**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!
Your thyroid is the little butterfly-shaped gland at the front base of your neck. It regulates the release of hormones and regulates your metabolism. The most common issue is hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid condition that leads to extreme fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, and weight gain. It can also increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
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
Hypothyroidism is generally treated with a single daily dose of levothyroxine, given as a tablet. An experienced physician can prescribe the correct form and dosage to return the thyroid balance to normal. Older patients who may have underlying heart disease are usually started at a low dose and gradually increased while younger healthy patients can be started on full replacement doses at once. Thyroid hormone acts very slowly in some parts of the body, so it may take several months after treatment for some features to improve.
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.
Emphasizing lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, heart-healthy fats and omega-3s, high-fiber foods, and appropriate portions can help manage or prevent illnesses associated with thyroid disease. As Schneider notes, “It’s eating for prevention of all these diseases that accompany thyroid disease: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.” As an added bonus, fiber can relieve constipation that people with hypothyroidism often experience.
Thyroid scanning is used to determine how active the thyroid is in manufacturing thyroid hormone. This can determine whether inflammation of the thyroid gland (thyroiditis) is present. It can also detect the presence and degree of overactivity of the gland (hyperthyroidism) or, conversely, it can determine the presence and degree of underactivity of the gland (hypothyroidism).
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.
Physicians hesitated to use l-thyroxine monotherapy over concern that it could result in a relative T3 deficiency, despite growing discontent with potency of natural thyroid products (39) and reduced cost of l-thyroxine, such that the 2 treatments were approximately equivalent (36, 41). The seminal discovery of peripheral T4-to-T3 conversion in athyreotic individuals largely obviated this concern (42). This laid the foundation for the corollary that treatment with l-thyroxine could replace thyroid hormone in such a way that the prohormone pool would be restored and the deiodinases would regulate the pool of active T3. Within a decade there was a major transition toward l-thyroxine monotherapy as first-line therapy (Appendix Table and Figure) (38).
“Excess iodine is generally well tolerated, but individuals with underlying thyroid disease or other risk factors may be susceptible to iodine-induced thyroid dysfunction following acute or chronic exposure. Sources of increased iodine exposure include the global public health efforts of iodine supplementation, the escalating use of iodinated contrast radiologic studies, amiodarone administration in vulnerable patients [amiodarone is a drug used to treat heart rhythm problems], excess seaweed consumption, and various miscellaneous sources.” [Leung]
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.
Thyroid surgery - Thyroid surgery may be performed if a patient is experiencing hyperthyroidism, goiters, thyroid nodules, or thyroid cancer. Thyroid surgery involves removing either all of the thyroid or a large portion of the thyroid gland, both of which diminish and/or halt thyroid hormone production. In this case, hypothyroidism will be a lifelong condition and the patient will need to take a supplemental thyroid hormone for the rest of their life.
First things first, you must consider food to be your medicine and get off all processed junk food, sugar (which sends you on a hormonal rollercoaster ride) and gluten. The Daily Living Eating Plan is a great place to start. In addition, l-glutamine is a key amino acid that reduces cravings for high-glycemic carbohydrates and helps kick the sugar habit. If you have already done that and are looking to go deeper, here are some tips to heal the thyroid:
Although I’m a fan of getting what you need from real food whenever possible, herbs, supplements, and vitamins can still have a place in the thyroid diet plan. It’s hard to give tips here as many people over-medicate and only feel worse later. Hopefully these tips will help; they apply to most auto-immune conditions (This advice was given by my naturopath who focuses on hormonal and thyroid health.):
Probiotic-Rich Foods — These include kefir (a fermented dairy product), organic goat’s milk yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, natto, sauerkraut and other fermented veggies. As part of your hypothyroidism diet, probiotics help create a healthy gut environment by balancing microflora bacteria. This reduces leaky gut syndrome, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation and autoimmune reactions.
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
18) Use Essential Oils: The anti-oxidant content and aromatherapy benefits of essential oils help to improve oxygenation and reduce the harmful effects of oxidative stress throughout the body. Some of my favorites for thyroid function include lavendar, frankincense and peppermint among others. Put a drop on your hands and mix together and then cover your nose and inhale the healing vapors. This will stimulate your brain and increase blood flow to your cranium. You can also rub them on the skin around your neck and thyroid region to reduce inflammation.
To document that this was a result of trends toward lower doses, an unblinded study tracked well-being according to various doses and found that the highest well-being was achieved at supraoptimal doses, resulting in a suppressed TSH (65). However, a blinded trial did not reproduce this finding (66). In a call to the public, a 1997 British Thyroid Foundation newsletter asked readers to recount personal history of residual hypothyroid symptoms. More than 200 patients responded, 54 of whom specifically mentioned that they did not feel well despite normal serum markers of thyroid function (67, 68). Because of this surge in symptomatic patients, some clinicians advocated titrating dose by symptoms rather than serum TSH, reminiscent of the period before the 1970s (69).
Chromium picolinate, which is marketed for blood sugar control and weight loss, also impairs the absorption of thyroid medications. If clients decide to take chromium picolinate, they should take it three to four hours apart from thyroid medications.23 Flavonoids in fruits, vegetables, and tea have been shown to have potential cardiovascular benefits. However, high-dose flavonoid supplements may suppress thyroid function.24 The Natural Standards Database provides an extensive list of supplements that have a potential impact on thyroid function, so taking precautions and coordinating patient care with a knowledgeable practitioner is prudent.
