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
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.
Wild-caught fish – These provide omega-3 fatty acids EPA/DHA that are essential for hormone balance and thyroid function. Balancing the level of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your hypothyroidism diet can reduce inflammation and support healthy neurological function. Wild fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are some of the best sources of omega-3s to increase neurotransmitter activity and support a healthy mood and immune system.
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.
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that controls metabolic activities. It does this by producing thyroid hormones that regulate things like heart rate and calorie burning. Underactive thyroids don’t produce enough of these hormones, which can leave you feeling tired, depressed, and like just looking at food is enough to make you gain weight .
Another great source of selenium, nuts make a handy snack that you can take anywhere. They also go well in salads or stir-fries. Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts are all particularly high in selenium, which helps the thyroid function properly. With Brazil nuts, you only need to eat one or two; with other nuts, a small handful is enough to get your daily nutrients — and be sure to keep an eye on portion size, as nuts are also very high fat.
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.
Despite these successes, authors have questioned the efficacy of l-thyroxine monotherapy because about 10% to 15% of patients are dissatisfied as a result of residual symptoms of hypothyroidism (1, 2), including neurocognitive impairment (3), and about 15% of patients do not achieve normal serum triiodothyronine (T3) levels (4). Studies of several animal models indicate that maintaining normal serum T3 levels is a biological priority (5). Although the clinical significance of relatively low serum T3 in humans is not well-defined (1), evidence shows that elevating serum T3 through the administration of both l-thyroxine and l-triiodothyronine has benefited some patients (6, 7). However, this has not been consistently demonstrated across trials (1). Novel findings highlight the molecular mechanisms underlying the inability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to universally normalize measures of thyroid hormone signaling (8, 9), and new evidence may lay the foundation for a role of personalized medicine (10). Understanding the historical rationale for the trend toward l-thyroxine monotherapy allows us to identify scientific and clinical targets for future trials.
A complete thyroid diet solution includes more than just food. I cannot emphasise how important these are for managing stress and emotions, especially for people with hyperthyroidism. We underestimate what stress and emotions do to us; each flare-up of anger, feelings of guilt, fear, hostility, jealousy, etc. fires up the adrenals which release cortisol, and cortisol has a detrimental impact on the thyroid.
Exercise and a healthy diet are important for controlling chronic stress and managing hormone-related neurological function. Research shows that people who regularly exercise usually get better sleep, deal with stress better and usually maintain a healthier weight, too, all of which reduce some of the biggest risk factors and symptoms associated with hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t properly make or release thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland normally releases many crucial hormones that travel through the bloodstream to reach receptors found throughout the whole body. So a disturbance in thyroid function can cause widespread, noticeable health problems.
In some areas of the world, iodized salt is an essential way to prevent iodine deficiency, cretinism, and mental retardation due to iodine deficiency in pregnant women. In the United States, however, many people have limited their salt intake or stopped using iodized salt, and you need enough iodine for the thyroid to function properly. An excess of iodine, however, is also linked to increased risk of thyroid disease, so staying in range and avoiding deficiency or excess is essential.
Most people with hypothyroidism don’t realize that the malfunctioning thyroid gland is usually not the primary cause of their condition. After all, one’s thyroid gland doesn’t just stop producing thyroid hormone on its own, as there is always a cause behind this. So while giving thyroid hormone may do a good job of managing one’s symptoms (although this isn’t always the case), it is not doing anything for the cause of your condition.
Limit or eliminate junk foods and highly processed products: This plan focuses on whole, unrefined foods as they are fundamental to a healthy diet. Realistically it’s very difficult to eliminate all highly processed (often pre-packaged) foods, but just be mindful of cutting down. Likewise, snacks listed are optional depending on your regular eating habits, and there are bonus snack recipe ideas if you scroll to the bottom.
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.
Studies have indicated that individuals with lower selenium levels are at higher risk for low T3 (50). Selenium has been shown to reduce rT3 levels and improve active T3 status (51). It also reduces anti-thyroid anti-body formation (52). Be sure to get selenomethionine which is the most effective form of selenium for reducing anti-body formation and improving thyroid function.
Goitrogens are substances found naturally in certain foods that can slow down the production of thyroid hormone—keep in mind, though, this phenomenon occurs typically in people with an underlying iodine deficiency (which is rare in the United States). Still, even for people without iodine deficiency, experts recommend not over-consuming goitrogenic foods.
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.
Coconut Oil – Provides medium-chain fatty acids in the form of caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid that 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 your mood while stabilizing blood sugar levels.
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Zinc is critical to thyroid health and is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. In fact, deficiencies of this mineral can lead to hypothyroidism. (Additionally, thyroid hormones are essential for zinc absorption, so hypothyroidism can lead to zinc deficiency.) Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc; other good sources include oysters, crab, lobster, legumes, nuts, and sunflower seeds.
18) Use Essential Oils: The anti-oxidant content and aromatherapy benefits of essential oils help to improve oxygenation and reduce the harmful effects of oxidative stress throughout the body. Some of my favorites for thyroid function include lavendar, frankincense and peppermint among others. Put a drop on your hands and mix together and then cover your nose and inhale the healing vapors. This will stimulate your brain and increase blood flow to your cranium. You can also rub them on the skin around your neck and thyroid region to reduce inflammation.
Autoimmune disease - Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s immune system produces antibodies that attack its own tissues. Scientists aren’t sure why the body produces these antibodies and why it would attack itself. Some think that a virus or bacterium might trigger this, while others believe that genetic factors cause autoimmune disorders. It could also be a combination of the two factors. Regardless of the cause of autoimmune diseases they are thought to be a cause of hyperthyroidism. When the immune system attacks the body, it often targets the thyroid. This limits the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones and results in hyperthyroidism.
Selenium: Selenium is one the MOST IMPORTANT when it comes to healthy thyroid function! It is incorporated into key enzymes involved in several metabolic pathways implicated in thyroid hormone metabolism; additionally, it plays an antioxidant role in the regulation of the immune system. There are strong links between selenium deficiencies and auto-immune thyroid problems (48, 49).
People who have been treated for hyperthyroidism (underactive thyroid) like Graves' disease, and received radioactive iodine may be left with little or no functioning thyroid tissue after treatment. The likelihood of this depends on a number of factors including the dose of iodine given, along with the size and the activity of the thyroid gland. If there is no significant activity of the thyroid gland six months after the radioactive iodine treatment it usually means that the thyroid gland no longer functioning adequately. The result is hypothyroidism. Similarly, removal of the thyroid gland during surgery cause hypothyroidism.
The first essential step in a thyroid diet plan is to normalize sugar cravings, hypoglycemia and/or insulin resistance. Without fixing your sugar issues, your thyroid will never improve. This is because the pancreas is responsible for sugar metabolism and because, like the thyroid, the pancreas is part of the endocrine system. As you can imagine, these glands are all intricately interconnected. A few tips for you here on how to adjust your diet for thyroid health:
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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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