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.
Exercise: Many patients with hypothyroidism have reported benefits from practicing a yoga pose called the Shoulder Stand, or sarvangasana, which increases circulation to the thyroid. Lie on your back with your arms (palms up) along your sides. Raise your legs at a right angle to the floor. Then raise your hips so your chin rests on your chest, supporting yourself with your elbows and upper arms on the floor and your hands on your hips. Keep your neck and shoulders flat on the floor, and stretch your torso and legs as straight as possible. Hold as long as comfortable, slowly working up to 5 minutes a day. Don’t do this pose if you are pregnant or menstruating, nor should you try it if you have glaucoma, sinus problems or high blood pressure. The Shoulder Stand may be more effective if you use visualization practices, imagining the thyroid gland waking up from a long period of inactivity and producing more thyroid hormone.
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.
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.
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Rather than giving Synthroid (T-4) alone, Dr. Weil prefers combinations of the two natural hormones (T-3 and T-4), and often recommends the prescription drug Thyrolar. Under normal conditions, the body can convert T-4 into T-3; however, there is some question whether the body can do this optimally when under extreme physical or emotional stress. Giving a combination seems to elicit a more natural response for the body, and may also have a better effect on mood than T-4 alone.
To offer some perspective: up to 95% of the thyroid hypothyroidism in the US is caused not by an iodine deficiency, but occurs as the result of an autoimmune disease so avoiding cruciferous vegetables will do little to fix your underactive thyroid, and may deprive you of valuable healthy benefits such as dietary fiber, and anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting antioxidants.5
Kale reigns supreme in the land of leafy green vegetables that we often eat raw, but beware if you have an iodine deficiency. “Kale gets a big baddy,” Blum says. “Eat it cooked.” When raw, this dark green leaf steals the iodine from the thyroid gland. If you must, it’s ok to nosh on the green veggie in your salad, but stop at two servings a day. No need to get extra credit on the superfood.
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.
**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!
Kelp? No, but don’t take it in supplement form. Thyroid patients should not have more than an average daily recommended intake of 158 to 175 micrograms of kelp per day, Dr. Nasr says. The concentration of kelp in foods is generally not enough to cause a problem. But a kelp capsule can contain as much as 500 micrograms, he says. “Those recommendations to go easy on kelp are for people who don’t understand and take three capsules per day. If you eat kelp once a day, that’s not a problem.”
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.
You might be wondering whether natural hypothyroid treatment methods can restore your health back to normal. If you didn’t become hypothyroid due to thyroid surgery or from receiving radioactive iodine, then there is a good chance you can benefit from a natural hypothyroid treatment protocol. On the other hand, even if you have had a partial or complete thyroidectomy, or received RAI, there still is a chance that you can benefit from following such a protocol. After all, even if you can’t have your thyroid health completely restored back to normal, it still is important to address the cause of your condition. However, those people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis who haven’t had these procedures have an excellent chance of restoring their health back to normal.
Avoiding daily installments of ice cream scoops (sigh), fudgy brownies and cookies, and bowls of jelly beans may be a (sad) reality check for your health, in general. But limiting sugar can also help you reduce inflammation—a root cause of chronic illness—in the body, says Dr. Susan Blum, MD, an integrative medicine physician and founder of the Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, New York. Many studies show an inflammatory microenvironment in your body weakens your immune response toward the spread of thyroid cancer spread in advanced stages, according to the Endocrine-Related Cancer journal.
Wild-caught fish – These provide omega-3 fatty acids EPA/DHA that are essential for hormone balance and thyroid function. Balancing the level of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your hypothyroidism diet can reduce inflammation and support healthy neurological function. Wild fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are some of the best sources of omega-3s to increase neurotransmitter activity and support a healthy mood and immune system.
Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid gland, is another common thyroid condition. The most prevalent form is Graves’ disease in which the body’s autoimmune response causes the thyroid gland to produce too much T3 and T4. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include weight loss, high blood pressure, diarrhea, and a rapid heartbeat. Graves’ disease also disproportionately affects women and typically presents before the age of 40.4
Infants fed soy formula are at higher risk for hypothyroidism and for later development of autoimmune thyroid diseases. In humans, goiter has been detected in infants fed soy formula; this is usually reversed by changing to cow milk or iodine-supplemented diets . After the 1960s, manufacturers reportedly began adding iodine to formulas to mitigate thyroid effects.” (Doerge, 2002)
Caffeine has been found to block absorption of thyroid hormone replacement, says Dr. Lee. "People who were taking their thyroid medication with their morning coffee had uncontrollable thyroid levels, and we couldn't figure it out," she says. "I now have to be very careful to tell people, 'Only take your medication with water.'" You should wait at least 30 minutes after taking your medication before having a cup of joe.
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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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