It’s more of a problem for people with iodine deficiency or those who eat huge amounts of goitrogens. “Goitrogens are not as active when they’re cooked, so eat them cooked,” says Fiorella DiCarlo RDN, CDN, with both clinical and research experience in medical nutrition therapy in New York City. “The last thing I want to do as a dietitian is to tell people to not eat vegetables!,” she adds. It sounds weird, but if you have a precondition, eating these vegetables raw and in large quantities could affect your thyroid.
Another problem of conversion involves too much of the T4 converting into another thyroid hormone called Reverse T3. Reverse T3 is not metabolizing active and can contribute to symptoms of underactive thyroid. Again, proper testing of the thyroid will uncover this issue. Correct thyroid treatment requires the correct evaluation and that is what is performed at LifeWorks Wellness Center.
Your mood is especially susceptible to changes in hormone levels, so some people with hypothyroidism deal with depression, anxiety, trouble getting good sleep and low immunity. The thyroid gland helps regulate chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, which control your emotions and nerve signaling. This is the reason an out-of-balance thyroid can mean drastic emotional changes at times.
Although it’s not very common, newborns are sometimes 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 congenital hypothyroidism is very low and only about 1 out of every 4,000 newborns is born with a thyroid disorder. (8b)
To offer some perspective: up to 95% of the thyroid hypothyroidism in the US is caused not by an iodine deficiency, but occurs as the result of an autoimmune disease so avoiding cruciferous vegetables will do little to fix your underactive thyroid, and may deprive you of valuable healthy benefits such as dietary fiber, and anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting antioxidants.5
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.
Finding a competent natural healthcare professional who can restore your health back to normal is not always an easy task. There simply are not a lot of natural healthcare professionals who focus on endocrine conditions, such as hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I usually advise people to contact some of the naturopathic doctors and chiropractors in their area, along with medical doctors who practice functional medicine, as if they contact enough of them there is a good chance they will find one who focuses on endocrine conditions. If they’re unable to find such a doctor this way then many people can be helped by consulting with someone remotely over the phone or through Skype, although it’s a good idea to first get examined by an endocrinologist or a different type of medical doctor before taking this approach. I personally conduct remote consultations and have helped a lot of people this way, and there are other healthcare professionals out there who also work with their patients remotely, but I realize that some people prefer to speak with someone face-to-face.
The thyroid uses iodine to convert T4 into freeT3. If you have hypothyroidism, you may not have an iodine deficiency per se, but your thyroid is almost certainly struggling in some way to get ahold of the iodine available to it and do what it needs to do with it. If the root cause is left unaddressed, simply increasing iodine is not always useful and at worst can be dangerous depending on how high you’re increasing your supplementation thinking if a little is good, then more will “solve” your problem.
An unhealthy gut environment can contribute to nutrient deficiencies and raise autoimmune activity in the body. Food sensitivities or allergies, including those to gluten and dairy, can trigger gut inflammation. Other causes of a damaged gut are high stress levels, toxin overload from diet and the environment and bacterial imbalances. When leaky gut occurs, small particles that are normally trapped inside the gut start to leak out into the bloodstream through tiny openings in the gut lining, which creates an autoimmune cascade and a series of negative symptoms.
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!
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.
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If hypothyroidism is left untreated, symptoms of myxedema can appear. These include very dry skin, and swelling around the lips and nose called non-pitting (firm) edema. More severe symptoms can be life-threatening and include low blood pressure, decreased body temperature, shallow respirations, unresponsiveness and even coma. Fortunately, advanced hypothyroidism such as this is quite rare.
Probiotics can help heal the gut and aid in nutrient absorption while reducing inflammation. Other benefits of a high-quality probiotic include helping to maintain a stronger immune system; increasing energy from production of vitamin B12; reducing bacterial or viral growth in the gut such as candida; improving skin health and helping with appetite control and weight loss.
The best diet for your thyroid requires more than just iodine, selenium, and vitamin D, says Ilic. And—perhaps unsurprisingly—foods that are high in antioxidants are also good for your thyroid. One 2008 study by researchers from Turkey suggests that people with hypothyroidism have higher levels of harmful free radicals than those without the condition.
It is extremely important that women planning to become pregnant are kept well adjusted, since hypothyroidism can affect the development of the baby. During pregnancy, thyroid hormone replacement requirements often change, so more frequent monitoring is necessary. Various medications and supplements (particularly iron) may affect the absorption of thyroid hormone; therefore, the levels may need more frequent monitoring during illness or change in medication and supplements.
The disease process for Hashimoto’s is a spectrum, and not all patients require treatment. Some patients have autoimmune antibodies but retain enough thyroid function without the need for intervention for years. Generally, once the body can no longer produce an adequate amount of thyroid hormone for necessary physiological functions, thyroid replacement medication is necessary to correct the hormonal imbalances associated with hypothyroidism.
