The thyroid produces hormones that regulate mood, metabolism, energy levels, body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Hypothyroidism occurs when this gland isn't producing enough hormones. Along with taking your thyroid medication, you can bolster thyroid function with a well-balanced diet that includes lots of produce and protein, among other healthy foods, says Gregory B. Dodell, MD, an endocrinologist in New York City. The next time you're at the grocery store, look for these seven nutrient-rich foods.
Thyroid hormone replacement has been used for more than a century to treat hypothyroidism. Natural thyroid preparations (thyroid extract, desiccated thyroid, or thyroglobulin), which contain both thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), were the first pharmacologic treatments available and dominated the market for the better part of the 20th century. Dosages were adjusted to resolve symptoms and to normalize the basal metabolic rate and/or serum protein-bound iodine level, but thyrotoxic adverse effects were not uncommon. Two major developments in the 1970s led to a transition in clinical practice: 1) The development of the serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) radioimmunoassay led to the discovery that many patients were overtreated, resulting in a dramatic reduction in thyroid hormone replacement dosage, and 2) the identification of peripheral deiodinase-mediated T4-to-T3 conversion provided a physiologic means to justify l-thyroxine monotherapy, obviating concerns about inconsistencies with desiccated thyroid. Thereafter, l-thyroxine mono-therapy at doses to normalize the serum TSH became the standard of care. Since then, a subgroup of thyroid hormone–treated patients with residual symptoms of hypothyroidism despite normalization of the serum TSH has been identified. This has brought into question the inability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to universally normalize serum T3 levels. New research suggests mechanisms for the inadequacies of l-thyroxine monotherapy and highlights the possible role for personalized medicine based on deiodinase polymorphisms. Understanding the historical events that affected clinical practice trends provides invaluable insight into formulation of an approach to help all patients achieve clinical and biochemical euthyroidism.
An amino acid used in the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Thyroxin (T4) is naturally produced from the iodination of tyrosine, a nonessential amino acid obtained both from protein-containing dietary sources and through the body making some itself. 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. L-tyrosine is available by the brand Pure Encapsulations.
Other noticeable effects of hypothyroidism include moodiness and a sluggish metabolism. Essentially when your thyroid is underactive your metabolism will slow down, which might mean you always feel tired or struggle to keep off weight. Your mood is especially susceptible to changes in hormone levels, so some people with hypothyroidism wind up dealing with depression, anxiety, trouble getting good sleep, and low immunity. The thyroid gland helps regulate chemical messengers called neurotransmitters that control your emotions and nerve signaling, which is the reason an out-of-balance thyroid can mean drastic emotional changes at times.
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.
In areas of the world where there is an iodine deficiency in the diet, severe hypothyroidism occurs in about 5% to 15% of the population. Examples of these areas include Zaire, Ecuador, India, and Chile. Severe iodine deficiency occurs in remote mountain areas such as the Andes and the Himalayas. Since the addition of iodine to table salt and to bread, iodine deficiency is rare in the United States.
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:
Some calcium rich foods and supplements interfere with levothyroxine absorption. A gap of 4 hours between the two would be adequate to ensure there is no significant impact on blood thyroxine levels. If you are trying to lose weight and using lower fat milk (i.e. semi-skimmed or skimmed) note that these remain high in calcium despite being lower in fat.
To document that this was a result of trends toward lower doses, an unblinded study tracked well-being according to various doses and found that the highest well-being was achieved at supraoptimal doses, resulting in a suppressed TSH (65). However, a blinded trial did not reproduce this finding (66). In a call to the public, a 1997 British Thyroid Foundation newsletter asked readers to recount personal history of residual hypothyroid symptoms. More than 200 patients responded, 54 of whom specifically mentioned that they did not feel well despite normal serum markers of thyroid function (67, 68). Because of this surge in symptomatic patients, some clinicians advocated titrating dose by symptoms rather than serum TSH, reminiscent of the period before the 1970s (69).
Goitrogens are naturally occurring substances in certain foods that interfere with the production of thyroid hormones (the hormones that people with hypothyroidism lack). They include some of the most commonly consumed foods of the health-conscious community: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, radishes, soybeans, peanuts, pine nuts, peaches and millet. The good news is that many health professionals believe that cooking may inactivate goitrogens.
If you do choose to eat gluten, be sure to choose whole-grains varieties of bread, pasta, and rice, which are high in fiber and other nutrients and can help improve bowel irregularity, a common symptom of hypothyroidism. Also be sure to take your hypothyroidism medication several hours before or after eating high-fiber foods, to prevent them from interfering with the absorption of your synthetic thyroid hormone.
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