It's not enough for your thyroid levels to be "normal" or fall within the reference range. In many cases, for you to lose weight with hypothyroidism, you need your thyroid levels to be "optimal." That means that your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level would typically fall below 2.0, and your free T4 and free T3 would fall in the upper half of the reference range.
When a patient is suspected to have a thyroid disorder a comprehensive thyroid profile is ordered, in the form of a blood test. The test results will give precise measurements of Free T3 and T4 and their ratios to each other. If the results indicate that for example, the patient’s T3 level is too low then the patient will be checked for deficiencies in essential nutrients which are required for hormone production. Many times this will correct the thyroid without the need for prescription hormones.
The foods listed above do not contain any thiocyanate when they are in their living, intact state, because thiocyanates do not form until the plant is cut, crushed, or chewed. For example, fresh broccoli contains a harmless substance called glucosinolate, which turns into a thiocyanate called sulforaphane when the vegetable is damaged (see my broccoli blogpost for more information).
Characteristic symptoms and physical signs, which can be detected by a physician, can signal hypothyroidism. However, the condition may develop so slowly that many patients do not realize that their body has changed, so it is critically important to perform diagnostic laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the cause of hypothyroidism. A primary care physician may make the diagnosis of hypothyroidism, but assistance is often needed from an endocrinologist, a physician who is a specialist in thyroid diseases.
Correcting these problems requires an integrative approach. It involves more than simply taking a thyroid pill. As you’ll see, it involves nutritional support, exercise, stress reduction, supplements, reducing inflammation, and sometimes eliminating certain foods and detoxification from heavy metals (such as mercury and lead) and petrochemical toxins (such as pesticides and PCBs).
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
Hashimoto’s disease is the most common autoimmune disease linked to hypothyroidism. In fact, the condition in which the autoimmune system targets the thyroid specifically is commonly known as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is when the immune system targets antibodies directly to the thyroid, causing inflammation of the thyroid gland and thus limiting the gland’s ability to produce its delegated hormones.
You can order thyroid tests yourself. Most people do not know that. You can do so by going to Direct Labs. They cover more than just TSH and T4 – you will get the full spectrum of results which you need to know to manage your thyroid and Hashimoto’s. Finding out this information about yourself will help you better understand how the thyroid diet can help you.
Remember that there is no magic answer, single supplement, or sole dietary change that will miraculously cause you to lose weight. Likewise, medication alone may not be enough to help you feel your best with thyroid disease, whether you have weight to lose or not. Ensuring optimal thyroid function and focusing on diet, movement, and nutritional and lifestyle changes can all help you achieve greater success.
The first step in natural treatment of hypothyroidism is to eliminate the causes of thyroid dysfunction, such as inflammation, overuse of medications, nutrient deficiencies and changes in hormones due to stress. The hypothyroidism diet eliminates foods that can cause inflammation and immune reactions and instead focuses on foods that help heal the GI tract, balance hormones and reduce inflammation.
Choose foods that offer nutritional support for your thyroid. The production of thyroid hormones requires iodine and omega-3 fatty acids; converting the inactive T4 to the active T3 requires selenium; and both the binding of T3 to the receptor on the nucleus and switching it on require vitamins A and D, as well as zinc. You will find these nutrients in a whole-food, clean, organic diet. To get therapeutic levels of these nutrients, please use the supplement protocol in strategy 4.
Radioimmunoassays for measurement of serum T3 (48) and T4 (49) were soon developed, and it was observed that l-thyroxine monotherapy could normalize both T4 and T3 levels at the expense of a high T4:T3 ratio. In contrast, l-triiodothyronine, desiccated thyroid, thyroglobulin, and l-thyroxine/l-triiodothyronine combination all typically resulted in low or low-normal serum T4 values with usually elevated serum T3 levels, and thus a low T4:T3 ratio (28). Desiccated thyroid resulted in a T3 peak about 2 to 5 hours after administration that corresponded to thyrotoxic symptoms in some patients (50). That a single daily dose of l-thyroxine resulted in stable blood levels of T4 and T3 throughout the day (48) was understood to result from a steady rate of conversion of T4 to T3 (51).
Symptoms of hypothyroidism often develop gradually and can sometimes take years to manifest. Women in their fifties and older are more likely to have hypothyroidism then men; however, teenagers, children and even infants can be affected by this condition. Typical signs that you may have hypothyroidism include increasing fatigue and weakness, often with unintentional weight gain. Skin can become dry, rough and pale, with hair loss and dry, brittle nails. Other frequent problems are sensitivity to cold, muscle or joint aches, constipation, depression, irritability, memory loss, abnormal menstrual cycles with heavy blood flow, and decreased sex drive.
The thyroid is considered a “master gland.” In addition to producing crucial hormones, it helps control the process of turning nutrients from food into usable energy on which the body runs. Because the thyroid plays such a major part in your metabolism, dysfunction can affect almost every part of the body, including your energy levels and ability to burn calories.
Most patients report improvement with a thyroid supplement too, but if you consistently eat a healthy and wholesome diet they are unnecessary. If you still want to try one however (under the supervision of your doctor), see this Thyroid Support Supplement (disclosure: this is an affiliate link). It contains both selenium and iodine for thyroid health, as well as vitamin B12 for improved energy levels. Additionally, it is one of the few available that is 100% vegetarian.
The disease process for Hashimoto’s is a spectrum, and not all patients require treatment. Some patients have autoimmune antibodies but retain enough thyroid function without the need for intervention for years. Generally, once the body can no longer produce an adequate amount of thyroid hormone for necessary physiological functions, thyroid replacement medication is necessary to correct the hormonal imbalances associated with hypothyroidism.
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.
