A discussion on thyroid disease and good health isn’t complete without stressing the importance of physical activity. Lisa Lilienfield, MD, a thyroid disease specialist at the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Virginia, and a certified yoga instructor, is a firm believer in the importance of exercise, particularly for clients with a thyroid disorder. “With hypothyroid patients, certainly exercise can help with weight gain, fatigue, and depression. With hyperthyroidism, anxiety and sleep disturbances are so common, and exercise can help regulate both.”
The main job of the thyroid gland is to combine the salt iodine with the amino acid tyrosine to make thyroid hormone. Whenever the thyroid gland has a hard time making enough thyroid hormone, it becomes stressed and grows bigger to try to do its job better, forming a “goiter” (enlarged thyroid). Substances that interfere with normal thyroid function are called “goitrogens” because they have the potential to cause goiter.
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
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.
Since having hypothyroidism can cause your body's metabolism to act really slow, you should understand that maintaining a hypothyroidism diet can save your life. Anyone with hypothyroidism has a slow metabolism, thus gaining weight is inevitable. If you gain weight, you can acquire a couple more health problems linked to weight gain, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
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).
The first step in treatment of hypothyroidism is to eliminate the effects and causes of the thyroid dysfunction, such as inflammation, overuse of medications, nutrient deficiencies, and changes in hormones due to stress. The hypothyroidism diet eliminates foods that can cause inflammation and immune reactions and instead focuses on foods that help heal the GI tract, balance hormones, and reduce inflammation.
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.
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High-fiber foods – People with hypothyroidism may have digestive difficulties, so aim for 30–40 grams of fiber daily. In addition to a high-fiber diet helping with digestive health, it improves heart health, balances blood sugar levels and supports a healthy weight by making you feel fuller. Some easy ways to increase fiber intake include eating more fresh vegetables, berries, beans, lentils and seeds.
Thyroid disease presents unique challenges due to undesired weight changes, significant cardiovascular risks, and symptoms such as fatigue, mood changes, and gastrointestinal upset, which can hinder the development of healthful behaviors. It’s vital that dietitians focus on setting realistic goals for heart-healthy changes and regular exercise when counseling clients. With so many potential nutrient deficiencies and interactions with medications and supplements, it will be important for dietitians to coordinate with their clients’ healthcare team for optimal health outcomes.
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.
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.
Despite these successes, authors have questioned the efficacy of l-thyroxine monotherapy because about 10% to 15% of patients are dissatisfied as a result of residual symptoms of hypothyroidism (1, 2), including neurocognitive impairment (3), and about 15% of patients do not achieve normal serum triiodothyronine (T3) levels (4). Studies of several animal models indicate that maintaining normal serum T3 levels is a biological priority (5). Although the clinical significance of relatively low serum T3 in humans is not well-defined (1), evidence shows that elevating serum T3 through the administration of both l-thyroxine and l-triiodothyronine has benefited some patients (6, 7). However, this has not been consistently demonstrated across trials (1). Novel findings highlight the molecular mechanisms underlying the inability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to universally normalize measures of thyroid hormone signaling (8, 9), and new evidence may lay the foundation for a role of personalized medicine (10). Understanding the historical rationale for the trend toward l-thyroxine monotherapy allows us to identify scientific and clinical targets for future trials.
In its earliest stage, hypothyroidism may cause few symptoms, since the body has the ability to partially compensate for a failing thyroid gland by increasing the stimulation to it, much like pressing down on the accelerator when climbing a hill to keep the car going the same speed. As thyroid hormone production decreases and the body’s metabolism slows, a variety of features may result.
Most people with hypothyroidism don’t need to steer clear of soy completely. But it’s a good idea to limit your consumption to a few servings a week, and to stick with minimally processed forms of soy like tempeh or miso. Foods containing processed soy protein isolates (like soy protein powder, soy protein bars, or soy-based meat analogs) tend to have a higher concentration of isoflavones, says Markley.
Sprouted Seeds — Flax, hemp and chia seeds provide ALA, a type of omega-3 fat that’s critical for proper hormonal balance and thyroid function. Adequate levels of fats in your hypothyroidism diet support a healthy mood and brain function while helping to lower inflammation. Eating plenty of healthy fats also stabilizes blood sugar levels and can help you stay at a healthy weight.
Exercise and a healthy diet are important for controlling chronic stress and managing hormone-related neurological function. Research shows that people who regularly exercise usually get better sleep, deal with stress better and usually maintain a healthier weight, too, all of which reduce some of the biggest risk factors and symptoms associated with hypothyroidism.
Zinc is another key nutrient for your thyroid—your body needs it to churn out TH. Take in too little zinc, and it can lead to hypothyroidism. But get this: If you develop hypothyroidism, you can also become deficient in zinc, since your thyroid hormones help absorb the mineral, explains Ilic. And when that happens, you may also experience side effects like severe alopecia, an autoimmune condition that attacks hair follicles and makes it fall out in clumps, according to one 2013 report.
Trials of the first pharmacologic strategies included intravenous or subcutaneous (12) or oral (15) administration of thyroid extract, in addition to “thyroid feeding,” the consumption of raw or cooked thyroid gland (16), with sustainable successes. Oral replacement strategies quickly won favor, although “alarming symptoms” associated with treatment were noted; however, the details were not fully described (17). Thyroid transplant may one day reemerge as a viable treatment option given that functional thyroid tissue can be generated from stem cells (18).
A cup of cooked white beans serves up 8mg of iron—a mineral that many people, especially premenopausal women, have trouble getting enough of . But getting your fill is important. “If you don’t, it can impair the activity of enzymes that produce thyroid hormones,” Dr. Lee says. (Women aged 19 to 50 need 18mg iron daily, while men and women 51 and older need 8mg .)
In the developed world, where protein is plentiful and many countries add iodine to salt and processed foods, we don’t typically need to worry about protein malnutrition or iodine deficiency. However, the rest of the world is not so lucky. More than 2 billion people around the world suffer from hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency. 2 billion! We are told that the reason for this planetary epidemic is that iodine comes from the ocean, and that the soil of inland areas has had most of its iodine washed away over time by erosion:
There are also certain risk factors for hypothyroidism including radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications for hyperthyroidism, lithium, Congenital disease or tumors on your pituitary gland, pregnancy, miscarriage, premature delivery and/or preeclampsia, Iodine deficiency, autoimmune disease, enlarged thyroid glands or goiters, and high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
If you have been diagnosed with both hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency, there are some things you can do to make these vegetables less harmful. Cooking them can reduce the effect that cruciferous vegetables have on the thyroid gland, and limiting your intake of these (cooked) vegetables to 5 ounces a day may help as well, since that amount appears to have no adverse effect on thyroid function.
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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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