According to a Journal of the American Medical Association article, “when thyroid function is too low, the pituitary increases its output of TSH to stimulate the thyroid to work harder.” (4) Therefore, subclinical hypothyroidism — someone without obvious symptoms yet still with low thyroid function — represents a situation in which thyroid function is only mildly low, with the blood level of thyroxine near the normal range. Meanwhile, however, the blood level of TSH is elevated, and this indicates mild thyroid failure.
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Why does this happen? The immune system mistakenly thinks that the thyroid cells are not a part of the body, so it tries to remove them before they can cause damage and illness. The problem is that this causes widespread inflammation, which can result in many different problems. According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, 90 percent of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s that inflames the thyroid gland over time, but this isn’t the only cause of hypothyroidism.
Because it helps balance hormone levels, selenium can lower the risk for experiencing thyroid disorder during pregnancy (postpartum thyroiditis) and afterward. (15) Other studies have shown that when selenium deficiency is resolved through supplementation, patients experience on average 40 percent reduction in thyroid antibodies compared to a 10 percent increase when given a placebo. (16)
Central or pituitary hypothyroidism: TSH (Thyroid-stimulating hormone) is produced by the pituitary gland, which is located behind the nose at the base of the brain. Any destructive disease of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus, which sits just above the pituitary gland, may cause damage to the cells that secrete TSH, which stimulates the thyroid to produce normal amounts of thyroid hormone. This is a very rare cause of hypothyroidism.
A pituitary injury may result after brain surgery or the blood supply to the brain has decreased. When the pituitary gland is injured, hypothyroidism results in low TSH blood levels because the thyroid gland is no longer stimulated by the pituitary TSH. Usually, hypothyroidism from pituitary gland injury occurs in together with other hormone deficiencies, since the pituitary regulates other processes such as growth, reproduction, and adrenal 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.
Most patients report improvement with a thyroid supplement too, but if you consistently eat a healthy and wholesome diet they are unnecessary. If you still want to try one however (under the supervision of your doctor), see this Thyroid Support Supplement (disclosure: this is an affiliate link). It contains both selenium and iodine for thyroid health, as well as vitamin B12 for improved energy levels. Additionally, it is one of the few available that is 100% vegetarian.
The tendency to put on weight if you have hypothyroidism can cause people to starve themselves or eat an extremely low-calorie diet. This can cause more harm than good and lead to several other health complications. Instead of fad or crash dieting, learn to eat a healthy balanced meal that provides you with all the necessary nutrients, vitamins and minerals required to function optimally. In addition to this add at least an hour of exercise thrice a week and you can boost your metabolism and reduce symptoms such as fatigue as well.
The vast majority of individuals—one in seven are women—with hypothyroidism in the US have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, but this isn’t caused by iodine levels in the diet.2 Other less common causes of hypothyroidism include a deficiency of iodine in the diet, taking certain medications that interfere with thyroid absorption, surgical removal of the thyroid, and a genetic disorder.
Medications that are used to treat an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) may cause hypothyroidism. These drugs include methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil (PTU). The psychiatric medication, lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), is also known to alter thyroid function and cause hypothyroidism. Interestingly, drugs containing a large amount of iodine such as amiodarone (Cordarone), potassium iodide (SSKI, Pima), and Lugol's solution can cause changes in thyroid function, which may result in low blood levels of thyroid hormone.
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.
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.
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.
Nature Throid or WPThyroid: This is a great alternative to Armour as it’s gluten-free (and as we discussed in the diet section, people with hypothyroidism are often gluten sensitive, intolerant or Celiac). I prefer this to Synthroid, too, because it’s not made in a lab and instead is a natural supplement (though it’s made from animal thyroids, the thyroid hormones are biologically similar to that found in humans.). Both Synthroid and Armour contain controversial inactive ingredients, including gluten, sugar, and colorants, whereas Nature Throid and WPThyroid do not contain any artificial colors or flavors, corn, peanut, rice, gluten, soy, yeast, egg, fish or shellfish.
Characteristic symptoms and physical signs, which can be detected by a physician, can signal hypothyroidism. However, the condition may develop so slowly that many patients do not realize that their body has changed, so it is critically important to perform diagnostic laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the cause of hypothyroidism. A primary care physician may make the diagnosis of hypothyroidism, but assistance is often needed from an endocrinologist, a physician who is a specialist in thyroid diseases.
Of course not everyone is a candidate for natural hypothyroid treatment methods. However, many people assume they aren’t a candidate because they have had their condition for a long time, or perhaps they received thyroid surgery or radioactive iodine treatment. While these factors can definitely make it more challenging to restore one’s health back to normal, and in some cases impossible (for example, someone who has had their thyroid gland completely removed), many people who fall under this category can be still benefit from following a natural hypothyroid treatment protocol.
Although I’m a fan of getting what you need from real food whenever possible, herbs, supplements, and vitamins can still have a place in the thyroid diet plan. It’s hard to give tips here as many people over-medicate and only feel worse later. Hopefully these tips will help; they apply to most auto-immune conditions (This advice was given by my naturopath who focuses on hormonal and thyroid health.):
Dr. Josh Axe is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic, and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine. Dr. Axe has created one of the top 10 most visited natural health websites in the world at www.DrAxe.com which has over 15 million monthly visitors. Dr. Axe has been a physician for many professional athletes. In 2009, he began working with the Wellness Advisory Council and Professional Swim Teams. He worked with professional swimmers, including Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay, providing nutritional advice and musculoskeletal work on the athletes to increase their performance. He also traveled to the 2012 Games in London to work with USA athletes. Dr. Axe has authored several books including his new book Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It.
Taking synthetic thyroid hormone can make up the difference and make you feel more like yourself. But eating certain foods—and limiting your consumption of others—can also help your thyroid function at its best, explains Hong Lee, MD, a double board-certified internist and endocrinologist with AMITA Health Adventist Medical Center Hinsdale in Illinois. That could allow you to avoid having to take higher and higher doses of synthetic thyroid hormones, and eventually end up relying on them completely in order for your thyroid to function.
Kelp? No, but don’t take it in supplement form. Thyroid patients should not have more than an average daily recommended intake of 158 to 175 micrograms of kelp per day, Dr. Nasr says. The concentration of kelp in foods is generally not enough to cause a problem. But a kelp capsule can contain as much as 500 micrograms, he says. “Those recommendations to go easy on kelp are for people who don’t understand and take three capsules per day. If you eat kelp once a day, that’s not a problem.”
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, are full of fiber and other nutrients, but they may interfere with the production of thyroid hormone if you have an iodine deficiency. So if you do, it’s a good idea to limit your intake of Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips, and bok choy, because research suggests digesting these vegetables may block the thyroid's ability to utilize iodine, which is essential for normal thyroid function.
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