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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).
In developing countries, insufficient amounts of iodine in the diet account for most cases of hypothyroidism. Iodine is necessary for the production of the two main thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T-4) and triiodothyronine (T-3). In the U.S. – where salt is iodized, and most Americans get plenty of iodine from table salt – an autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause. Hashimoto’s is more common in women and in those with a family history of autoimmune diseases. It involves immune-related inflammation and destruction of the thyroid gland, which reduces proper functioning and production of thyroid hormone. The exact cause and triggers of Hashimoto’s still remains unknown.
Probiotic-Rich Foods — These include kefir (a fermented dairy product), organic goat’s milk yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, natto, sauerkraut and other fermented veggies. As part of your hypothyroidism diet, probiotics help create a healthy gut environment by balancing microflora bacteria. This reduces leaky gut syndrome, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation and autoimmune reactions.
The vast majority of individuals—one in seven are women—with hypothyroidism in the US have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, but this isn’t caused by iodine levels in the diet.2 Other less common causes of hypothyroidism include a deficiency of iodine in the diet, taking certain medications that interfere with thyroid absorption, surgical removal of the thyroid, and a genetic disorder.
The thyroid is the organ with the highest selenium content in the whole body. Selenium is necessary for the production of the T3 thyroid hormone and can reduce autoimmune affects. In patients with Hashimoto’s disease and in pregnant women with thyroid disturbances, selenium supplementation decreases anti-thyroid antibody levels and improves the structure of the thyroid gland.
When I first began the natural treatment plan for my autoimmune hypothyroid condition my top five symptoms were chest pain (diagnosed with costochondritis), fatigue, memory loss, stomach upset, and muscle weakness. No matter how much rest I got, I was still tired. Additionally I did not sleep well either. Originally, I didn’t feel much different. I believe the reason for that to be because I was only taking a portion of the recommended natural supplements, as well as the fact that I had only changed some of my diet. When I really got serious about making changes is when I began to really see improvements. Although this does require a change in lifestyle, I feel much better today. The natural treatment protocol allowed me to delve deeper into the root of the problem and address it so that I will hopefully not need to be on these supplements for the rest of my life. I have already cut back on some of my supplements since my last blood work results.
First things first, you must consider food to be your medicine and get off all processed junk food, sugar (which sends you on a hormonal rollercoaster ride) and gluten. The Daily Living Eating Plan is a great place to start. In addition, l-glutamine is a key amino acid that reduces cravings for high-glycemic carbohydrates and helps kick the sugar habit. If you have already done that and are looking to go deeper, here are some tips to heal the thyroid:
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.
Since most cases of hypothyroidism are permanent and often progressive, it is usually necessary to treat this condition throughout one’s lifetime. Periodic monitoring of TSH levels and clinical status are necessary to ensure that the proper dose is being given, since medication doses may have to be adjusted from time to time. Optimal adjustment of thyroid hormone dosage is critical, since the body is very sensitive to even small changes in thyroid hormone levels.
Other noticeable effects of hypothyroidism include moodiness and a sluggish metabolism. Essentially when your thyroid is underactive your metabolism will slow down, which might mean you always feel tired or struggle to keep off weight. Your mood is especially susceptible to changes in hormone levels, so some people with hypothyroidism wind up dealing with depression, anxiety, trouble getting good sleep, and low immunity. The thyroid gland helps regulate chemical messengers called neurotransmitters that control your emotions and nerve signaling, which is the reason an out-of-balance thyroid can mean drastic emotional changes at times.
Hypothyroidism can be easily treated with thyroid hormone replacement. The preferred treatment for most people with an underactive thyroid is levothyroxine sodium (Levoxyl, Synthroid). This is a more stable form of thyroid hormone and requires once a day dosing.Liothyronine sodium (Cytomel) also may be prescribed to treat hypothyroidism under certain conditions.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb that helps the body respond to stress, keeping hormone levels better in balance. Adaptogens helps lower cortisol and balance T4 levels. In fact, in clinical trials, supplementing with ashwagandha for eight weeks essentially worked as thyroxine treatment, helping hypothyroidism patients significantly increase thyroxine hormone levels and thus reduce the severity of the disorder. (13) Also, try other adaptogen herbs like rhodiola, licorice root, ginseng and holy basil, which have similar benefits.
