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.
Before you read on, it’s key to know that 90% of hypo- and hyper-thyroidism results from an autoimmune disorder. (Most people do not realize this, as doctors often don’t take time to explain things.) Most hypothyroid conditions are Hashimoto’s and most hyperthyroid conditions are Graves’ Disease, which means that your immune system is attacking your thyroid. Since the immune system resides in the gut or our intestine (Did you know that?!) a lot of what you will read here is about rebuilding the digestive system.
Subclinical hypothyroidism refers to a state in which people do not have symptoms of hypothyroidism and have a normal amount of thyroid hormone in their blood. The only abnormality is an increased TSH on the person’s blood work. This implies that the pituitary gland is working extra hard to maintain a normal circulating thyroid hormone level and that the thyroid gland requires extra stimulation by the pituitary to produce adequate hormones. Most people with subclinical hypothyroidism can expect the disease to progress to obvious hypothyroidism, in which symptoms and signs occur.
Supplementing with L-tyrosine has been shown to improve sleep deprivation and can help combat fatigue and a poor mood by improving alertness and neurotransmitter function. One reason L-tyrosine is beneficial in healing thyroid symptoms is because it plays a role in the production of melatonin, dopamine and/or norepinephrine, which are our natural “feel good” hormones. (17)
Wild-caught fish — These provide the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, essential for hormone balance and thyroid function. Balancing the level of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your hypothyroidism diet can reduce inflammation and support healthy neurological function. Fish such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon, Atlantic mackerel and Pacific sardines are some of the best sources of omega-3s to increase neurotransmitter activity and support a healthy mood and immune system. Just be aware of the fish you should never eat and choose the best varieties available.
Black Cohosh: Black cohosh also called Actaea racemosa or Cimicifuga racemosa is a perennial plant of the buttercup family and is a native of North America. It is sold as a dietary supplement in the market and is seen to be effective in treating hypothyroidism. As black cohosh aids in balancing the estrogen levels in the body, it is quite useful to treat thyroid problems in females.
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.
If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, it may sound horrible, but you could be in it for life. This means you'll need to change your diet and lifestyle entirely. There must be a conscious and consistent plan for your everyday intake of food to prevent flares of symptoms that could disrupt your everyday routine. If you adhere strongly to your diet plan, then there shouldn't be any worries about symptom attacks later on.
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 is generally treated with a single daily dose of levothyroxine, given as a tablet. An experienced physician can prescribe the correct form and dosage to return the thyroid balance to normal. Older patients who may have underlying heart disease are usually started at a low dose and gradually increased while younger healthy patients can be started on full replacement doses at once. Thyroid hormone acts very slowly in some parts of the body, so it may take several months after treatment for some features to improve.
Dietary changes: For those who have existing thyroid conditions, excess consumption of soy may affect thyroid function, but this is probably a concern only in those already taking Synthroid or other thyroid replacement medication. If you consume soy on a regular basis, you may require a slightly increased dosage of replacement therapy. You should also know that if you eat soy foods at the same time that you take thyroid hormone, they may interfere with its absorption. To be safe, do not eat soy within three hours of taking your medication. Moderate soy consumption (one serving daily of whole soy foods) should not be a problem. Adequate iodine from dietary sources is also important – iodized salt, fresh ocean fish and seaweed are good sources.
Taking synthetic thyroid hormone can make up the difference and make you feel more like yourself. But eating certain foods—and limiting your consumption of others—can also help your thyroid function at its best, explains Hong Lee, MD, a double board-certified internist and endocrinologist with AMITA Health Adventist Medical Center Hinsdale in Illinois. That could allow you to avoid having to take higher and higher doses of synthetic thyroid hormones, and eventually end up relying on them completely in order for your thyroid to function.
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.
Characteristic symptoms and physical signs, which can be detected by a physician, can signal hypothyroidism. However, the condition may develop so slowly that many patients do not realize that their body has changed, so it is critically important to perform diagnostic laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the cause of hypothyroidism. A primary care physician may make the diagnosis of hypothyroidism, but assistance is often needed from an endocrinologist, a physician who is a specialist in thyroid diseases.
Since iodine is found in soils and seawater, fish are another good source of this nutrient. In fact, researchers have long known that people who live in remote, mountainous regions with no access to the sea are at risk for goiters. "The most convincing evidence we have [for thyroid problems] is the absence of adequate nutrition," says Salvatore Caruana, MD, the director of the division of head and neck surgery in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at ColumbiaDoctors.
The development of TSH radioimmunoassay (43) provided the first sensitive and specific marker of systemic thyroid hormone status (Figure). Clinicians could now titrate therapy to achieve a serum TSH within the normal range as a specific marker of replacement adequacy (44). For patients who were once treated with doses that normalized their symptoms, BMR, or serum PBI, the use of serum TSH revealed such doses to be typically supratherapeutic (45, 46). Maintenance doses of l-thyroxine ranged from 200 to 500 mcg/d before the institution of the TSH assay and then became typically closer to 100 to 150 mcg/d (Appendix Table). Implementation of the TSH radioimmunoassay also provided a means to diagnose much milder, or even subclinical, cases of hypothyroidism that may have been undiagnosed with earlier, less sensitive, diagnostic methods (47).
