Your thyroid is your body's silent workhorse—most of the time, it functions so smoothly that we forget it's there. But this little, butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of your neck helps regulate your metabolism, temperature, heartbeat, and more, and if it starts to go haywire, you'll notice. An underactive thyroid—when the gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone (TH)—can bring on weight gain, sluggishness, depression, and increased sensitivity to cold. An overactive thyroid, on the other hand, happens when your body produces too much TH, and can cause sudden weight loss, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nervousness, and irritability.
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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:
To find out if you have hypothyroidism, your doctor will run blood tests to check for levels of the hormones known as T4 (thyroxine) and TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). Hypothyroidism is diagnosed in your thyroid test when TSH is high. Sometimes, TSH can be high, but the thyroid is still producing enough hormones. This condition is referred to as subclinical (or mild) hypothyroidism.
In some areas of the world, iodized salt is an essential way to prevent iodine deficiency, cretinism, and mental retardation due to iodine deficiency in pregnant women. In the United States, however, many people have limited their salt intake or stopped using iodized salt, and you need enough iodine for the thyroid to function properly. An excess of iodine, however, is also linked to increased risk of thyroid disease, so staying in range and avoiding deficiency or excess is essential.
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.
Clinicians noted several differences in the ability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to normalize markers of hypothyroidism at doses that normalized serum TSH (45). For instance, in many l-thyroxine-treated patients with a normal serum TSH, the BMR remained at about 10% less than that of normal controls even after 3 months of therapy (53). At the same time, doses of l-thyroxine that normalize the BMR can suppress serum TSH and cause iatrogenic thyrotoxicosis (28, 45, 46). The clinical significance of this was not fully understood because many patients appeared clinically euthyroid with a BMR between −20% and −10% (36, 37).
The foods listed above do not contain any thiocyanate when they are in their living, intact state, because thiocyanates do not form until the plant is cut, crushed, or chewed. For example, fresh broccoli contains a harmless substance called glucosinolate, which turns into a thiocyanate called sulforaphane when the vegetable is damaged (see my broccoli blogpost for more information).
*Cassava bears special mention here. You may have heard of it because it is the starchy root vegetable from which tapioca is made, but cassava is also a popular staple food in many Third World countries, where it is eaten boiled, mashed, or ground into flour. Fresh cassava root contains a harmless substance called linamarin, which can turn into hydrocyanic acid (aka cyanide!) when the plant is damaged or eaten. Flaxseeds also contain linamarin. Cyanide is very toxic, so the human body converts it into thiocyanate (which, although it does interfere with thyroid function, is less toxic than cyanide and easier for the body to eliminate).
If your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) and adrenal hormones (cortisol, DHEA) are out of balance, this can make weight loss more difficult. Perimenopause and menopause, as well as estrogen dominance, can also cause a shift of weight to the belly, and make weight loss more difficult. Lack of testosterone in men and women can also make it harder to build fat-burning muscle. And adrenal imbalances can make you tired, less responsive to thyroid treatment, and less able to lose weight.
Zinc is critical to thyroid health and is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. In fact, deficiencies of this mineral can lead to hypothyroidism. (Additionally, thyroid hormones are essential for zinc absorption, so hypothyroidism can lead to zinc deficiency.) Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc; other good sources include oysters, crab, lobster, legumes, nuts, and sunflower seeds.
Do you see “gluten-free”, “dairy-free” etc. popping up at the health stores today? This is because many people get off the “big five” (gluten, dairy, corn, eggs and soy) and experience significant changes. To find the culprits, I always start off with an Elimination Diet (I teach how to do the Elimination Diet at this free workshop) and this produces clear, unbiased results. You can also get a food intolerance test (not allergy; it’s different) done but they are far from accurate. Gluten is an infamous food for contributing to thyroid conditions, and eliminating it is key. However, often times, you would need to cut out more than just gluten if you wish to shape your diet for thyroid fitness.
Compounded T3/T4: This is what I personally take, as I have low levels of T3 so taking a medication that only includes T4 would be totally useless to me. In fact, without getting too technical, T4 is not active in the body, it has to be processed and turned into T3. That’s why so many patients don’t find any relief from their symptoms when they’re put on Synthroid. And that’s why my naturopathic doctor put me on a compounded natural thyroid hormone that includes T3. Here’s why I love it: my dose is specifically tailored to my EXACT thyroid hormone needs and can be adjusted as time goes on. Compounded T3/T4 also is made without fillers such as lactose or gluten, or other harmful additives. Compounding pharmacists can also make sustained release versions so that the hormone is released continuously throughout the day, which is more beneficial. This is the most natural option for thyroid medication as it only contains porcine-derived thyroid hormones, which are the most similar to your body’s natural thyroid process.The downside: you have to go to a special pharmacy and it can be pretty expensive. I pay about $90 for a 90-day supply. But I’ve truthfully never felt better. Though I was doing all of the right diet and lifestyle changes to nourish my thyroid, my body still was not producing enough thyroid hormone and so I had lingering symptoms like anxiety, acne and constipation that I just couldn’t shake. Within a few weeks of taking my compounded thyroid hormone supplement, all of my symptoms disappeared and I’ve been totally symptom-free ever since!
Like many people living with thyroid problems, you may wonder what the best thyroid diet to follow is. The truth is that the ideal diet for those who are living with a thyroid condition depends on personal needs and goals. If your goal is weight loss, you will want to optimize your blood sugar and leptin levels and eliminate toxins and allergens, among other things. If your goal is to support your thyroid health but not necessarily lose weight, there are some foods (such as goiter-producing vegetables and soy) that you may wish to minimize or avoid.
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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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