It's important to note, however, that selenium has what doctors call a "narrow therapeutic window." In optimal amounts, it can help ensure good thyroid function and have other benefits, but is toxic in amounts not that far above "normal." This is especially important to remember if you are taking a multi-vitamin that contains zinc as well as a zinc supplement.
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Making dietary changes is your first line of defense in treating hypothyroidism. Many people with hypothyroidism experience crippling fatigue and brain fog, which prompts reaching for non-nutritional forms of energy like sugar and caffeine. I’ve dubbed these rascals the terrible twosome, as they can burn out your thyroid (and destabilize blood sugar).
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.
Many people assume they can treat their hypothyroid condition on their own, without the help of a natural healthcare professional. Some will simply visit their local health food store and try taking some supplements and/or herbal remedies to help cure their condition. The problem is that it usually is not this easy to restore one’s health when dealing with a hypothyroid condition, as while nutritional deficiencies can cause or contribute to a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition, there are other factors which can be causing your hypothyroidism condition.
The diagnosis of “subclinical” hypothyroidism that I discussed last week depends on having a TSH level higher than 5 m IU/ml and lower than 10 m IU/ml. As I mentioned above, new guidelines suggest anything over 3 is abnormal. While an improvement, practitioners following these guidelines may still miss many people who have normal test results and a malfunctioning thyroid system.
Follow a Thyroid Diet: The consumption of sea food, shellfish and organic vegetables and fruits, rich in iodine content has proven beneficial in overcoming iodine deficiency. It is better to eat small meals rather than three large meals. Non-starchy fruits and vegetables and low-fat proteins should be consumed. Sugary and starchy food items like, pasta, desserts, sodas, white bread, rice, etc. must be avoided completely. An intake of at least 64 ounces of non-fluoridated water is necessary.
Wild-caught fish – These provide omega-3 fatty acids EPA/DHA that are 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. Wild fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are some of the best sources of omega-3s to increase neurotransmitter activity and support a healthy mood and immune system.
From the early 1890s through the mid-1970s, desiccated thyroid was the preferred form of therapy for hypothyroidism (Appendix Table, available at www.annals.org). This preference was reinforced by the unique ability of desiccated thyroid to reproduce a normal serum PBI (33). The predominance of natural thyroid products was illustrated by prescribing patterns in the United States: In 1965, approximately 4 of every 5 prescriptions for thyroid hormone were for natural thyroid preparations (38). Concerns about inconsistencies in the potency of these tablets arose (26) after the discovery that some contained anywhere from double to no detectable metabolic activity (39). The shelf-life of desiccated tablets was limited, especially if the tablets were kept in humid conditions (36). There were reports of patients not responding to desiccated thyroid altogether because their tablets contained no active thyroid hormone. It was not until 1985 that the revision of the U.S. Pharmacopeia standard from iodine content to T3/thyroxine (T4) content resulted in stable potency (38), but by then the reputation of natural thyroid products was tarnished (40).
In effect, there is no single, specific diet or vitamin/mineral supplement that has been proven to eliminate thyroid disease, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. If you would like more guidance on the right diet to meet your individual needs, you can consider working with a registered dietitian who has a specialty in thyroid health, or an integrative medicine physician.
If you absolutely must have both your thyroid medication and coffee at the same time, talk to your physician about the liquid capsule form of levothyroxine called Tirosint, which research shows is not affected by coffee. You may also consider taking your thyroid medication at bedtime, instead of in the morning; although, again, be sure to discuss this with your personal physician.