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Clara Schneider, MS, RD, RN, CDE, LDN, of Outer Banks Nutrition and author of numerous books, including The Everything Thyroid Diet Book, says, “The No. 1 priority is to get the thyroid disease under control. Clients need to have labs and medications addressed first. Weight changes are just not going to happen before all of that is under control.” She notes that Hashimoto’s typically occurs around menopause, which compounds the weight gain issue that many women experience during that time.
Probiotic-Rich Foods – These include kefir (a fermented dairy product) or organic goat’s milk yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, natto, sauerkraut and other fermented veggies. Part of your hypothyroidism diet, probiotics help create a healthy gut environment by balancing microflora bacteria, which reduces leaky gut syndrome, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation and autoimmune reactions.
Goitrogenic foods can act like an antithyroid drug in disabling the thyroid function. They prevent the thyroid from using available iodine. It is made worse if you use a lot of salt because that causes the thyroid to swell. Do not eat these in large amounts if you are taking thyroid hormone replacement. It is thought that the enzymes involved in the formation of goitrogenic materials in plants can be destroyed by cooking, so cook these foods thoroughly if you want to eat them.
I was concerned about an ongoing “mental fog” and forgetfulness I had – which is one of the symptoms of Hashimoto’s. I was having trouble losing weight and also felt very low in energy. Since following Dr. Osansky’s recommendations I have found that I have a greater sense of calm – something I didn’t expect from the treatment and changes in diet and lifestyle. In addition to getting my Hashimoto’s under control, I have enjoyed other health benefits as well. I no longer suffer from anemia, my Vitamin D levels are normal and my immune system is strong. My thyroid blood tests also improved. Although it’s a commitment and initial expense, it is completely worth it in the long run. Given the alternative (taking thyroid medication for the rest of your life), in my opinion it’s a no brainer. If you give a natural treatment protocol a fair chance you’d be surprised at how much more empowered you’ll feel about your illness and treating it. A natural treatment protocol is an effective solution that puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to your health. Traditional methods do the exact opposite.
Although it’s not a very common cause, sometimes newborns are born with a dysfunction of the thyroid gland, a genetic condition called congenital hypothyroidism. Some evidence shows that people are more likely to develop hypothyroidism if they have a close family member with an autoimmune disease. But according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the likelihood of genetic hypothyroidism is very low and only about one out of every 4,000 newborns is born with a thyroid disorder.
AGEs cause massive destruction throughout the body and have an affinity for thyroid tissue. Elevated HgA1C (a measure of glycation) is correlated with increased TSH and decreased free T3 & T4 (57). When the blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia), it increases stress hormone (cortisol and adrenaline) to boost up blood sugar. Cortisol directly inhibits the enzyme (5’-deiodinase) which converts inactive T4 into active T3.
Over my several decades working as a Functional Medicine doctor, I can assure you that even in the toughest cases, you can heal your thyroid. With some patients, I can do this through the dietary, nutrient, and lifestyle factors I’ve discussed here. For others, that healing requires trial and error using several medications and working closely with a physician.
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.
Goitrogen Foods – Eating large amounts of raw Brassica vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, soy and Brussels sprouts might impact thyroid function because these contain goitrogens, molecules that impair thyroid perioxidase. When consuming these cruciferous vegetables, it’s best to steam them for 30 minutes before consuming to reduce the goitrogenic effect and keep portions moderate in size. These pose more of a risk for people with iodine deficiencies.
If you have celiac disease or wheat/gluten sensitivity, going on a gluten-free diet may lower or even eliminate your thyroid antibodies and cause an autoimmune thyroid disease remission. If you have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, but are suspicious for it based on symptoms and/or a family history, be sure to get it checked out by your doctor.
Unlike conventional medical treatments, a natural hypothyroid treatment approach tries to get to the underlying cause of your disorder. In other words, upon seeing a competent natural healthcare professional who focuses on endocrine conditions, they will try to determine what is actually causing your thyroid gland to malfunction. In addition to looking at the typical thyroid blood tests, they might also evaluate your adrenal glands, digestive system, hormone levels, and other areas of the body which can be causing your thyroid gland to malfunction. Then assuming this natural healthcare professional feels they can help you, they will recommend a natural hypothyroid treatment protocol that won’t just manage your symptoms, but will also attempt to restore your health back to normal.
Do a little Googling, and you might turn up a page or two claiming that cruciferous vegetables can cause thyroid troubles. The truth is a little murkier. While it's true that these veggies contain compounds called glucosinolates, which might interfere with your body's production of thyroid hormones in high amounts, it's pretty unlikely that they'll harm your thyroid if you're eating normal-size servings. One case report in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted the story of an 88-year-old woman who showed up to the ER with hypothyroidism after eating about 2 or 3 pounds of bok choy a day—but, as Ilic points out, "that's not a normal amount."
I wish there were two different words to say what I want to say: one for “diet” as in when you want to lose weight and another “diet” as in a nourishing food change that will bring healing and joy. Oh well… But you know when I say “diet” I mean a protocol, a way of being, a way of living and eating that will free you from some or all of the fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight yo-yo’s, food frustrations, and infertility that have plagued you for some time now. I want to share with you what I know about the best healing diet for thyroid issues.
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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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