60 patients with borderline hypothyroidism were given either 2 mg of soy isoflavones (the amount found in the typical omnivore’s diet) or 16 mg of soy isoflavones (the amount found in the typical vegetarian’s diet). The “vegetarian” dose of soy isoflavones was 3 times more likely to cause patients to convert from borderline (“subclinical”) hypothyroidism to full-blown (“overt clinical”) hypothyroidism.
One of the fastest rising health conditions in the US is hypothyroidism. The most common symptoms experienced are lethargy, depression and weight gain. More than 12% of the US population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime with most of these being hypothyroidism (1). In this article, I take a deep dive into thyroid physiology and go over 18 strategies to beat hypothyroidism naturally.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism are often subtle. They are not specific (which means they can mimic the symptoms of many other conditions) and are often attributed to aging. People with mild hypothyroidism may have no signs or symptoms. The symptoms generally become more obvious as the condition worsens and the majority of these complaints are related to a metabolic slowing of the body. Common symptoms and signs include:
The most common thyroid condition is hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. In the United States, hypothyroidism usually is caused by an autoimmune response known as Hashimoto’s disease or autoimmune thyroiditis. As with all autoimmune diseases, the body mistakenly identifies its own tissues as an invader and attacks them until the organ is destroyed. This chronic attack eventually prevents the thyroid from releasing adequate levels of the hormones T3 and T4, which are necessary to keep the body functioning properly. The lack of these hormones can slow down metabolism and cause weight gain, fatigue, dry skin and hair, and difficulty concentrating (see table).2 Hashimoto’s affects approximately 5% of the US population, is seven times more prevalent in women than men, and generally occurs during middle age.3
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.
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.”
SUBJECT: Your thyroid gland is found just below your voice box or larynx. It wraps around your windpipe or your trachea. Your thyroid affects your metabolism. It makes hormones that affect how fast your whole body works and how it uses energy. Your body uses thyroid hormone to increase your energy and raise your body temperature when needed. For example, that helps replace the heat your body loses when exposed to cold weather.
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.
I suspect that there is actually enough iodine in the environment to go around, and that we actually need less than 150 micrograms per day of iodine. From the above list, you can see that animal foods are much richer in iodine than plant foods—so how do herbivores (animals which eat a plant-based diet, such as rabbits and deer) get enough iodine? I suspect that there is something about the human diet which interferes with our ability to absorb, utilize, and/or retain iodine, and that this is why we appear to be iodine-deficient compared to other animals. So, what might the possible culprits be? Hmmm….
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.
Zinc is critical to thyroid health and is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. In fact, deficiencies of this mineral can lead to hypothyroidism. (Additionally, thyroid hormones are essential for zinc absorption, so hypothyroidism can lead to zinc deficiency.) Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc; other good sources include oysters, crab, lobster, legumes, nuts, and sunflower seeds.
“For women who may become pregnant, during pregnancy, or lactating, the American Thyroid Association recommends taking a daily supplement containing 150 mcg of iodine,”8 says Elizabeth Pearce, MD, MSc, professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts, and the ATA also recommends against taking added selenium during pregnancy given some concern that there is an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes.
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.
In other words, taking supplements and herbs alone is usually not the solution. Plus, while nutritional supplements can help, one must remember that different people will need to take different types of supplements, take different dosages, etc. Plus the quality of the supplements you take is important, and the truth is, many supplements are of low quality. So just taking a general thyroid support formula is usually not the answer to restoring your health back to normal. Doing so not only can worsen your symptoms, but often times taking this approach will be a complete waste of money. In most cases it takes a combination of different factors to restore one’s health back to normal. This includes eating well, doing a good job of managing stress, getting sufficient sleep, improving the health of the gut, minimizing your exposure to environmental toxins, etc.
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.
Seaweed has a high concentration of iodine, an essential nutrient for thyroid function. "Iodine is the precursor for the production of thyroid hormone," Dr. Dodell explains. Seaweed, packaged as nori, wakame, and dulse, can be used in sushi, soups, and salads. Another plus: Seaweed offers nutritional benefits of fiber, calcium, and vitamins A, B, C, E, and K.
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 thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck just below the Adam's apple. The thyroid produces two main hormones called T3 and T4 which are transported in the blood to all parts of the body. These hormones control the rate of many activities in your body including how fast calories are burned and how fast or slow a person’s heart rate is. Combined, these activities are often referred to as the metabolism. When thyroid disease occurs and the thyroid gland is compromised it may produce too few hormones and this can result in the metabolism slowing down. This condition is often referred to as an underactive thyroid function or hypothyroidism.
If you have signs or symptoms the same or similar to hypothyroidism, discuss them (for example, weight gain, constipation, or fatigue) with your doctor or other healthcare professional. A simple blood test is the first step in the diagnosis. If you need treatment for hypothyroidism, let your doctor know of any concerns or questions you have about the available treatment, including home or natural remedies.
Follow a Thyroid Diet: The consumption of sea food, shellfish and organic vegetables and fruits, rich in iodine content has proven beneficial in overcoming iodine deficiency. It is better to eat small meals rather than three large meals. Non-starchy fruits and vegetables and low-fat proteins should be consumed. Sugary and starchy food items like, pasta, desserts, sodas, white bread, rice, etc. must be avoided completely. An intake of at least 64 ounces of non-fluoridated water is necessary.
