Dr. George Springer has practiced alternative medicine for 31 years with an emphasis on treating chronic disease conditions. He received his undergraduate BA from the University of Missouri in St. Louis and his Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) from Logan University where he graduated magna cum laude. He went on to receive his Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.M.D.) from the American Naturopathic Medical Institute a division of Breyer State University in Los Angeles, California.
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
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.
Iodine: Iodine is critical for thyroid hormone production in the body. A true iodine deficiency will cause hypothyroidism (43). In western culture we often see subclinical iodine deficiencies which contribute to hypothyroidism (44). I typically don’t recommend high doses of iodine as it could be problematic with individuals with Hashimoto’s – especially with TPO anti-bodies.
90% of all hypothyroid conditions are autoimmune in nature. In other words, most people with hypothyroidism have the condition Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. But what causes this condition? Numerous factors can trigger an autoimmune response and result in the elevated thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and/or thyroglobulin antibodies you see with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. These antibodies will damage the thyroid gland, which is what leads to the decreased production of thyroid hormone. And while taking synthetic or natural thyroid hormone might be necessary for someone who has low or depressed thyroid hormone levels, this won’t do anything to improve the health of the immune system. So the goal is to detect and then remove the trigger which is causing the autoimmune response, get rid of the inflammation, and suppress the autoimmune component of the condition.
Limit or eliminate junk foods and highly processed products: This plan focuses on whole, unrefined foods as they are fundamental to a healthy diet. Realistically it’s very difficult to eliminate all highly processed (often pre-packaged) foods, but just be mindful of cutting down. Likewise, snacks listed are optional depending on your regular eating habits, and there are bonus snack recipe ideas if you scroll to the bottom.
Hypothyroidism is a secondary cause of dyslipidemia, typically manifesting in elevation of low-density lipoprotein and total cholesterol levels. It is clear that treatment resulting in the normalization of the serum TSH is associated with reduction in total cholesterol levels (54), but whether total cholesterol is fully normalized by l-thyroxine monotherapy is less well-defined. An analysis of 18 studies on the effect of thyroid hormone replacement on total cholesterol levels in overt hypothyroidism showed a reduction in the total cholesterol level in all 18 studies; however, in 14 of the 18 studies, the mean post treatment total cholesterol level remained above the normal range (>200 mg/dL [>5.18 mmol/L]) (55). These findings suggest that lipid measures are not fully restored despite normalization of the serum TSH (56). Whether the degree of dyslipidemia remaining in l-thyroxine-treated patients with a normal TSH is clinically significant is unknown, given that the benefit of thyroid hormone replacement in subclinical hypothyroidism is itself controversial (57, 58).
Postpartum thyroiditis: Five percent to 10 percent of women develop mild to moderate hyperthyroidism within several months of giving birth. Hyperthyroidism in this condition usually lasts for approximately one to two months. It is often followed by several months of hypothyroidism, but most women will eventually recover normal thyroid function. In some cases, however, the thyroid gland does not heal, so the hypothyroidism becomes permanent and requires lifelong thyroid hormone replacement. This condition may occur again with subsequent pregnancies.
Goitrogens are substances found naturally in certain foods that can slow down the production of thyroid hormone—keep in mind, though, this phenomenon occurs typically in people with an underlying iodine deficiency (which is rare in the United States). Still, even for people without iodine deficiency, experts recommend not over-consuming goitrogenic foods.
*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).
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).
Almost 5 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 has some form of hypothyroidism. (1) Some estimates suggest up to 40 percent of the population suffers from at least some level of underactive thyroid. Women — especially older women — are the most susceptible group for developing hypothyroidism. People who are elderly or who have other existing autoimmune diseases — like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease, for example — are also at a higher risk.
Hypothyroidism Supplements: Your thyroid is impacted greatly by specific nutrients, like Iodine, Selenium, Zinc, Copper, Vitamin B, Vitamin D3, Vitamin A, Iron, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Instead of taking a dozen separate vitamins every day, I recommend finding a thyroid-specific multi-vitamin that already contains optimal levels of these nutrients. Dr. Meyer’s makes my favorite thyroid multi-vitamin, and it contains methylated vitamins to help with absorption and efficacy. Adaptogenic herbs like ashwaghanda and reishi are also really helpful for managing stress and anxiety, which are linked with your thyroid.
Caffeine has been found to block absorption of thyroid hormone replacement, says Dr. Lee. "People who were taking their thyroid medication with their morning coffee had uncontrollable thyroid levels, and we couldn't figure it out," she says. "I now have to be very careful to tell people, 'Only take your medication with water.'" You should wait at least 30 minutes after taking your medication before having a cup of joe.
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