Major diagnostic and therapeutic advancements in the early 20th century dramatically changed the prognosis of hypothyroidism from a highly morbid condition to one that could be successfully managed with safe, effective therapies. These advancements dictated treatment trends that have led to the adoption of l-thyroxine monotherapy, administered at doses to normalize serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), as the contemporary standard of care (Figure). Most patients do well with this approach, which both normalizes serum TSH levels and leads to symptomatic remission (1).
The symptoms of hypothyroidism are often subtle. They are not specific (which means they can mimic the symptoms of many other conditions) and are often attributed to aging. People with mild hypothyroidism may have no signs or symptoms. The symptoms generally become more obvious as the condition worsens and the majority of these complaints are related to a metabolic slowing of the body. Common symptoms and signs include:
Hypothyroidism (overactive thyroid) is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces an abnormally low amount of thyroid hormone. Many disorders result in hypothyroidism, which may directly or indirectly involve the thyroid gland. Because thyroid hormone affects growth, development, and many cellular processes, inadequate thyroid hormone has widespread consequences for the body.
Although I’m a fan of getting what you need from real food whenever possible, herbs, supplements, and vitamins can still have a place in the thyroid diet plan. It’s hard to give tips here as many people over-medicate and only feel worse later. Hopefully these tips will help; they apply to most auto-immune conditions (This advice was given by my naturopath who focuses on hormonal and thyroid health.):
Hypothyroidism Diet: One of the main causes of hypothyroidism is inflammation, so following an anti-inflammatory diet is key to improving your thyroid function. Likewise, ensuring your diet is rich in nutrient-dense foods, particularly iodine and selenium, will also help your thyroid produce sufficient levels of thyroid hormones. Some of the best foods to eat for your thyroid: wild-caught fish, coconut oil and ghee, seaweed, probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and miso, sprouted whole grains and nuts, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, bone broth, and plenty of good ole’ H20. Getting plenty of protein, healthy fat and fiber is of utmost importance when you have thyroid dysfunction.
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.
When the hypothalmus decides we need more thyroid hormone in circulation (cold weather or increased activity level for example) it sends a chemical messenger called thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) which goes to the pituitary gland. The pituitary than sends thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) over to the thyroid. TSH activates the production of a protein called thyroglobulin.
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.
Zinc is critical to thyroid health and is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. In fact, deficiencies of this mineral can lead to hypothyroidism. (Additionally, thyroid hormones are essential for zinc absorption, so hypothyroidism can lead to zinc deficiency.) Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc; other good sources include oysters, crab, lobster, legumes, nuts, and sunflower seeds.
Many people want to know how to cure hypothyroidism permanently. It helps to know that those who have hypothyroidism often have it because they have hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease. As such, you must get to the source of the imbalance, not simply cover up the symptoms with medication. (14) In fact, in some cases, treatment of hyperthyroidism can result in permanent hypothyroidism. (15)
Although relatively low serum T3 levels could contribute to these residual manifestations, the higher serum T4:T3 ratio should also be considered. This has been well-established for 4 decades (28, 50, 59), but only recently has it been recognized as a relevant measure given that higher serum T4 levels will impair systemic T3 production via downregulation of a deiodinase pathway (9). Thus, some emphasis has recently been directed toward establishing the clinical significance of this ratio (1, 5).
l-Thyroxine monotherapy for athyreotic rats results in a high T4:T3 ratio at doses sufficient to normalize serum TSH levels (8). Yet, the brain, liver, and skeletal muscle tissues of these l-thyroxine–treated animals continue to exhibit markers of hypothyroidism (9), probably because of the inability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to restore tissue levels of T3 (8). This is probably a direct consequence of lower serum T3 levels and the relatively high T4 concentration in these tissues, which inactivates the type 2 iodothyronine deiodinase (D2). In the hypothalamus, loss of D2 is minimal in the presence of T4, which increases sensitivity to T4 levels and explains TSH normalization, despite relatively lower levels of serum T3. Only combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine normalized all thyroid hormone–dependent measures (9), including serum and tissue T3 levels (8). Whether tissue-specific markers of hypothyroidism are restored with l-thyroxine monotherapy in humans remains to be determined, as does the ability of l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine combination therapy to normalize the serum T4:T3 ratio without adverse events. The development of a novel drug delivery system for l-triiodothyronine would facilitate these studies (5).
With the availability of multiple forms of thyroid hormone replacement, early clinical trials were designed to assess efficacy and dose equivalency among natural thyroid (typically desiccated), synthetic l-thyroxine, and/or l-triiodothyronine. These were not designed as superiority trials, their therapeutic goals were the normalization of serum PBI or BMR, and doses were dramatically higher than used today. For example, desiccated thyroid and intravenous l-thyroxine monotherapy normalized BMR, pulse, and body weight in myxedema (29), l-triiodothyronine monotherapy was likewise effective (30), and the potency of l-triiodothyronine exceeded that of l-thyroxine (31).
In some areas of the world, iodized salt is an essential way to prevent iodine deficiency, cretinism, and mental retardation due to iodine deficiency in pregnant women. In the United States, however, many people have limited their salt intake or stopped using iodized salt, and you need enough iodine for the thyroid to function properly. An excess of iodine, however, is also linked to increased risk of thyroid disease, so staying in range and avoiding deficiency or excess is essential.
Refined Flour Products – Any food made with refined carbohydrates, like enriched wheat flour, for example, negatively impacts hormone levels and can contribute to weight gain. Refined flour products include bread, cereals, pastas and all baked goods. If possible, remove most grains from your diet all together, or at least try to greatly limit the amount of products you eat that are made with any flour by choosing 100 percent whole, ancient grains instead (like quinoa, buckwheat, etc.)
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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.
The development of TSH assays led to a dramatic reduction in thyroid hormone replacement dosage and the ability to diagnose with certainty milder forms of hypothyroidism. Discovery of peripheral T4-to-T3 conversion gave a physiologic means to justify l-thyroxine monotherapy. In combination with the concerns over consistency and safety of natural thyroid preparations, synthetic l-thyroxine was perceived as a more reliable therapy. These findings laid the foundation for the clinical practice trend away from natural thyroid preparations and toward l-thyroxine monotherapy at doses to normalize the serum TSH. Later, a subpopulation of patients with residual symptoms of hypothyroidism was recognized. It remains to be determined whether this is due to a trend of attributing nonspecific symptoms to minimal thyroid dysfunction, relatively low serum T3 levels and/or high T4:T3 ratio, or the role of Thr92AlaD2 polymorphism, and whether combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine will be beneficial.
Hypothyroidism Medication: Conventional doctors almost always put their patients on either Synthroid® (a synthetic thyroid hormone pill that contains only T4; sometimes called Levothyroxine, Levothroid, Unithroid, and Tirosint) or Armour (Natural Desiccated Thyroid derived from the thyroid glands of pigs). Both are tablets that patients will have to take daily for the rest of their lives. In some cases, these medications might help, but there are all kinds of side effects and issues that arise. So I recommend two other medications over these two instead.
An unhealthy gut environment can contribute to nutrient deficiencies and raise autoimmune activity in the body. Gut inflammation can be triggered by food sensitivities or allergies, including those to gluten and dairy. 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.
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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