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
Hypothyroidism Supplements: Your thyroid is impacted greatly by specific nutrients, like Iodine, Selenium, Zinc, Copper, Vitamin B, Vitamin D3, Vitamin A, Iron, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Instead of taking a dozen separate vitamins every day, I recommend finding a thyroid-specific multi-vitamin that already contains optimal levels of these nutrients. Dr. Meyer’s makes my favorite thyroid multi-vitamin, and it contains methylated vitamins to help with absorption and efficacy. Adaptogenic herbs like ashwaghanda and reishi are also really helpful for managing stress and anxiety, which are linked with your thyroid.
A diet low in nutrient-rich foods, especially in iodine and selenium (which are trace minerals crucial for thyroid function), increases the risk for thyroid disorders. The thyroid gland needs both selenium and iodine to produce adequate levels of thyroid hormones. And these nutrients also have other protective roles in the body; for example, severe selenium deficiency increases the incidence of thyroiditis because it stops activity of a very powerful antioxidant known as glutathione which normally controls inflammation and fights oxidative stress.
Most people with hypothyroidism don’t realize that the malfunctioning thyroid gland is usually not the primary cause of their condition. After all, one’s thyroid gland doesn’t just stop producing thyroid hormone on its own, as there is always a cause behind this. So while giving thyroid hormone may do a good job of managing one’s symptoms (although this isn’t always the case), it is not doing anything for the cause of your condition.
Hypothyroidism symptoms include: family history of thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, infertility, constipation and other digestion issues, weight gain, bloating, puffy face, irregular hair loss and/or thinning of your hair and/or your hair has become coarse, dry, breaking, brittle, and/or is falling out, acne and/or dry or thinning skin, mood disorders, like anxiety or depression, fatigue, low energy and/or low libido, increased sensitivity to cold, low body temperature usually below 98.6 degrees and/or cold hands and feet, muscle weakness, aches, tenderness and stiffness and/or pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, numbness or tingling in your hands & fingers, difficulty concentrating, focusing or remembering things and brain fog.
Hyperthyroidism usually is treated with medications, surgery, or oral radioactive iodine. However, these treatments are imprecise and may cause the thyroid to secrete inadequate amounts of T3 and T4 and function insufficiently after treatment. Seventy percent to 90% of patients with Graves’ or thyroid cancer eventually need treatment for hypothyroidism as a result of treatment.6
Soy for thyroid health is controversial: There's some research that suggests soy might negatively affect your thyroid gland under certain circumstances, like if you have an iodine deficiency. (Something to keep in mind: A 2011 study of vegetarians and vegans in the Boston area found that some vegans did have a mild iodine deficiency, most likely because they don't eat animal and dairy products). But other research presented at the 2014 Endocrine Society's annual meeting found that unless you have thyroid problems already, soy probably won't have any effect on it. Again, says Ilic, as long as you're eating normal amounts of soy, there's no reason to worry it'll hurt your thyroid.
Diagnosis of hypothyroidism is based on your symptoms and the results of blood tests that measure the level of TSH and sometimes the level of the thyroid hormone thyroxine. A low level of thyroxine and high level of TSH indicate an underactive thyroid. That's because your pituitary produces more TSH in an effort to stimulate your thyroid gland into producing more thyroid hormone.
Like vitamin D deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency is common in people with Hashimotos' disease. Due to its important role in red blood cell formation and nerve function, a deficiency in vitamin B12 may cause fatigue, loss of energy, and shortness of breath from anemia (low red blood cell count), as well as numbness and tingling from impaired neurologic function.
Fruits and veggies - Colorful foods like berries, grapes, dark leafy greens, and most other fruits and vegetables are high in healthy antioxidants, which helps your body build up its immune system and stave off unwanted diseases. Given that hypothyroidism is often a consequence of autoimmune diseases, building up that immune system is key to helping prevent your hypothyroidism from progressing.
Hyperthyroidism, particularly Graves’ disease, is known to cause bone loss, which is compounded by the vitamin D deficiency commonly found in people with hyperthyroidism. This bone mass can be regained with treatment for hyperthyroidism, and experts suggest that adequate bone-building nutrients, such as vitamin D, are particularly important during and after treatment.13
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb that helps the body respond to stress, keeping hormone levels better in balance. Adaptogens help lower cortisol and balance T4 levels. In fact, in clinical trials, supplementing with Ashwagandha for eight weeks helped hypothyroidism patients significantly increase thyroxine hormone levels, which reduced the severity of the disorder. Also, try other adaptogen herbs like rhodiola, shisandra, ginseng and holy basil that have similar benefits.
By drinking 1 cup of low-fat milk, you'll consume about one-third of your daily iodine needs. Another good idea: Opt for a glass that's been fortified with vitamin D. One 2013 study found that people with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) were more likely to be deficient in D than their healthier counterparts. (Another honorable dairy mention is cheese, especially cheddar: just one slice is good for 12 micrograms of iodine and 7 IU of vitamin D.)
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11. Methylation: Methylation is a key process that protects DNA, turns on and off genetic traits and helps to detoxify environmental chemicals. Many individuals have certain genetic polymorphisms that limit their ability to appropriately methylate. Methylation plays a very important role in T cell function and poor methylation status is associated with the development of auto-immunity (31).
A complete thyroid diet solution includes more than just food. I cannot emphasise how important these are for managing stress and emotions, especially for people with hyperthyroidism. We underestimate what stress and emotions do to us; each flare-up of anger, feelings of guilt, fear, hostility, jealousy, etc. fires up the adrenals which release cortisol, and cortisol has a detrimental impact on the thyroid.
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