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.
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.
l-Thyroxine monotherapy, the novel and physiologically savvy method for treatment of hypothyroidism, contrasted with the traditional approach of natural thyroid preparations that was marred by potency concerns. In less than a decade, there was a major shift in treatment of hypothyroidism such that normalization of TSH with l-thyroxine monotherapy became the new standard of care (Appendix Table) (52). Many clinicians advocated for this to be first-line therapy and for patients previously treated with desiccated thyroid to be transitioned to l-thyroxine monotherapy (50).
However, iodine intake has dropped during the past few decades. Americans get approximately 70% of their salt intake from processed foods that, in the United States and Canada, generally don’t contain iodine. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicates that, on average, Americans are getting adequate amounts of iodine, with the potential exception of women of childbearing age.10
You may find that changing your diet will help. One suggestion is to reduce or eliminate sugar, limit fruit, dairy, and grains, and get your carbohydrates mainly from vegetables. Round out your diet with lean proteins and healthy fats. In addition, eating two to three meals a day, no snacks, and avoiding food after 8 p.m. seems to help balance hunger hormones and blood sugar—and promote fat burning.
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People should take T4 on an empty stomach to prevent the absorption of the medication from being erratic. Moreover, doctors usually recommend taking the medication first thing in the morning, then waiting at least an hour to eat breakfast or drink coffee. Taking the medication at bedtime, several hours after the last meal, also appears to work and may be a more convenient approach for some people.
Thyroid scanning is used to determine how active the thyroid is in manufacturing thyroid hormone. This can determine whether inflammation of the thyroid gland (thyroiditis) is present. It can also detect the presence and degree of overactivity of the gland (hyperthyroidism) or, conversely, it can determine the presence and degree of underactivity of the gland (hypothyroidism).
An article published in May 2017 in the journal Endocrine Connections noted that hypothyroidism and celiac disease are often present together, and while no research has demonstrated that a gluten-free diet can treat thyroid conditions, you may still want to talk to a doctor about whether it would be worth eliminating gluten, or getting tested for celiac disease.
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