Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) is believed to be one of the most underdiagnosed health conditions in the United States. Many of its symptoms—lethargy, depression and weight gain—can be easily attributed to other factors, making hypothyroidism difficult to diagnose. Some reports estimate that around 15 percent of the population suffers from the condition; other reports estimate more than twice that. Risk increases with age, particularly in menopausal women. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), the opposite of hypothyroidism, is considerably less common and is characterized by extreme nervousness and restlessness.
The thyroid gland, situated just below the Adam’s apple on the low part of the neck, produces the thyroid hormones in the body. The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly and wraps itself around the trachea with two lobes attached to a central isthmus. When you eat foods containing iodine such as salt and seafood, this thyroid gland uses the idodine to produce the thyroid hormones. There are two important types of thyroid hormones produced which would be T4 or Thyrozine and T3 or Triiodothyronine (T3). These account for most of the thyroid hormones present in the bloodstream. T3 is the more active of the hormones and it affects cellular metabolism.
Do you see “gluten-free”, “dairy-free” etc. popping up at the health stores today? This is because many people get off the “big five” (gluten, dairy, corn, eggs and soy) and experience significant changes. To find the culprits, I always start off with an Elimination Diet (I teach how to do the Elimination Diet at this free workshop) and this produces clear, unbiased results. You can also get a food intolerance test (not allergy; it’s different) done but they are far from accurate. Gluten is an infamous food for contributing to thyroid conditions, and eliminating it is key. However, often times, you would need to cut out more than just gluten if you wish to shape your diet for thyroid fitness.
However, iodine intake has dropped during the past few decades. Americans get approximately 70% of their salt intake from processed foods that, in the United States and Canada, generally don’t contain iodine. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicates that, on average, Americans are getting adequate amounts of iodine, with the potential exception of women of childbearing age.10
Mild hypothyroidism is usually the early stage. It can progress to hypothyroidism if a hypothyroidism diet isn’t adopted and lifestyle changes aren’t made. When the condition isn’t corrected, more severe autoimmune reactions can occur — this can cause worsened problems like impaired brain function, infertility, unhealthy pregnancy, obesity, heart complications and joint pain.
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.
An unhealthy gut environment can contribute to nutrient deficiencies and raise autoimmune activity in the body. Food sensitivities or allergies, including those to gluten and dairy, can trigger gut inflammation. Other causes of a damaged gut are high stress levels, toxin overload from diet and the environment and bacterial imbalances. When leaky gut occurs, small particles that are normally trapped inside the gut start to leak out into the bloodstream through tiny openings in the gut lining, which creates an autoimmune cascade and a series of negative symptoms.
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 such as cod liver oil can also help balance levels of omega-6s in the diet, which is important for ongoing health.
You need to reduce the toxins you ingest from additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners (!), excessive sodium, and trans-fats and try to eliminate toxins hiding around your house. Water toxicity is a HUGE problem in thyroid conditions. Most public water systems in the US have fluoride added, which is now linked to slowing down the thyroid; fluoride is believed to be leaching on to the thyroid cells inhibiting the uptake of iodine, hence the altered production of the thyroid hormone (T4).
For instance, soy foods and the broccoli family (broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens) have all been said to cause thyroid dysfunction, but they also have many other health benefits. Research on these foods to date has been less than conclusive. In one study, rats fed high concentrations of soy had problems with their thyroid.
Iodine supplements should not be taken with Hashimoto’s disease because getting too much iodine over the longterm increases the risk of developing an overactive thyroid. While it’s nearly impossible to get too much from eating a variety of healthy foods alone, sometimes people taking supplements or eating very high amounts of dried algae and seaweed can exceed the recommended upper limit of 500 milligrams per day.
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

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.[1] Also, try other adaptogen herbs like rhodiola, shisandra, ginseng and holy basil that have similar benefits.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Why does this happen? The immune system mistakenly thinks that the thyroid cells are not a part of the body, so it tries to remove them before they can cause damage and illness. The problem is that this causes widespread inflammation, which can result in many different problems. 90 percent of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s that inflames the thyroid gland over time, but this isn’t the only cause of hypothyroidism.
Thyroid disease and disorder symptoms and signs depend on the type of the thyroid problem. Examples include heat or cold intolerance, sweating, weight loss or gain, palpitations, fatigue, dry skin, constipation, brittle hair, joint aches and pains, heart palpitations, edema, feeling bloated, puffiness in the face, reduced menstrual flow, changes in the frequency of bowel movements and habits, high cholesterol, hoarseness, brittle hair, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, a visible lump or swelling in the neck, tremors, memory problems, depression, nervousness, agitation, irritability, or poor concentration.

If you're thinking about upping your intake of salty, processed foods just to fit more iodine into your diet, think again. More than 75% of our dietary sodium intake comes from restaurant, pre-packaged, and processed fare. (In fact, you'd probably be surprised to learn just how many foods are actually just hidden salt traps.) But "manufacturers don't have to use iodized salt in their products," says Ilic. And according to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, they "almost never" do. The upshot: You may be taking in too much sodium (which can set you up for high blood pressure, then heart disease), minus the iodine.
Bladderwrack: Bladderwrack or fucus vesiculosus is a natural treatment for hypothyroidism and has proven to reduce the symptoms of the condition. It is actually a seaweed (a type of brown algae), found in several oceans across the globe. Bladderwrack is rich in iodine content, thereby proving to be an effective thyroid stimulant. It is seen to reduce the size of the thyroid gland during goiter and also restores its functioning. A person suffering from it can take a 600 mg Bladderwrack capsule with water 1-3 times a day.
However, iodine intake has dropped during the past few decades. Americans get approximately 70% of their salt intake from processed foods that, in the United States and Canada, generally don’t contain iodine. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicates that, on average, Americans are getting adequate amounts of iodine, with the potential exception of women of childbearing age.10

Soy? If you have hypothyroidism, yes. Eating too much soy causes problems only for those with hypothyroidism, which occurs when your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormones, Dr. Nasr says. The main problem is that soy hinders absorption of the hormones such patients are taking. “Some studies show that if you eat a lot of soy, or drink a big glass of soy milk, within one hour of taking a thyroid hormone, it might affect absorption,” he says. “A lot of people depend on those hormones to achieve a steady state.
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.
In areas of the world where there is an iodine deficiency in the diet, severe hypothyroidism occurs in about 5% to 15% of the population. Examples of these areas include Zaire, Ecuador, India, and Chile. Severe iodine deficiency occurs in remote mountain areas such as the Andes and the Himalayas. Since the addition of iodine to table salt and to bread, iodine deficiency is rare in the United States.
Megan Casper, RDN, a dietitian based in New York City and the founder of Nourished Bite, points out that iodine deficiency is the leading cause of hypothyroidism worldwide. This mineral can’t be made by the body, so dietary sources like iodized salt, dairy products, seafood, seaweed, and fortified cereals are important. “Iodine is an essential nutrient in the body, and thyroid hormones are composed of iodine,” explains Rizzo. “Those lacking thyroid hormones may also be lacking iodine.”

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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.

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