Hypothyroidism is a disease which causes the thyroid gland to become underactive and not making enough thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland is located in the front lower part of your neck. Hormones released by the gland affect nearly every part of the human body including heart, brain, muscles, and skin. The thyroid controls the metabolism, which affects the body temperature, heartbeat and also regulates the calorie burn. When the body is unable to produce enough thyroid hormone, it causes the metabolism to slow down and hence, the body makes less energy and gain more weight.
Many types of seaweed are chockfull of iodine, but the amount can vary wildly, says Mira Ilic, RD, a registered dietician at the Cleveland Clinic. According to the National Institutes of Health, a 1-gram portion can contain anywhere from 11% to a whopping 1,989% of your percent daily value. But since seaweed is especially high in iodine, you shouldn't start eating sushi every day of the week. Too much iodine can be just as harmful to your thyroid as too little by triggering (or worsening) hypothyroidism. To get seaweed's big benefits without going overboard, Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, and Health's contributing nutrition editor advises sticking to one fresh seaweed salad per week (in addition to sushi), and steering clear of seaweed teas and supplements.
Dr. Josh Axe is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic, and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine. Dr. Axe has created one of the top 10 most visited natural health websites in the world at www.DrAxe.com which has over 15 million monthly visitors. Dr. Axe has been a physician for many professional athletes. In 2009, he began working with the Wellness Advisory Council and Professional Swim Teams. He worked with professional swimmers, including Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay, providing nutritional advice and musculoskeletal work on the athletes to increase their performance. He also traveled to the 2012 Games in London to work with USA athletes. Dr. Axe has authored several books including his new book Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It.
You want to detox your liver and your gut, as this is where the T4 hormone (inactive hormone) gets converted to T3, the active hormone that actually powers us up. Most of our body cells need T3, not just T4. If you are taking Synthroid, you are taking a synthetic version of T4 that still needs to be converted to T3. If you have a sluggish liver and gut, you won’t convert properly.
Seaweed — Good seaweeds are some of the best natural sources of iodine and help prevent deficiencies that disturb thyroid function. I’d recommend having some every week as part of your hypothyroidism diet. Try kelp, nori, kombu and wakame. You can look for dried varieties of these at health food stores and use them in soups, with tuna fish or in fish cakes.
In compliance with the FTC guidelines, please assume the following about links and posts on this site: Many of the links on DrJockers.com are affiliate links of which I receive a small commission from sales of certain items, but the price is the same for you. If I post an affiliate link to a product, it is something that I personally use, support and would recommend without an affiliate link. Learn More
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones. This can happen after the surgical removal of the thyroid gland, if infants were born with congenital hypothyroidism, stress or simply if the thyroid gland is tired of working and is not functioning well. If these hormones are not produced adequately, symptoms like cold intolerance, constipation, fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, goiter and even depression can occur. (See Hypothyroidism Symptoms for more symptoms)
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….
Whether it is sports, dancing, or yoga that gets you moving, it is important to engage in movement that does not drain your adrenals or your thyroid yet gives you a sense of accomplishment and joy. If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, be sure to be very gentle with your body and don’t do excessive cardio work-outs and switch to light weight lifting, yoga, pilates, gentle cycling, hiking, dancing, etc.
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.
I don’t know all your symptoms or health challenges, but if you have thyroid issues and if you are losing hair (alopecia areata?), you may want to consider getting tested for celiac disease. It is quite common for people to have celiac disease and thyroid disease. It’s important not to eliminate gluten from your diet before being tested as it would cause a false-negative test result.
“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.
l-Thyroxine monotherapy for athyreotic rats results in a high T4:T3 ratio at doses sufficient to normalize serum TSH levels (8). Yet, the brain, liver, and skeletal muscle tissues of these l-thyroxine–treated animals continue to exhibit markers of hypothyroidism (9), probably because of the inability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to restore tissue levels of T3 (8). This is probably a direct consequence of lower serum T3 levels and the relatively high T4 concentration in these tissues, which inactivates the type 2 iodothyronine deiodinase (D2). In the hypothalamus, loss of D2 is minimal in the presence of T4, which increases sensitivity to T4 levels and explains TSH normalization, despite relatively lower levels of serum T3. Only combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine normalized all thyroid hormone–dependent measures (9), including serum and tissue T3 levels (8). Whether tissue-specific markers of hypothyroidism are restored with l-thyroxine monotherapy in humans remains to be determined, as does the ability of l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine combination therapy to normalize the serum T4:T3 ratio without adverse events. The development of a novel drug delivery system for l-triiodothyronine would facilitate these studies (5).
The best diet for your thyroid requires more than just iodine, selenium, and vitamin D, says Ilic. And—perhaps unsurprisingly—foods that are high in antioxidants are also good for your thyroid. One 2008 study by researchers from Turkey suggests that people with hypothyroidism have higher levels of harmful free radicals than those without the condition.
*Cassava bears special mention here. You may have heard of it because it is the starchy root vegetable from which tapioca is made, but cassava is also a popular staple food in many Third World countries, where it is eaten boiled, mashed, or ground into flour. Fresh cassava root contains a harmless substance called linamarin, which can turn into hydrocyanic acid (aka cyanide!) when the plant is damaged or eaten. Flaxseeds also contain linamarin. Cyanide is very toxic, so the human body converts it into thiocyanate (which, although it does interfere with thyroid function, is less toxic than cyanide and easier for the body to eliminate).
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.
Affiliate Disclosure: There are links on this site that can be defined as affiliate links. This means that I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you) if you purchase something when clicking on the links that take you through to a different website. By clicking on the links, you are in no way obligated to buy.
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.
Copyright © livehopelupus.org