Over my several decades working as a Functional Medicine doctor, I can assure you that even in the toughest cases, you can heal your thyroid. With some patients, I can do this through the dietary, nutrient, and lifestyle factors I’ve discussed here. For others, that healing requires trial and error using several medications and working closely with a physician.
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.
90% of all hypothyroid conditions are autoimmune in nature. In other words, most people with hypothyroidism have the condition Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. But what causes this condition? Numerous factors can trigger an autoimmune response and result in the elevated thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and/or thyroglobulin antibodies you see with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. These antibodies will damage the thyroid gland, which is what leads to the decreased production of thyroid hormone. And while taking synthetic or natural thyroid hormone might be necessary for someone who has low or depressed thyroid hormone levels, this won’t do anything to improve the health of the immune system. So the goal is to detect and then remove the trigger which is causing the autoimmune response, get rid of the inflammation, and suppress the autoimmune component of the condition.
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).
Before birth, a baby depends on the mother for thyroid hormones until the baby's own thyroid gland can start to function. Usually, this occurs after about 12 weeks of gestation or the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. Moreover, babies of mothers who had an underactive thyroid in the first part of their pregnancy who then were treated, exhibited slower motor development than the babies of normal mothers.
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!
You need to reduce the toxins you ingest from additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners (!), excessive sodium, and trans-fats and try to eliminate toxins hiding around your house. Water toxicity is a HUGE problem in thyroid conditions. Most public water systems in the US have fluoride added, which is now linked to slowing down the thyroid; fluoride is believed to be leaching on to the thyroid cells inhibiting the uptake of iodine, hence the altered production of the thyroid hormone (T4).
One to two weeks after starting treatment, you'll notice that you're feeling less fatigued. The medication also gradually lowers cholesterol levels elevated by the disease and may reverse any weight gain. Treatment with levothyroxine is usually lifelong, but because the dosage you need may change, your doctor is likely to check your TSH level every year.
People diagnosed with hypothyroidism are more susceptible to problems with infertility, miscarriages, and having babies born with birth defects. As hypothyroidism progresses it can even lead heart failure, fluid collection in the lungs, and enlarged heart and even a life-threatening condition called myxedema coma. This condition requires immediate medical attention and hospitalization. If you suffer from hypothyroidism and have any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor at the earliest:
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.
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.
Selenium: Selenium is one the MOST IMPORTANT when it comes to healthy thyroid function! It is incorporated into key enzymes involved in several metabolic pathways implicated in thyroid hormone metabolism; additionally, it plays an antioxidant role in the regulation of the immune system. There are strong links between selenium deficiencies and auto-immune thyroid problems (48, 49).
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.
“The biggest factors that help with weight loss are calorie- and carbohydrate-controlled meal plans,” says Sheila Dean, DSc, RD, LD, CCN, CDE, of the Palm Harbor Center for Health & Healing in Florida. “Naturally I try to ensure [clients are] eating a whole foods-based, minimally processed diet with at least 2 L of water daily.” Schneider agrees that a heart-healthy eating plan is fundamental. “The diet should emphasize more vegetables, leaner meats, more beans, fiber, and fluids. We need to look at intake of sugars, added fats, fast food, and meals out.”
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).
A cup of cooked white beans serves up 8mg of iron—a mineral that many people, especially premenopausal women, have trouble getting enough of . But getting your fill is important. “If you don’t, it can impair the activity of enzymes that produce thyroid hormones,” Dr. Lee says. (Women aged 19 to 50 need 18mg iron daily, while men and women 51 and older need 8mg .)
Alcohol consumption can wreak havoc on both thyroid hormone levels in the body and the ability of the thyroid to produce hormone. Alcohol appears to have a toxic effect on the thyroid gland and suppresses the ability of the body to use thyroid hormone. Ideally, people with hypothyroidism should cut out alcohol completely or drink in careful moderation.
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