“For women who may become pregnant, during pregnancy, or lactating, the American Thyroid Association recommends taking a daily supplement containing 150 mcg of iodine,”8 says Elizabeth Pearce, MD, MSc, professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts, and the ATA also recommends against taking added selenium during pregnancy given some concern that there is an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Most physicians diagnose hypothyroidism by simple blood tests that measure the level of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which is made by the pituitary gland in response to thyroid hormone and the body’s needs, and indicates thyroid status. As levels of thyroid hormones fall, the pituitary releases TSH to stimulate the thyroid to produce more hormone. Clinicians may also measure circulating levels of T-3 and T-4, which are the thyroid hormones themselves. Low levels of T-4 and high levels of TSH reveal an underactive thyroid. Other variants of hypothyroidism can exist. Patients can have no symptoms and normal serum thyroid hormone levels, but elevated TSH. Others can have symptoms, but normal TSH and T-4 levels. Patients with either of these variants may benefit from supplementation. In addition, someone with a temporary illness might have a completely normal thyroid but high TSH, a condition called “sick euthyroid” which usually resolves without any intervention.
Other causes of hypothyroidism include surgical removal of the thyroid (usually for cancer), radiation therapy of the head and neck, or complications of medical therapies for hyperthyroidism. (Patients with overactive thyroids are often treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications that reduce thyroid functioning. These effects can be extensive and permanent, and thyroid supplementation is often required flowing these interventions.) Certain medications can worsen or promote hypothyroidism or interfere with thyroid replacement therapy. One such drug is lithium, used for treating psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder.
Finding a competent natural healthcare professional who can restore your health back to normal is not always an easy task. There simply are not a lot of natural healthcare professionals who focus on endocrine conditions, such as hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I usually advise people to contact some of the naturopathic doctors and chiropractors in their area, along with medical doctors who practice functional medicine, as if they contact enough of them there is a good chance they will find one who focuses on endocrine conditions. If they’re unable to find such a doctor this way then many people can be helped by consulting with someone remotely over the phone or through Skype, although it’s a good idea to first get examined by an endocrinologist or a different type of medical doctor before taking this approach. I personally conduct remote consultations and have helped a lot of people this way, and there are other healthcare professionals out there who also work with their patients remotely, but I realize that some people prefer to speak with someone face-to-face.
Hypothyroidism is a very common condition. Approximately 3% to 4% of the U.S. population has some form of hypothyroidism. This type of thyroid disorder is more common in women than in men, and its incidence increases with age. Examples of common causes of hypothyroidism in adults include Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune form of overactive thyroid, lymphocytic thyroiditis, which may occur after hyperthyroidism (underactive thyroid), thyroid destruction from radioactive iodine or surgery, pituitary or hypothalamic disease, medications, and severe iodine deficiency.
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.
According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, 90% of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune hypothyroid condition, whereby the immune system attacks thyroid tissue. Therefore, to cure thyroid disease, or any autoimmune condition, you have to get to the source of the imbalance; focusing on suppression of symptoms with medication is simply barking up the wrong tree.
Many types of seaweed are chockfull of iodine, but the amount can vary wildly, says Mira Ilic, RD, a registered dietician at the Cleveland Clinic. According to the National Institutes of Health, a 1-gram portion can contain anywhere from 11% to a whopping 1,989% of your percent daily value. But since seaweed is especially high in iodine, you shouldn't start eating sushi every day of the week. Too much iodine can be just as harmful to your thyroid as too little by triggering (or worsening) hypothyroidism. To get seaweed's big benefits without going overboard, Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, and Health's contributing nutrition editor advises sticking to one fresh seaweed salad per week (in addition to sushi), and steering clear of seaweed teas and supplements.
Although the implementation of sensitive TSH assays resulted in dose reduction, it also fueled the discovery of subclinical states of hypothyroidism (i.e., serum TSH <10 mIU/L and normal serum free T4); this state is 20 times more prevalent than overt hypothyroidism (64). Hence, many patients with vague symptoms, such as depressed mood and fatigue, are commonly screened and found to have subclinical hypothyroidism. In many cases, this finding prompts the conclusion that the subclinical hypothyroidism is the cause of the nonspecific symptoms, and thyroid hormone therapy is initiated. The patients in whom the cause–effect relationship was incorrect contribute to the increasing number of euthyroid but symptomatic patients (57). The marked increase in prescribing of thyroid hormone with decreasing TSH thresholds amplifies this problem (47).
People with celiac disease—the autoimmune disease that's characterized by an intolerance to the gluten in wheat, barley, and rye—are also more likely to have higher rates of thyroid problems, according to a 2007 report by researchers in the United Kingdom. "Eating a gluten-free diet helps control the symptoms, which may also help protect the thyroid gland," says Ilic. But unless you have celiac disease—and we're not talking an L.A.-aversion to gluten, here — you might not want to avoid breads after all. In fact, thanks to some of the baking processes, bread can actually contain some iodine.
Getting enough fiber is good for you, but too much can complicate your hypothyroidism treatment. The government's Daily Guidelines for Americans currently recommends that older adults take in 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. Amounts of dietary fiber from whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes that go above that level affect your digestive system and can interfere with absorption of thyroid hormone replacement drugs.
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