Your thyroid is the little butterfly-shaped gland at the front base of your neck. It regulates the release of hormones and regulates your metabolism. The most common issue is hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid condition that leads to extreme fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, and weight gain. It can also increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
As mentioned above, most thyroid conditions are auto-immune diseases. There are tons of lymphocytes and other immune cells in the gut, which protect the body from viruses, bacteria, and other invaders. This is why most people with thyroid conditions also experience frequent bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea. A diet change will help your gut tremendously. “All disease begins in the gut“, said Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. I’m not sure why this is not taught in schools today, but it’s an important part of the thyroid diet plan.
Correcting these problems requires an integrative approach. It involves more than simply taking a thyroid pill. As you’ll see, it involves nutritional support, exercise, stress reduction, supplements, reducing inflammation, and sometimes eliminating certain foods and detoxification from heavy metals (such as mercury and lead) and petrochemical toxins (such as pesticides and PCBs).
Iodine is an essential ingredient in thyroid hormone, and thyroid hormone is critical to the growth and development of the bodies and brains of all baby vertebrates (animals with backbones). Since they need iodine just as much as we do, and they do not have access to artificially iodized salt, how do they get their iodine? Do they have a secret stash somewhere that they’re not sharing with us? I assume they are getting enough iodine because if they weren’t, they would all be born brain-damaged runts, and many would be infertile if they survived to adulthood. To the best of my knowledge, wild inland animals are not herds of sterile, stupefied miniatures roaming the landscape in search of iodine…
It’s more of a problem for people with iodine deficiency or those who eat huge amounts of goitrogens. “Goitrogens are not as active when they’re cooked, so eat them cooked,” says Fiorella DiCarlo RDN, CDN, with both clinical and research experience in medical nutrition therapy in New York City. “The last thing I want to do as a dietitian is to tell people to not eat vegetables!,” she adds. It sounds weird, but if you have a precondition, eating these vegetables raw and in large quantities could affect your thyroid.
*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).
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.
"Secondary" or "tertiary" hypothyroidism occurs when the decrease in thyroid hormone is due to a defect of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus. A special test, known as the TRH test, can help distinguish if the disease is caused by a defect in the pituitary or the hypothalamus. This test requires an injection of the TRH hormone and is performed by a doctor that treats thyroid conditions (endocrinologist or hormone specialist).
Hypothyroidism symptoms include: family history of thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, infertility, constipation and other digestion issues, weight gain, bloating, puffy face, irregular hair loss and/or thinning of your hair and/or your hair has become coarse, dry, breaking, brittle, and/or is falling out, acne and/or dry or thinning skin, mood disorders, like anxiety or depression, fatigue, low energy and/or low libido, increased sensitivity to cold, low body temperature usually below 98.6 degrees and/or cold hands and feet, muscle weakness, aches, tenderness and stiffness and/or pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, numbness or tingling in your hands & fingers, difficulty concentrating, focusing or remembering things and brain fog.
In the past, doctors weren't able to detect hypothyroidism until symptoms were fairly advanced. But by using the sensitive TSH test, doctors are able to diagnose thyroid disorders much earlier — often before you experience symptoms. Because the TSH test is the best screening test, your doctor will likely check TSH first and follow with a thyroid hormone test if needed. TSH tests also play an important role in managing hypothyroidism. They help your doctor determine the right dosage of medication, both initially and over time.
If you have signs or symptoms the same or similar to hypothyroidism, discuss them (for example, weight gain, constipation, or fatigue) with your doctor or other healthcare professional. A simple blood test is the first step in the diagnosis. If you need treatment for hypothyroidism, let your doctor know of any concerns or questions you have about the available treatment, including home or natural remedies.
One root vegetable that is the exception, and which can negatively impact an underactive thyroid is cassava, a common staple in certain parts of Africa. This plant “is known to produce toxins that can slow an already underactive thyroid,” Dr. Nasr says. But, “that’s not relevant here in the United States, unless you cook cassava and you eat it every day.”
It has been hypothesized that these compounds activate a complex defense system that maintains normal thyroid function by protecting the gland from both hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), produced by thyrocytes and oxidative stress. This is the major cofactor for the key thyroid enzyme 5’deiodinase which is what converts T4 into T3. 5’deoidinase also degrades the inactive rT3.
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) is believed to be one of the most underdiagnosed health conditions in the United States. Many of its symptoms—lethargy, depression and weight gain—can be easily attributed to other factors, making hypothyroidism difficult to diagnose. Some reports estimate that around 15 percent of the population suffers from the condition; other reports estimate more than twice that. Risk increases with age, particularly in menopausal women. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), the opposite of hypothyroidism, is considerably less common and is characterized by extreme nervousness and restlessness.
Cases of myxedema were reported in the mid–19th century but were not initially connected with a deficiency from the thyroid gland until surgeons identified incident myxedema after thyroidectomy (11). Initial treatment strategies were largely insufficient and primarily symptom directed, including hot baths and institutionalization (12). The significant morbidity and mortality in the absence of efficacious treatment were clear, and thus the need to “replace” the thyroid through surgical transplantation or oral or intravenous routes was established. Thyroid transplant had some early successes, but for many patients symptoms recurred and the procedure even had to be repeated (13). Because of the rapidity and transiency of improvement (12), it was hypothesized that symptoms improved by absorption of the “juice” of the donor gland (14).
Giving appropriate doses of T3 is trickier than appropriately dosing T4. T4 is inactive, so if you give too much there is no immediate, direct tissue effect. T3 is a different story, though, as it is the active thyroid hormone. So if you give too much T3, you can produce hyperthyroid effects directly—a risk, for instance, to people with cardiac disease.
You might be wondering whether natural hypothyroid treatment methods can restore your health back to normal. If you didn’t become hypothyroid due to thyroid surgery or from receiving radioactive iodine, then there is a good chance you can benefit from a natural hypothyroid treatment protocol. On the other hand, even if you have had a partial or complete thyroidectomy, or received RAI, there still is a chance that you can benefit from following such a protocol. After all, even if you can’t have your thyroid health completely restored back to normal, it still is important to address the cause of your condition. However, those people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis who haven’t had these procedures have an excellent chance of restoring their health back to normal.
Having a thyroid condition is no picnic, but you're not alone with this health issue. According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12 percent of the population may end up dealing with a thyroid condition at some point in their lives. And thyroid issues can be sneaky: Of the nearly 20 million Americans living with the disease, as many as 60 percent don't even realize they have it.
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