hashimoto’s is a spectrum, and not all patients require treatment. Some patients have autoimmune antibodies but retain enough thyroid function without the need for intervention for years. Generally, once the body can no longer produce an adequate amount of thyroid hormone for necessary physiological functions, thyroid replacement medication is necessary to correct the hormonal imbalances associated with hypothyroidism.
It’s more of a problem for people with iodine deficiency or those who eat huge amounts of goitrogens. “Goitrogens are not as active when they’re cooked, so eat them cooked,” says Fiorella DiCarlo RDN, CDN, with both clinical and research experience in medical nutrition therapy in New York City. “The last thing I want to do as a dietitian is to tell people to not eat vegetables!,” she adds. It sounds weird, but if you have a precondition, eating these vegetables raw and in large quantities could affect your thyroid.
Thyroid surgery - Thyroid surgery may be performed if a patient is experiencing hyperthyroidism, goiters, thyroid nodules, or thyroid cancer. Thyroid surgery involves removing either all of the thyroid or a large portion of the thyroid gland, both of which diminish and/or halt thyroid hormone production. In this case, hypothyroidism will be a lifelong condition and the patient will need to take a supplemental thyroid hormone for the rest of their life.
The tendency to put on weight if you have hypothyroidism can cause people to starve themselves or eat an extremely low-calorie diet. This can cause more harm than good and lead to several other health complications. Instead of fad or crash dieting, learn to eat a healthy balanced meal that provides you with all the necessary nutrients, vitamins and minerals required to function optimally. In addition to this add at least an hour of exercise thrice a week and you can boost your metabolism and reduce symptoms such as fatigue as well.
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.
It's important to note, however, that selenium has what doctors call a "narrow therapeutic window." In optimal amounts, it can help ensure good thyroid function and have other benefits, but is toxic in amounts not that far above "normal." This is especially important to remember if you are taking a multi-vitamin that contains zinc as well as a zinc supplement.
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