Dr. Josh Axe is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic, and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine. Dr. Axe has created one of the top 10 most visited natural health websites in the world at www.DrAxe.com which has over 15 million monthly visitors. Dr. Axe has been a physician for many professional athletes. In 2009, he began working with the Wellness Advisory Council and Professional Swim Teams. He worked with professional swimmers, including Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay, providing nutritional advice and musculoskeletal work on the athletes to increase their performance. He also traveled to the 2012 Games in London to work with USA athletes. Dr. Axe has authored several books including his new book Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It.
Diagnosis of hypothyroidism is based on your symptoms and the results of blood tests that measure the level of TSH and sometimes the level of the thyroid hormone thyroxine. A low level of thyroxine and high level of TSH indicate an underactive thyroid. That's because your pituitary produces more TSH in an effort to stimulate your thyroid gland into producing more thyroid hormone.
The thyroid gland is a 2-inch butterfly-shaped organ located at the front of the neck. Though the thyroid is small, it’s a major gland in the endocrine system and affects nearly every organ in the body. It regulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism, respiration, body temperature, brain development, cholesterol levels, the heart and nervous system, blood calcium levels, menstrual cycles, skin integrity, and more.1
Unless a food is fortified with iodine, the Food and Drug Administration doesn't require manufacturers to list it on their products. That's just one of the reasons why it's hard to know how much of this nutrient is in certain foods, says Ilic. But as a general rule, shellfish like lobster and shrimp are good sources of iodine, she says. In fact, just 3 ounces of shrimp (about 4 or 5 pieces) contains more than 20% of your recommended intake. Bonus: shellfish can also be a good source of zinc, too. Three ounces of Alaskan crab and lobster contain 6.5 and 3.4 milligrams of zinc, respectively.
Blood sugar imbalances are major contributers to the development of hypothyroidism. When our blood sugar gets too high (hyperglycemia) the sugar molecules bind to proteins in the body and create Advanced Glycolytic Enzymes (AGEs) (56). The AGEs destroy cell membrane function and damage insulin receptor activity creating a vicious cycle of elevated blood sugar and inflammatory stress.
Seaweed — Good seaweeds are some of the best natural sources of iodine and help prevent deficiencies that disturb thyroid function. I’d recommend having some every week as part of your hypothyroidism diet. Try kelp, nori, kombu and wakame. You can look for dried varieties of these at health food stores and use them in soups, with tuna fish or in fish cakes.
Initial strategies for thyroid hormone replacement included thyroid transplantation, but efficacious pharmacologic strategies soon won favor. Natural thyroid preparations containing T4 and T3, such as desiccated thyroid, thyroid extracts, or thyroglobulin, were the initial pharmacologic agents. Synthetic agents were synthesized later. Early clinical trials demonstrated the efficacy of synthetic and natural agents, but concerns arose regarding consistency of natural thyroid preparations and adverse effects associated with T3-containing preparations (natural or synthetic). With the demonstration of peripheral T4-to-T3 conversion and the availability of the serum TSH radioimmunoassay in the early 1970s, there was a major trend in prescribing preference toward l-thyroxine monotherapy. BMR = basal metabolic rate; DT = desiccated thyroid; IV = intravenous; RIA = radioim-munoassay; T3 = triiodothyronine; T4 = thyroxine; TG = thyroglobulin; TSH = thyroid-stimulating hormone.
Before birth, a baby depends on the mother for thyroid hormones until the baby's own thyroid gland can start to function. Usually, this occurs after about 12 weeks of gestation or the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. Moreover, babies of mothers who had an underactive thyroid in the first part of their pregnancy who then were treated, exhibited slower motor development than the babies of normal mothers.
For starters, consider the effect that hypothyroidism can have on weight. Hypothyroidism (also called low thyroid or underactive thyroid) is marked by insufficient hormone production in the thyroid — the butterfly-shaped gland located at the bottom-front of your neck. This gland affects the body’s metabolic processes, and often, sudden weight gain is an early sign of low thyroid.
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