The thyroid is considered a “master gland.” In addition to producing crucial hormones, it helps control the process of turning nutrients from food into usable energy on which the body runs. Because the thyroid plays such a major part in your metabolism, dysfunction can affect almost every part of the body, including your energy levels and ability to burn calories.
Muscle cramps are involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscles that do not relax. Extremely common, any muscles that have voluntary control, including some organs, are subject to cramp. Since there is such variety in the types of muscle cramps that can occur, many causes and preventative medications are known. Stretching is the most common way to stop or prevent most muscle cramps.
Zinc is another key nutrient for your thyroid—your body needs it to churn out TH. Take in too little zinc, and it can lead to hypothyroidism. But get this: If you develop hypothyroidism, you can also become deficient in zinc, since your thyroid hormones help absorb the mineral, explains Ilic. And when that happens, you may also experience side effects like severe alopecia, an autoimmune condition that attacks hair follicles and makes it fall out in clumps, according to one 2013 report.
Losing weight can help a great deal in warding off hypothyroidism. It is a fact that obese people are more prone to life-threatening diseases like hypothyroidism. Eating a well-balanced and high-iodine diet along with proper exercise can maintain a healthy and hypothyroidism-free life. Dieting and exercising will not only help your thyroid to function well; it will also give your entire body a healthy make over.
Brazil nuts are packed with another nutrient that helps regulate thyroid hormones: selenium. In one 2003 study by researchers in France, women who consumed higher amounts of selenium were less likely to develop goiters and thyroid tissue damage than those who didn't. Plus, it may also help stave off long-term thyroid damage in people with thyroid-related problems like Hashimoto's and Graves' disease, according to a 2013 review in the journal Clinical Endocrinology.
“Some evidence suggests that soy foods, by inhibiting absorption, may increase the dose of thyroid hormone required by hypothyroid patients. However, hypothyroid adults need not avoid soy foods. In addition, there remains a theoretical concern based on in vitro and animal data that in individuals with compromised thyroid function and/or whose iodine intake is marginal, soy foods may increase risk of developing clinical hypothyroidism. Therefore, it is important for soy food consumers to make sure their intake of iodine is adequate.” [Messina]
In the 1995 American Thyroid Association (ATA) guidelines, biological and synthetic thyroid hormone preparations containing T4 plus T3 were not recommended out of concern for fluctuating and often elevated serum T3 concentrations (71). In conjunction with the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists in 2012, the ATA continued to recommend l-thyroxine monotherapy and noted that evidence does not support using synthetic combination therapies; in addition, they stated that “desiccated thyroid hormone should not be used for the treatment of hypothyroidism” (72). In 2014, the ATA recommendations evolved with the recognition that 1) serum T3 levels might not be normalized in all l-thyroxine–treated hypothyroid patients and 2) some patients remain symptomatic while receiving l-thyroxine monotherapy. Titration of l-thyroxine dose to achieve normal TSH concentrations remains a first-line approach, but trials with combination therapy can be considered. In addition, the guidelines recognize that although superiority data are lacking, some patients do experience a clinical response with desiccated thyroid preparations or combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine (1). The European Thyroid Association has similar recommendations (2).
The most common treatment I use is Armour thyroid, (9) a prescription drug made from desiccated (dried) porcine thyroid. It contains the full spectrum of thyroid hormones, including T4, T3, and T2 (10). That last one – T2 – is a little-known product of thyroid metabolism that actually may be very important. The right dose ranges from 15 to 180 milligrams, depending on the person.
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.
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.
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.
In fact, more and more people with hypothyroidism are turning to holistic care, as many people are simply sick and tired of covering up their symptoms by taking thyroid hormone medication. While there are some great endocrinologists and medical doctors out there who are trying to help their patients the best that they can, just about all of these healthcare professionals are trained to treat conditions through the use of drugs and surgery. And while this sometimes is necessary, many times there are other options. Although symptom management is without question important, just think about how great it would feel if you were able to fully restore your thyroid health back to normal through a natural hypothyroid treatment protocol, and not have to rely on taking synthetic or natural thyroid hormone for the rest of your life.
**Note: It’s important to realize that thyroid medication is not one size fits all, and there is no ONE right solution for everybody. Dosage is incredibly important, your specific thyroid labs will impact what type of medication is needed and we all have different needs, budgets, goals, and symptoms. So work with a functional medicine practitioner to find the thyroid medication that makes the most sense for YOU!
Hypothyroidism is generally treated with a single daily dose of levothyroxine, given as a tablet. An experienced physician can prescribe the correct form and dosage to return the thyroid balance to normal. Older patients who may have underlying heart disease are usually started at a low dose and gradually increased while younger healthy patients can be started on full replacement doses at once. Thyroid hormone acts very slowly in some parts of the body, so it may take several months after treatment for some features to improve.
