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Having a thyroid condition is no picnic, but you're not alone with this health issue. According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12 percent of the population may end up dealing with a thyroid condition at some point in their lives. And thyroid issues can be sneaky: Of the nearly 20 million Americans living with the disease, as many as 60 percent don't even realize they have it.
It's not enough for your thyroid levels to be "normal" or fall within the reference range. In many cases, for you to lose weight with hypothyroidism, you need your thyroid levels to be "optimal." That means that your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level would typically fall below 2.0, and your free T4 and free T3 would fall in the upper half of the reference range.
The thyroid gland, situated just below the Adams apple on the low part of the neck, produces the thyroid hormones in the body. The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly and wraps itself around the trachea with two lobes attached to a central isthmus. When you eat foods containing iodine such as salt and seafood, this thyroid gland uses the idodine to produce the thyroid hormones. There are two important types of thyroid hormones produced which would be T4 or Thyrozine and T3 or Triiodothyronine (T3). These account for most of the thyroid hormones present in the bloodstream. T3 is the more active of the hormones and it affects cellular metabolism.
Thyroiditis refers to inflammation of the thyroid gland. Lymphocytic thyroiditis is a condition in which the inflammation is caused by a particular type of white blood cell known as a lymphocyte. Lymphocytic thyroiditis is particularly common after pregnancy, and can affect up to 8% of women after they deliver their baby. In this type of thyroid disorder there usually is a hyperthyroid phase (in which excessive amounts of thyroid hormone leak out of the inflamed gland), which is followed by a hypothyroid phase that can last for up to six months. In the majority women with lymphocytic thyroiditis, the thyroid eventually returns to its normal function, but there is a possibility that the thyroid will remain underactive.
If you have thyroid issues, then raw cruciferous vegetables may not be the best choice. You might want to skip the kale smoothies and salads, and eat your greens cooked instead. The reason is that the cruciferous vegetables contain goitrogens that may disrupt the thyroid if consumed in large quantities. Other cruciferous veggies include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower.
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.
Most physicians diagnose hypothyroidism by simple blood tests that measure the level of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which is made by the pituitary gland in response to thyroid hormone and the body’s needs, and indicates thyroid status. As levels of thyroid hormones fall, the pituitary releases TSH to stimulate the thyroid to produce more hormone. Clinicians may also measure circulating levels of T-3 and T-4, which are the thyroid hormones themselves. Low levels of T-4 and high levels of TSH reveal an underactive thyroid. Other variants of hypothyroidism can exist. Patients can have no symptoms and normal serum thyroid hormone levels, but elevated TSH. Others can have symptoms, but normal TSH and T-4 levels. Patients with either of these variants may benefit from supplementation. In addition, someone with a temporary illness might have a completely normal thyroid but high TSH, a condition called “sick euthyroid” which usually resolves without any intervention.
Chromium picolinate, which is marketed for blood sugar control and weight loss, also impairs the absorption of thyroid medications. If clients decide to take chromium picolinate, they should take it three to four hours apart from thyroid medications.23 Flavonoids in fruits, vegetables, and tea have been shown to have potential cardiovascular benefits. However, high-dose flavonoid supplements may suppress thyroid function.24 The Natural Standards Database provides an extensive list of supplements that have a potential impact on thyroid function, so taking precautions and coordinating patient care with a knowledgeable practitioner is prudent.
You might be wondering whether natural hypothyroid treatment methods can restore your health back to normal. If you didn’t become hypothyroid due to thyroid surgery or from receiving radioactive iodine, then there is a good chance you can benefit from a natural hypothyroid treatment protocol. On the other hand, even if you have had a partial or complete thyroidectomy, or received RAI, there still is a chance that you can benefit from following such a protocol. After all, even if you can’t have your thyroid health completely restored back to normal, it still is important to address the cause of your condition. However, those people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis who haven’t had these procedures have an excellent chance of restoring their health back to normal.