The development of TSH radioimmunoassay (43) provided the first sensitive and specific marker of systemic thyroid hormone status (Figure). Clinicians could now titrate therapy to achieve a serum TSH within the normal range as a specific marker of replacement adequacy (44). For patients who were once treated with doses that normalized their symptoms, BMR, or serum PBI, the use of serum TSH revealed such doses to be typically supratherapeutic (45, 46). Maintenance doses of l-thyroxine ranged from 200 to 500 mcg/d before the institution of the TSH assay and then became typically closer to 100 to 150 mcg/d (Appendix Table). Implementation of the TSH radioimmunoassay also provided a means to diagnose much milder, or even subclinical, cases of hypothyroidism that may have been undiagnosed with earlier, less sensitive, diagnostic methods (47).
Avoiding daily installments of ice cream scoops (sigh), fudgy brownies and cookies, and bowls of jelly beans may be a (sad) reality check for your health, in general. But limiting sugar can also help you reduce inflammation—a root cause of chronic illness—in the body, says Dr. Susan Blum, MD, an integrative medicine physician and founder of the Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, New York. Many studies show an inflammatory microenvironment in your body weakens your immune response toward the spread of thyroid cancer spread in advanced stages, according to the Endocrine-Related Cancer journal.
Hyperthyroidism, particularly Graves’ disease, is known to cause bone loss, which is compounded by the vitamin D deficiency commonly found in people with hyperthyroidism. This bone mass can be regained with treatment for hyperthyroidism, and experts suggest that adequate bone-building nutrients, such as vitamin D, are particularly important during and after treatment.13
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.
According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, 90% of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune hypothyroid condition, whereby the immune system attacks thyroid tissue. Therefore, to cure thyroid disease, or any autoimmune condition, you have to get to the source of the imbalance; focusing on suppression of symptoms with medication is simply barking up the wrong tree.
Also available on the market are combination medications that contain both synthetic T4 and T3 hormones, but such medications aren’t usually recommended. For one thing, most patients see their condition improve with synthetic T4 alone because of the ability of the thyroid to convert these hormones to T3 when needed. Also, synthetic T3-T4 combination drugs can cause anxiety — if you have a preexisting mental health disability, such side effects may be even greater. (3)
The normal values for the serum T4:T3 ratio are seldom discussed in the literature because measurement of serum T3 levels is not a recommended outcome in hypothyroidism (1). In a large study of approximately 3800 healthy individuals (4), the serum free T4:free T3 ratio was around 3, as opposed to a ratio of 4 in more than 1800 patients who had undergone thyroidectomy and were receiving l-thyroxine monotherapy. The corresponding serum free T4:free T3 ratio in patients continuing to receive desiccated thyroid is not well-defined, but the serum total T4:T3 ratio is known to be low (28, 50). In one study, the serum total T4:total T3 was about 40 in patients receiving desiccated thyroid and about 100 in those taking l-thyroxine monotherapy (60). Of course, this is affected by the timing of blood collection in relation to the timing of l-triiodothyronine administration, which is not commonly reported. Other key factors are the well-known poor reproducibility of the serum total T3 assay (61) and the interferences with direct measurement of free T3 (5).
First things first, you must consider food to be your medicine and get off all processed junk food, sugar (which sends you on a hormonal rollercoaster ride) and gluten. The Daily Living Eating Plan is a great place to start. In addition, l-glutamine is a key amino acid that reduces cravings for high-glycemic carbohydrates and helps kick the sugar habit. If you have already done that and are looking to go deeper, here are some tips to heal the thyroid:
Goitrogen Foods — People with hypothyroidism may want to stay away from eating large amounts of raw Brassica vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, soy and Brussels sprouts. These vegetables might impact thyroid function because they contain goitrogens, molecules which impair thyroid perioxidase. (11) When consuming these cruciferous vegetables, it’s best to steam them for 30 minutes before consuming and keep portions moderate in size. These pose more of a risk for people with iodine deficiencies.
Because it helps balance hormone levels, selenium can lower the risk for experiencing thyroid disorder during pregnancy (postpartum thyroiditis) and afterwards. 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 in the placebo group. Selenomethionine is the preferred form of selenium supplementation as it is the form found naturally in food and about 90% of it is absorbed.
Emphasizing lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, heart-healthy fats and omega-3s, high-fiber foods, and appropriate portions can help manage or prevent illnesses associated with thyroid disease. As Schneider notes, “It’s eating for prevention of all these diseases that accompany thyroid disease: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.” As an added bonus, fiber can relieve constipation that people with hypothyroidism often experience.
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.
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