“More than 70 countries, including the United States and Canada, have salt iodization programs. As a result, approximately 70% of households worldwide use iodized salt, ranging from almost 90% of households in North and South America to less than 50% in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean regions. In the United States, salt manufacturers have been adding iodine to table salt since the 1920s, although it is still a voluntary program.” [http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/#h3]
Whether you take these minerals in a multivitamin or alone, calcium and iron supplements may counteract the medication you take to treat your underactive thyroid. These supplements may affect your ability to absorb levothyroxine, the synthetic thyroid hormone found in medications such as Synthroid and Levothroid, according to the Mayo Clinic. “There’s a very strict way to take thyroid medication,” Blum says. You take it the same way every day, at least one hour before food and never with calcium, iron or other minerals. Blum recommends taking your thyroid medication as soon as you wake up and consuming the mineral supplements with food at dinnertime or before bed.
Less common causes of hypothyroidism include congenital (birth) defects (one of the reasons for newborn screening is to check for failure of the pituitary gland to produce enough thyroid stimulating hormone, usually due to a benign pituitary tumor), and pregnancy. Some women can develop hypothyroidism during or immediately following pregnancy, often as a result of developing antibodies against their own thyroid tissue. This is dangerous for both the developing fetus and mother, and can lead to miscarriage, developmental abnormalities, premature delivery and an increased risk of preeclampsia – a potentially dangerous complication in the later stages of pregnancy.
When a patient is suspected to have a thyroid disorder a comprehensive thyroid profile is ordered, in the form of a blood test. The test results will give precise measurements of Free T3 and T4 and their ratios to each other. If the results indicate that for example, the patient’s T3 level is too low then the patient will be checked for deficiencies in essential nutrients which are required for hormone production. Many times this will correct the thyroid without the need for prescription hormones.
The first step in natural treatment of hypothyroidism is to eliminate the causes of thyroid dysfunction, such as inflammation, overuse of medications, nutrient deficiencies and changes in hormones due to stress. The hypothyroidism diet eliminates foods that can cause inflammation and immune reactions and instead focuses on foods that help heal the GI tract, balance hormones and reduce inflammation.
An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, occurs when the thyroid gland produces less than the normal amount of thyroid hormone. The result is the “slowing down” of many bodily functions. Although hypothyroidism may be temporary, it usually is a permanent condition. Of the nearly 30 million people estimated to be suffering from thyroid dysfunction, most have hypothyroidism.
If you're thinking about upping your intake of salty, processed foods just to fit more iodine into your diet, think again. More than 75% of our dietary sodium intake comes from restaurant, pre-packaged, and processed fare. (In fact, you'd probably be surprised to learn just how many foods are actually just hidden salt traps.) But "manufacturers don't have to use iodized salt in their products," says Ilic. And according to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, they "almost never" do. The upshot: You may be taking in too much sodium (which can set you up for high blood pressure, then heart disease), minus the iodine.
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.
l-Thyroxine was the first synthetic molecule used to treat hypothyroidism (23) and was shown to be efficacious as monotherapy for myxedema (24). Around that time, serum protein-bound iodine (PBI) emerged as a diagnostic test and therapeutic marker; serum PBI quantitation was the only valid way to biochemically assess thyroid hormone status (25). This tool was limited in terms of treatment monitoring because the effect on serum PBI varied by agent (26). For example, l-triiodothyronine corrected BMR without much increase in serum PBI, l-thyroxine increased serum PBI sometimes to above normal, and combination l-thyroxine and l-triiodothyronine and desiccated thyroid had the advantage of normalizing serum PBI (27). In addition to BMR and serum PBI, other surrogates for treatment response included cholesterol levels, symptoms, and deep tendon reflexes, but their lack of sensitivity was always recognized (28).
Hypothyroidism can be easily treated with thyroid hormone replacement. The preferred treatment for most people with an underactive thyroid is levothyroxine sodium (Levoxyl, Synthroid). This is a more stable form of thyroid hormone and requires once a day dosing.Liothyronine sodium (Cytomel) also may be prescribed to treat hypothyroidism under certain conditions.
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.
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.
If you have celiac disease or wheat/gluten sensitivity, going on a gluten-free diet may lower or even eliminate your thyroid antibodies and cause an autoimmune thyroid disease remission. If you have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, but are suspicious for it based on symptoms and/or a family history, be sure to get it checked out by your doctor.
Megan Casper, RDN, a dietitian based in New York City and the founder of Nourished Bite, points out that iodine deficiency is the leading cause of hypothyroidism worldwide. This mineral can’t be made by the body, so dietary sources like iodized salt, dairy products, seafood, seaweed, and fortified cereals are important. “Iodine is an essential nutrient in the body, and thyroid hormones are composed of iodine,” explains Rizzo. “Those lacking thyroid hormones may also be lacking iodine.”
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