The thyroid gland uses iodine (mostly from foods in the diet like seafood, bread, and salt) to produce thyroid hormones. The two most important thyroid hormones are thyroxine (tetraiodothyronine or T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3), which account for 99% and 1% of thyroid hormones present in the blood respectively. However, the hormone with the most biological activity is T3. Once released from the thyroid gland into the blood, a large amount of T4 is converted as needed into T3 - the active hormone that affects the metabolism of cells.
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….
If you suffer from hypothyroidism, you should not eat them raw. Goiter is a substance that inhibits iodine uptake to create the T4 hormone. The family of crucifers are: bok choy, broccoli, Brussels’ sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, radishes, soy, soy milk, soy lecithin (often used as a filler in vegetarian food) and tofu. Cooking them reduces their goitrous properties, however, so they can still be an important part of a diet for thyroid health.
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.
Essential fatty acids found in fish oil are critical for brain and thyroid function. DHA and EPA omega-3s found in fish oil are associated with a lower risk for thyroid symptoms, including anxiety, depression, high cholesterol, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, diabetes, a weakened immune system and heightened autoimmune disease. Omega-3 fish oil supplements can also help balance levels of omega-6s in the diet, which is important for ongoing health.
Over my several decades working as a Functional Medicine doctor, I can assure you that even in the toughest cases, you can heal your thyroid. With some patients, I can do this through the dietary, nutrient, and lifestyle factors I’ve discussed here. For others, that healing requires trial and error using several medications and working closely with a physician.
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.)
Moreover, a strong relationship exists between thyroid disorders, impaired glucose control, and diabetes. Thirty percent of people with type 1 diabetes have ATD, and 12.5% of those with type 2 diabetes have thyroid disease compared with a 6.6% prevalence of thyroid disease in the general public. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism affect carbohydrate metabolism and have a profound effect on glucose control, making close coordination with an endocrinologist vital.8
If that’s not enough to calm your concerns, some experts suggest that eating cruciferous vegetables may actually be beneficial if you have autoimmune hypothyroidism since the thiocyanates may slow the absorption of iodine in people getting too much, which is possible if you are eating a typical Western diet of fast foods, French fries, and other processed products, that contain iodized salt, and you are heavy-handed with the salt shaker.
Also available on the market are combination medications that contain both synthetic T4 and T3 hormones, but such medications aren’t usually recommended. For one thing, most patients see their condition improve with synthetic T4 alone because of the ability of the thyroid to convert these hormones to T3 when needed. Also, synthetic T3-T4 combination drugs can cause anxiety — if you have a preexisting mental health disability, such side effects may be even greater. (3)
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.
Going “natural” is an evolving trend in healthcare. Even hypothyroid patients are exploring their options outside of synthetic thyroid hormone. One such option is a so-called natural thyroid supplement made from dried animal thyroid glands. These are usually derived from pigs (called Armour Thyroid) but are also sometimes made from dried cow thyroids. (3)
Your thyroid is your body's silent workhorse—most of the time, it functions so smoothly that we forget it's there. But this little, butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of your neck helps regulate your metabolism, temperature, heartbeat, and more, and if it starts to go haywire, you'll notice. An underactive thyroid—when the gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone (TH)—can bring on weight gain, sluggishness, depression, and increased sensitivity to cold. An overactive thyroid, on the other hand, happens when your body produces too much TH, and can cause sudden weight loss, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nervousness, and irritability.
Studies have indicated that individuals with lower selenium levels are at higher risk for low T3 (50). Selenium has been shown to reduce rT3 levels and improve active T3 status (51). It also reduces anti-thyroid anti-body formation (52). Be sure to get selenomethionine which is the most effective form of selenium for reducing anti-body formation and improving thyroid function.
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, are full of fiber and other nutrients, but they may interfere with the production of thyroid hormone if you have an iodine deficiency. So if you do, it’s a good idea to limit your intake of Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips, and bok choy, because research suggests digesting these vegetables may block the thyroid's ability to utilize iodine, which is essential for normal thyroid function.
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