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).
If for some reason the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus are unable to signal the thyroid and instruct it to produce thyroid hormones, it may cause decreased T4 and T3 blood levels, even if the thyroid gland itself is normal. If pituitary disease causes this defect, the condition is called "secondary hypothyroidism." If the defect is due to hypothalamic disease, it is called "tertiary hypothyroidism."
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.
A clinical trial investigating symptoms found that patients receiving l-thyroxine monotherapy, even with a normal TSH, displayed substantial impairment in psychological well-being compared with controls of similar age and sex (3). Because some hypothesized that this phenomenon came about only after adoption of l-thyroxine monotherapy, a study assessed combination therapy with l-thyroxine and l-triiodothyronine. Remarkably, the latter study showed that psychological measures improve in patients receiving combination therapy until serum TSH level is normal (6). In another study comparing l-thyroxine monotherapy versus desiccated thyroid, in which both groups had a normal TSH, many patients preferred desiccated thyroid and lost weight (60). Unfortunately, the solution to this complex problem is not as simple as reverting to combination therapy; the more than a dozen clinical trials on the subject have not shown benefit of superiority and preference for combination therapy, as previously reviewed (1, 3, 70).
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An early symptom of hypothyroidism is weight gain. Low-calorie, high-density foods such as fresh produce are the cornerstone of every successful weight loss program. Include either fresh fruits or veggies at each meal, if possible. Specific foods such as blueberries, cherries, sweet potatoes, and green peppers are also rich in antioxidants, nutrients that are known to lower risk for heart disease.
Heart problems - Hypothyroidism may be associated with increased risk of heart disease, mainly because high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) may occur in patients that have an underactive thyroid. Even mild or early stage hypothyroidism that does not present symptoms can cause an increase in total cholesterol levels and diminish the heart’s ability to pump blood.
A pituitary injury may result after brain surgery or the blood supply to the brain has decreased. When the pituitary gland is injured, hypothyroidism results in low TSH blood levels because the thyroid gland is no longer stimulated by the pituitary TSH. Usually, hypothyroidism from pituitary gland injury occurs in together with other hormone deficiencies, since the pituitary regulates other processes such as growth, reproduction, and adrenal function.
From the early 1890s through the mid-1970s, desiccated thyroid was the preferred form of therapy for hypothyroidism (Appendix Table, available at www.annals.org). This preference was reinforced by the unique ability of desiccated thyroid to reproduce a normal serum PBI (33). The predominance of natural thyroid products was illustrated by prescribing patterns in the United States: In 1965, approximately 4 of every 5 prescriptions for thyroid hormone were for natural thyroid preparations (38). Concerns about inconsistencies in the potency of these tablets arose (26) after the discovery that some contained anywhere from double to no detectable metabolic activity (39). The shelf-life of desiccated tablets was limited, especially if the tablets were kept in humid conditions (36). There were reports of patients not responding to desiccated thyroid altogether because their tablets contained no active thyroid hormone. It was not until 1985 that the revision of the U.S. Pharmacopeia standard from iodine content to T3/thyroxine (T4) content resulted in stable potency (38), but by then the reputation of natural thyroid products was tarnished (40).
In humans, a factor associated with response to combination therapy in a large clinical trial is the Thr92Ala polymorphism in the type 2 deiodinase gene (DIO2), wherein the subpopulation of patients with this genetic alteration had improved well-being and preference for combination therapy (7). This has led investigators to consider whether this polymorphism could confer a defect in the D2 pathway, but normal Thr92AlaD2 enzyme kinetics have been demonstrated (73). Only recently has the Thr92AlaD2 protein been found to have a longer half-life, ectopically localize in the Golgi apparatus, and significantly alter the genetic fingerprint in cultured cells and in the temporal pole of the human brain without evidence of reduced thyroid hormone signaling (74). The significance of these studies transcends the thyroid field—this polymorphism has now been associated with a constellation of diseases, including mental retardation, bipolar disorder, and low IQ (75). If hypothyroid carriers of Thr92AlaD2 benefit from alternate therapeutic strategies in replicate studies, then personalized medicine—based on genotype— may have a role.
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.
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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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