A diet low in nutrient-rich foods, especially in iodine and selenium (which are trace minerals crucial for thyroid function), increases the risk for thyroid disorders. The thyroid gland needs both selenium and iodine to produce adequate levels of thyroid hormones. And these nutrients also have 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.
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.
Dietary changes: For those who have existing thyroid conditions, excess consumption of soy may affect thyroid function, but this is probably a concern only in those already taking Synthroid or other thyroid replacement medication. If you consume soy on a regular basis, you may require a slightly increased dosage of replacement therapy. You should also know that if you eat soy foods at the same time that you take thyroid hormone, they may interfere with its absorption. To be safe, do not eat soy within three hours of taking your medication. Moderate soy consumption (one serving daily of whole soy foods) should not be a problem. Adequate iodine from dietary sources is also important – iodized salt, fresh ocean fish and seaweed are good sources.
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.
Although it’s not a very common cause, sometimes newborns are 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 genetic hypothyroidism is very low and only about one out of every 4,000 newborns is born with a thyroid disorder.
The diagnosis of “subclinical” hypothyroidism that I discussed last week depends on having a TSH level higher than 5 m IU/ml and lower than 10 m IU/ml. As I mentioned above, new guidelines suggest anything over 3 is abnormal. While an improvement, practitioners following these guidelines may still miss many people who have normal test results and a malfunctioning thyroid system.
Apart from conventional medical treatment of hypothyroidism and changing your diet and eating habits, there are also a variety of alternative therapies that could help treat the condition. Physical fitness programs can help cope with the disease. Studies into the effects of yoga on hypothyroidism patients have supported claims of its health benefits, as the practice was found to be useful in the management of disease related symptoms.
The purpose of treating hypothyroidism is to maintain normal metabolism by correcting a deficient output of thyroid hormone. Once replacement therapy begins, the thyroid will stop producing hormones all together, and replacement must be continued for life. Most mainstream physicians prescribe the drug Synthroid, also known as levothyroxine, a synthetic analog of thyroxine (T-4) and monitor how much to give based on symptoms and levels of TSH. Physicians will generally check TSH levels after a couple of months of being on the medication and adjust it accordingly. They will often used a more cautious course in patients who have cardiovascular disease. This allows the heart time to adjust to an artificially increased metabolism. Side effects of taking too much thyroid hormone include shakiness, palpitations, insomnia and changes in appetite.
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.
Supplementing with L-tyrosine has been shown to improve sleep deprivation and can help combat fatigue and a poor mood by improving alertness and neurotransmitter function. One reason L-tyrosine is beneficial in healing thyroid symptoms is because it plays a role in the production of melatonin, dopamine and/or norepinephrine, which are our natural “feel good” hormones. (17)
Short of eating a few kelp salads, you probably don't have to worry about getting too much iodine from any other foods. In particular, dairy products are full of this nutrient (and in more manageable amounts), according to a 2012 research in the journal Nutrition Reviews. Part of the reason is because livestock are given iodine supplements and the milking process involves iodine-based cleaners. Plain, low-fat yogurt, or Greek yogurt is a good source—it can make up about 50% of your daily intake of iodine.
The thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck just below the Adam's apple. The thyroid produces two main hormones called T3 and T4 which are transported in the blood to all parts of the body. These hormones control the rate of many activities in your body including how fast calories are burned and how fast or slow a person’s heart rate is. Combined, these activities are often referred to as the metabolism. When thyroid disease occurs and the thyroid gland is compromised it may produce too few hormones and this can result in the metabolism slowing down. This condition is often referred to as an underactive thyroid function or hypothyroidism.
The association between hypothyroidism and energy expenditure was suspected clinically, and the discovery of lower O2 consumption in myxedema provided an early diagnostic tool (19). The development of a device to assess energy expenditure through measurement of the basal metabolic rate (BMR) in humans proved to be useful for not only diagnosis but also titration of therapy (20). The scale was calibrated so that a normal BMR reference range would be around 0%, whereas athyreotic individuals could have a BMR of about −40% (21). Because of lack of specificity (for example, low BMR in malnutrition), BMR was used in conjunction with the overall clinical impression; a low BMR in the setting of high clinical suspicion would secure a diagnosis and justify treatment (21, 22).
