The thyroid gland uses iodine (mostly from foods in the diet like seafood, bread, and salt) to produce thyroid hormones. The two most important thyroid hormones are thyroxine (tetraiodothyronine or T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3), which account for 99% and 1% of thyroid hormones present in the blood respectively. However, the hormone with the most biological activity is T3. Once released from the thyroid gland into the blood, a large amount of T4 is converted as needed into T3 - the active hormone that affects the metabolism of cells.
*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).
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.
Cases of myxedema were reported in the mid–19th century but were not initially connected with a deficiency from the thyroid gland until surgeons identified incident myxedema after thyroidectomy (11). Initial treatment strategies were largely insufficient and primarily symptom directed, including hot baths and institutionalization (12). The significant morbidity and mortality in the absence of efficacious treatment were clear, and thus the need to “replace” the thyroid through surgical transplantation or oral or intravenous routes was established. Thyroid transplant had some early successes, but for many patients symptoms recurred and the procedure even had to be repeated (13). Because of the rapidity and transiency of improvement (12), it was hypothesized that symptoms improved by absorption of the “juice” of the donor gland (14).
Gluten — Many people with thyroid issues are also sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that results in an allergy to gluten. Gluten is found in all wheat, rye and barley products. Carefully check ingredient labels to avoid hidden gluten that is lurking in many packaged foods. Undiagnosed sensitivities to gluten can further raise inflammation, create nutrient deficiencies and worsen hormonal problems.
An early symptom of hypothyroidism is weight gain. Low-calorie, high-density foods such as fresh produce are the cornerstone of every successful weight loss program. Include either fresh fruits or veggies at each meal, if possible. Specific foods such as blueberries, cherries, sweet potatoes, and green peppers are also rich in antioxidants, nutrients that are known to lower risk for heart disease.
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.
Choose foods that offer nutritional support for your thyroid. The production of thyroid hormones requires iodine and omega-3 fatty acids; converting the inactive T4 to the active T3 requires selenium; and both the binding of T3 to the receptor on the nucleus and switching it on require vitamins A and D, as well as zinc. You will find these nutrients in a whole-food, clean, organic diet. To get therapeutic levels of these nutrients, please use the supplement protocol in strategy 4.
Seaweed has a high concentration of iodine, an essential nutrient for thyroid function. "Iodine is the precursor for the production of thyroid hormone," Dr. Dodell explains. Seaweed, packaged as nori, wakame, and dulse, can be used in sushi, soups, and salads. Another plus: Seaweed offers nutritional benefits of fiber, calcium, and vitamins A, B, C, E, and K.
The goal of natural remedies or alternative medicine is to fix the root cause of the thyroid problem. Thyroid problems sometimes start as the result of poor diet, stress, or missing nutrients in your body. Changing your diet and taking an herbal supplement are two ways you can help your thyroid condition. These options may have fewer side effects than taking thyroid medicine. Also, using an herbal supplement for treatment of a low or underactive thyroid may be helpful for people who aren’t responding well to medicines.
Since most cases of hypothyroidism are permanent and often progressive, it is usually necessary to treat this condition throughout one’s lifetime. Periodic monitoring of TSH levels and clinical status are necessary to ensure that the proper dose is being given, since medication doses may have to be adjusted from time to time. Optimal adjustment of thyroid hormone dosage is critical, since the body is very sensitive to even small changes in thyroid hormone levels.
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.
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.
For instance, soy foods and the broccoli family (broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens) have all been said to cause thyroid dysfunction, but they also have many other health benefits. Research on these foods to date has been less than conclusive. In one study, rats fed high concentrations of soy had problems with their thyroid.
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In the past, doctors weren't able to detect hypothyroidism until symptoms were fairly advanced. But by using the sensitive TSH test, doctors are able to diagnose thyroid disorders much earlier — often before you experience symptoms. Because the TSH test is the best screening test, your doctor will likely check TSH first and follow with a thyroid hormone test if needed. TSH tests also play an important role in managing hypothyroidism. They help your doctor determine the right dosage of medication, both initially and over time.
Refined Flour Products – Any food made with refined carbohydrates, like enriched wheat flour, for example, negatively impacts hormone levels and can contribute to weight gain. Refined flour products include bread, cereals, pastas and all baked goods. If possible, remove most grains from your diet all together, or at least try to greatly limit the amount of products you eat that are made with any flour by choosing 100 percent whole, ancient grains instead (like quinoa, buckwheat, etc.)
With the availability of multiple forms of thyroid hormone replacement, early clinical trials were designed to assess efficacy and dose equivalency among natural thyroid (typically desiccated), synthetic l-thyroxine, and/or l-triiodothyronine. These were not designed as superiority trials, their therapeutic goals were the normalization of serum PBI or BMR, and doses were dramatically higher than used today. For example, desiccated thyroid and intravenous l-thyroxine monotherapy normalized BMR, pulse, and body weight in myxedema (29), l-triiodothyronine monotherapy was likewise effective (30), and the potency of l-triiodothyronine exceeded that of l-thyroxine (31).
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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