When a patient is suspected to have a thyroid disorder a comprehensive thyroid profile is ordered, in the form of a blood test. The test results will give precise measurements of Free T3 and T4 and their ratios to each other. If the results indicate that for example, the patient’s T3 level is too low then the patient will be checked for deficiencies in essential nutrients which are required for hormone production. Many times this will correct the thyroid without the need for prescription hormones.
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**Note: It’s important to realize that thyroid medication is not one size fits all, and there is no ONE right solution for everybody. Dosage is incredibly important, your specific thyroid labs will impact what type of medication is needed and we all have different needs, budgets, goals, and symptoms. So work with a functional medicine practitioner to find the thyroid medication that makes the most sense for YOU!
If that’s not enough to calm your concerns, some experts suggest that eating cruciferous vegetables may actually be beneficial if you have autoimmune hypothyroidism since the thiocyanates may slow the absorption of iodine in people getting too much, which is possible if you are eating a typical Western diet of fast foods, French fries, and other processed products, that contain iodized salt, and you are heavy-handed with the salt shaker.
Blood sugar imbalances are major contributers to the development of hypothyroidism. When our blood sugar gets too high (hyperglycemia) the sugar molecules bind to proteins in the body and create Advanced Glycolytic Enzymes (AGEs) (56). The AGEs destroy cell membrane function and damage insulin receptor activity creating a vicious cycle of elevated blood sugar and inflammatory stress.
Coconut oil — This provides medium-chain fatty acids in the form of caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid, which 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 mood while stabilizing blood sugar levels.
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.
Clara Schneider, MS, RD, RN, CDE, LDN, of Outer Banks Nutrition and author of numerous books, including The Everything Thyroid Diet Book, says, “The No. 1 priority is to get the thyroid disease under control. Clients need to have labs and medications addressed first. Weight changes are just not going to happen before all of that is under control.” She notes that Hashimoto’s typically occurs around menopause, which compounds the weight gain issue that many women experience during that time.
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.
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
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.
Levothyroxine tablets come in 12 different strengths, and it is essential to take them in a consistent manner every day. A dose of thyroid hormone that is too low may fail to prevent enlargement of the thyroid gland, allow symptoms of hypothyroidism to persist, and be associated with increased serum cholesterol levels, which may increase the risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease. A dose that is too high can cause symptoms of hyperthyroidism, create excessive strain on the heart, and lead to an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
l-Thyroxine was the first synthetic molecule used to treat hypothyroidism (23) and was shown to be efficacious as monotherapy for myxedema (24). Around that time, serum protein-bound iodine (PBI) emerged as a diagnostic test and therapeutic marker; serum PBI quantitation was the only valid way to biochemically assess thyroid hormone status (25). This tool was limited in terms of treatment monitoring because the effect on serum PBI varied by agent (26). For example, l-triiodothyronine corrected BMR without much increase in serum PBI, l-thyroxine increased serum PBI sometimes to above normal, and combination l-thyroxine and l-triiodothyronine and desiccated thyroid had the advantage of normalizing serum PBI (27). In addition to BMR and serum PBI, other surrogates for treatment response included cholesterol levels, symptoms, and deep tendon reflexes, but their lack of sensitivity was always recognized (28).
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.
Once again, if you look to the anatomy, you find the thyroid gland located in the throat, the center of our communication with the world. Andrea has found in her practice that people with hypothyroid tend to “swallow down” what they really want to say. It’s been very healing for them to learn to speak their truth. On the flip side, she has found that people with hyperthyroid are talking too much, and can benefit by listening more.
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.
An article published in May 2017 in the journal Endocrine Connections noted that hypothyroidism and celiac disease are often present together, and while no research has demonstrated that a gluten-free diet can treat thyroid conditions, you may still want to talk to a doctor about whether it would be worth eliminating gluten, or getting tested for celiac disease.
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