The symptoms of hypothyroidism are often subtle. They are not specific (which means they can mimic the symptoms of many other conditions) and are often attributed to aging. People with mild hypothyroidism may have no signs or symptoms. The symptoms generally become more obvious as the condition worsens and the majority of these complaints are related to a metabolic slowing of the body. Common symptoms and signs include:
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.
It’s imperative dietitians have a good understanding of the metabolic changes associated with thyroid disease so they can set realistic goals and expectations for clients. Most people with hypothyroidism tend to experience abnormal weight gain and difficulty losing weight until hormone levels stabilize. Moreover, it’s common for patients with Graves’ disease to experience periods of high and low thyroid hormone levels, so it may take several months to achieve a balance. During this time, it’s essential clients focus on healthful behaviors such as eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, managing stress, and sleeping adequately rather than focus on the numbers on the scale.
Thyroid hormone tells all of the cells in your body how busy they should be. Too much thyroid hormone (hypERthyroidism), and your body goes into overdrive; not enough thyroid hormone (hypOthyroidism), and your body slows down. The most common causes of hypothyroidism worldwide are dietary—protein malnutrition and iodine deficiency. This is because the two main ingredients needed to make thyroid hormone are tyrosine (an amino acid from dietary protein) and iodine (a naturally-occurring salt).
These clinical trials also began to define the adverse-effect profiles associated with these agents; thyrotoxicosis was frequently encountered. Patients treated with l-triiodothyronine3 (100 to 175 mcg/d) normalized BMR faster than did those receiving desiccated thyroid (120 to 210 mg/d) or l-thyroxine (200 to 350 mcg/d) but were more likely to experience angina (32). Desiccated thyroid was also associated with adverse symptoms in other studies; muscle stiffness, psychosis, and angina all occurred (33). In a crossover study of l-triiodothyronine monotherapy (75 to 100 mcg/d), l-thyroxine monotherapy (200 to 300 mcg/d), and desiccated thyroid (1.5 to 3 grains/d), all of these therapies restored BMR and serum PBI; with l-triiodothyronine, however, angina and heart failure occurred. Dose reduction corrected these adverse effects, but authors concluded that l-thyroxine monotherapy or thyroid extract was preferred (34). In a trial of l-thyroxine monotherapy at doses of 200 to 300 mcg/d versus l-thyroxine (80 mcg) plus l-triiodothyronine (20 mcg) daily, patients receiving the combination had such symptoms as palpitations, nervousness, tremor, and perspiration (35). Some early proponents of l-thyroxine monotherapy emerged because of less frequent thyrotoxic effects (24), but it is difficult to determine whether such adverse effects were related to the agent used or its high dosage. Thyrotoxic adverse effects were typically remediable by simple dose reduction (36), so desiccated thyroid remained the preparation of choice (37).
The development of TSH assays led to a dramatic reduction in thyroid hormone replacement dosage and the ability to diagnose with certainty milder forms of hypothyroidism. Discovery of peripheral T4-to-T3 conversion gave a physiologic means to justify l-thyroxine monotherapy. In combination with the concerns over consistency and safety of natural thyroid preparations, synthetic l-thyroxine was perceived as a more reliable therapy. These findings laid the foundation for the clinical practice trend away from natural thyroid preparations and toward l-thyroxine monotherapy at doses to normalize the serum TSH. Later, a subpopulation of patients with residual symptoms of hypothyroidism was recognized. It remains to be determined whether this is due to a trend of attributing nonspecific symptoms to minimal thyroid dysfunction, relatively low serum T3 levels and/or high T4:T3 ratio, or the role of Thr92AlaD2 polymorphism, and whether combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine will be beneficial.
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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