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
Everyone has bacteria in their digestive tract, or gut, that is essential to the function of the human body. A healthy adult has about 1.5 – 2 kg of bacteria in their gut, both good and bad. Normal levels of bacteria, or flora, in the gut protect against invaders, undigested food, toxins, and parasites. When the good and bad bacteria in the gut get out of whack (i.e. more bad than good), a whole host of negative reactions can occur in the body. Undigested foods can leak through into the bloodstream causing food allergies and intolerances, vitamins and minerals may not be absorbed, leading to deficiency, and the bad bacteria can produce a whole host of toxins, leading the immune system to not function properly. An effective thyroid diet includes probiotics that you can get from fermented foods.
The NIH studied the link between hypothyroidism and small intestine problems. These problems included an overgrowth of bacteria, such as yeast. Probiotic supplements contain live bacteria that can help keep your stomach and intestines healthy. Besides supplement forms, fermented food and drink, such as kefir, kombucha, raw cheese, and yogurt contain useful probiotics.
“Some evidence suggests that soy foods, by inhibiting absorption, may increase the dose of thyroid hormone required by hypothyroid patients. However, hypothyroid adults need not avoid soy foods. In addition, there remains a theoretical concern based on in vitro and animal data that in individuals with compromised thyroid function and/or whose iodine intake is marginal, soy foods may increase risk of developing clinical hypothyroidism. Therefore, it is important for soy food consumers to make sure their intake of iodine is adequate.” [Messina]
Hashimoto’s disease is the most common autoimmune disease linked to hypothyroidism. In fact, the condition in which the autoimmune system targets the thyroid specifically is commonly known as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is when the immune system targets antibodies directly to the thyroid, causing inflammation of the thyroid gland and thus limiting the gland’s ability to produce its delegated hormones.
Supplements may also mess with your treatment and can be harmful. Iodine supplements, for example, can cause your thyroid to make too much or too little hormone. Too much of a healthy vitamin isn't good for you. Fiber supplements can absorb medication and keep the full dose from working in your body. Herbs may interfere with your medication and may not be safe or effective.
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.
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.
Major diagnostic and therapeutic advancements in the early 20th century dramatically changed the prognosis of hypothyroidism from a highly morbid condition to one that could be successfully managed with safe, effective therapies. These advancements dictated treatment trends that have led to the adoption of l-thyroxine monotherapy, administered at doses to normalize serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), as the contemporary standard of care (Figure). Most patients do well with this approach, which both normalizes serum TSH levels and leads to symptomatic remission (1).
Hyperthyroidism usually is treated with medications, surgery, or oral radioactive iodine. However, these treatments are imprecise and may cause the thyroid to secrete inadequate amounts of T3 and T4 and function insufficiently after treatment. Seventy percent to 90% of patients with Graves’ or thyroid cancer eventually need treatment for hypothyroidism as a result of treatment.6
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Unless you've been diagnosed with celiac disease, it probably won’t affect your thyroid. Gluten can damage the small intestines of people with celiac disease. They can have other autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s disease (which leads to an underactive thyroid) and Graves' disease (which leads to an overactive thyroid). If you have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet may help prevent these thyroid diseases.
Seaweed — Good seaweeds are some of the best natural sources of iodine and help prevent deficiencies that disturb thyroid function. I’d recommend having some every week as part of your hypothyroidism diet. Try kelp, nori, kombu and wakame. You can look for dried varieties of these at health food stores and use them in soups, with tuna fish or in fish cakes.
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.
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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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