People should take T4 on an empty stomach to prevent the absorption of the medication from being erratic. Moreover, doctors usually recommend taking the medication first thing in the morning, then waiting at least an hour to eat breakfast or drink coffee. Taking the medication at bedtime, several hours after the last meal, also appears to work and may be a more convenient approach for some people.
Constipation is a common symptom of hypothyroidism. Whole-grain foods such as cereal, bread, pasta, and rice are high in nutrients in addition to fiber, which can help with bowel regularity. However, fiber can interfere with synthetic thyroid hormones, cautions Turner. Some people with hypothyroidism choose to avoid whole-grains altogether, but if you do choose to eat them, "the recommendation is to take your thyroid medication several hours before or after eating foods rich in dietary fiber," she says.
Try this: Combine Brazil nuts, olive oil, garlic, and a handful of arugula and basil in a food processor, and process into a savory pesto. Soak Brazil nuts overnight in water, then drain and purée with fresh water, a couple of dates, and a dash of vanilla for a delicious milk alternative. For a rich, dairy-free soup, cut sweet potatoes and onions into chunks and simmer in stock with a sprig of rosemary until soft; remove and discard rosemary; add Brazil nuts and purée until creamy and smooth.
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.
"Secondary" or "tertiary" hypothyroidism occurs when the decrease in thyroid hormone is due to a defect of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus. A special test, known as the TRH test, can help distinguish if the disease is caused by a defect in the pituitary or the hypothalamus. This test requires an injection of the TRH hormone and is performed by a doctor that treats thyroid conditions (endocrinologist or hormone specialist).
Try this: Make a lassi, a traditional Indian beverage: purée yogurt, frozen mango chunks, and lime juice, then pour into glasses and garnish with slices of lime. Purée yogurt with blackberries, honey, and grated ginger; stir in vanilla yogurt to make swirls and then spoon into Popsicle molds and freeze. Dump a container of yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined strainer and refrigerate overnight; stir in your favorite herbs and seasonings, and use as a substitute for sour cream.
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.
Coconut oil — This provides medium-chain fatty acids in the form of caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid, which support a healthy metabolism, increase energy and fight fatigue. A staple of the hypothyroidism diet, coconut oil is easy to digest, nourishes the digestive system and has antimicrobial, antioxidant and antibacterial properties that suppress inflammation. Coconut oil helps improve immunity and can increase brain function, endurance and mood while stabilizing blood sugar levels.
AGEs cause massive destruction throughout the body and have an affinity for thyroid tissue. Elevated HgA1C (a measure of glycation) is correlated with increased TSH and decreased free T3 & T4 (57). When the blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia), it increases stress hormone (cortisol and adrenaline) to boost up blood sugar. Cortisol directly inhibits the enzyme (5’-deiodinase) which converts inactive T4 into active T3.
Large predator fish—tuna, swordfish, shark, kingfish, mackerel—often have more mercury than smaller fish, as they’ve lived longer and had more time to accumulate harmful chemicals. Don’t eat more than two to three servings of these fish a week, Blum says. Also, farmed fish like salmon can have higher levels of mercury because they’re often fed the chum of other fish. All fish have a little mercury, so don’t freak out about it. Just don’t order in sushi every weeknight.
High-fiber foods – People with hypothyroidism may have digestive difficulties, so aim for 30–40 grams of fiber daily. In addition to a high-fiber diet helping with digestive health, it improves heart health, balances blood sugar levels and supports a healthy weight by making you feel fuller. Some easy ways to increase fiber intake include eating more fresh vegetables, berries, beans, lentils and seeds.
Probiotics can help heal the gut and aid in nutrient absorption while reducing inflammation. Other benefits of a high-quality probiotic include helping to maintain a stronger immune system; increasing energy from production of vitamin B12; reducing bacterial or viral growth in the gut such as candida; improving skin health and helping with appetite control and weight loss.
The thyroid uses iodine to convert T4 into freeT3. If you have hypothyroidism, you may not have an iodine deficiency per se, but your thyroid is almost certainly struggling in some way to get ahold of the iodine available to it and do what it needs to do with it. If the root cause is left unaddressed, simply increasing iodine is not always useful and at worst can be dangerous depending on how high you’re increasing your supplementation thinking if a little is good, then more will “solve” your problem.
The NIH studied the link between hypothyroidism and small intestine problems. These problems included an overgrowth of bacteria, such as yeast. Probiotic supplements contain live bacteria that can help keep your stomach and intestines healthy. Besides supplement forms, fermented food and drink, such as kefir, kombucha, raw cheese, and yogurt contain useful probiotics.
1. Jonklaas J, Bianco AC, Bauer AJ, Burman KD, Cappola AR, Celi FS, et al. American Thyroid Association Task Force on Thyroid Hormone Replacement. Guidelines for the treatment of hypothyroidism: prepared by the American Thyroid Association Task Force on Thyroid Hormone Replacement. Thyroid. 2014;24:1670–1751. [PMID: 25266247] [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Those with hypothyroidism may want to consider minimizing their intake of gluten, a protein found in foods processed from wheat, barley, rye, and other grains, says Ruth Frechman, RDN, a dietitian in the Los Angeles area and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten can irritate the small intestine, and may hamper absorption of thyroid hormone replacement medication.
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