Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) is believed to be one of the most underdiagnosed health conditions in the United States. Many of its symptoms—lethargy, depression and weight gain—can be easily attributed to other factors, making hypothyroidism difficult to diagnose. Some reports estimate that around 15 percent of the population suffers from the condition; other reports estimate more than twice that. Risk increases with age, particularly in menopausal women. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), the opposite of hypothyroidism, is considerably less common and is characterized by extreme nervousness and restlessness.
Like many people living with thyroid problems, you may wonder what the best thyroid diet to follow is. The truth is that the ideal diet for those who are living with a thyroid condition depends on personal needs and goals. If your goal is weight loss, you will want to optimize your blood sugar and leptin levels and eliminate toxins and allergens, among other things. If your goal is to support your thyroid health but not necessarily lose weight, there are some foods (such as goiter-producing vegetables and soy) that you may wish to minimize or avoid.
The main job of the thyroid gland is to combine the salt iodine with the amino acid tyrosine to make thyroid hormone. Whenever the thyroid gland has a hard time making enough thyroid hormone, it becomes stressed and grows bigger to try to do its job better, forming a “goiter” (enlarged thyroid). Substances that interfere with normal thyroid function are called “goitrogens” because they have the potential to cause goiter.
A discussion on thyroid disease and good health isn’t complete without stressing the importance of physical activity. Lisa Lilienfield, MD, a thyroid disease specialist at the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Virginia, and a certified yoga instructor, is a firm believer in the importance of exercise, particularly for clients with a thyroid disorder. “With hypothyroid patients, certainly exercise can help with weight gain, fatigue, and depression. With hyperthyroidism, anxiety and sleep disturbances are so common, and exercise can help regulate both.”
People who have been treated for hyperthyroidism (underactive thyroid) like Graves' disease, and received radioactive iodine may be left with little or no functioning thyroid tissue after treatment. The likelihood of this depends on a number of factors including the dose of iodine given, along with the size and the activity of the thyroid gland. If there is no significant activity of the thyroid gland six months after the radioactive iodine treatment it usually means that the thyroid gland no longer functioning adequately. The result is hypothyroidism. Similarly, removal of the thyroid gland during surgery cause hypothyroidism.
Dry skin (xeroderma) may be caused by external factors, like cold temperatures, low humidity, harsh soaps, and certain medications, or internal factors, such as thyroid disease, diabetes, psoriasis, or Sjogren's syndrome. Symptoms and signs of dry skin include itching and red, cracked or flaky skin. The main treatment for dry skin is frequent, daily lubrication of the skin.
Vitamin B12 and thiamine are important for neurologic function and hormonal balance. Research shows that supplementing with thiamine can help combat symptoms of autoimmune disease, including chronic fatigue. In one clinical study, when patients with Hashimoto’s were given 600 milligrams per day of thiamine, the majority experienced complete regression of fatigue within a few hours or days. (18)
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.
In effect, there is no single, specific diet or vitamin/mineral supplement that has been proven to eliminate thyroid disease, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. If you would like more guidance on the right diet to meet your individual needs, you can consider working with a registered dietitian who has a specialty in thyroid health, or an integrative medicine physician.
Adding yoga exercise to your daily exercise routine should be carried out only under the supervision of a trained yoga instructor. There are a number of specific yoga asanas or postures that can stimulate your thyroid and pituitary glands and increase the level of hormone production. Yoga poses such as the Sun Salutation, the Dead Mans pose, the Wind Relieving pose, Head to Knee Pose, the Fish pose and the breathing techniques are vital for providing energy, improving blood circulation and relaxing the nervous system along with improving the functioning of the thyroid gland.
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Certainly, many of the foods listed above are an important part of a healthy diet. Try to eat a varied diet so that you avoid eating large amounts of goitrogenic foods on any one day. Be especially careful about raw juicing, which can concentrate these foods. Cooking, steaming, and even blanching (such as with kale) reduce goitrogen content and are good options when you wish to consume these foods.
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.
If your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) and adrenal hormones (cortisol, DHEA) are out of balance, this can make weight loss more difficult. Perimenopause and menopause, as well as estrogen dominance, can also cause a shift of weight to the belly, and make weight loss more difficult. Lack of testosterone in men and women can also make it harder to build fat-burning muscle. And adrenal imbalances can make you tired, less responsive to thyroid treatment, and less able to lose weight.
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Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.
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