You may have read that green, leafy veggies like kale, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts can make hypothyroidism worse. But before you keep reading, ask yourself a question: Do you live in the United States? That’s key — because if you do, you likely don’t need to worry about these cancer-fighting veggies messing with your hypothyroidism management. (7)
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.
You’ve probably heard this complaint time and again from clients who have thyroid disease—and with good reason. To the great frustration of many of the 27 million Americans with thyroid gland issues, the thyroid has a profound impact on metabolism. Unintended weight gain and weight loss are common, and both can be a daunting challenge to rectify. Although weight may be the most common complaint, clients are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, underscoring the need to eat a balanced diet and adopt a healthful lifestyle. But since one-half of all people with thyroid disease are undiagnosed and weight changes are a common symptom,1 RDs are in a prime position to spot potential thyroid conditions, make appropriate referrals, and help clients get a timely diagnosis and the treatment they need.
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).
“We summarized that adequate iodine nutrition of 150 mcg a day is essential for normal thyroid function but that an excessive intake—be it from a variety of sources (eg, fortified salt, supplements, seaweed, seafood)—can have the reverse effect: too much iodine can cause hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism and too little iodine low may lead to hypothyroidism,” Dr. Leung says.
Most physicians diagnose hypothyroidism by simple blood tests that measure the level of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which is made by the pituitary gland in response to thyroid hormone and the body’s needs, and indicates thyroid status. As levels of thyroid hormones fall, the pituitary releases TSH to stimulate the thyroid to produce more hormone. Clinicians may also measure circulating levels of T-3 and T-4, which are the thyroid hormones themselves. Low levels of T-4 and high levels of TSH reveal an underactive thyroid. Other variants of hypothyroidism can exist. Patients can have no symptoms and normal serum thyroid hormone levels, but elevated TSH. Others can have symptoms, but normal TSH and T-4 levels. Patients with either of these variants may benefit from supplementation. In addition, someone with a temporary illness might have a completely normal thyroid but high TSH, a condition called “sick euthyroid” which usually resolves without any intervention.
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.
In summary, I do NOT believe that we need to cut these wonderful vegetables out. Just don’t juice them and don’t eat them excessively in a raw form. Their nutritional profile is so high that we are doing ourselves a dis-service by cutting them out, only to load up on supplements instead. Most people who suffer from hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s disease – you need to take care of your gastrointestinal health as your #1 priority, followed by stable sugar levels (see above) and lastly, by supporting your liver function (listen to our free Workshop on thyroid and liver connection).
Autoimmune disease - Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s immune system produces antibodies that attack its own tissues. Scientists aren’t sure why the body produces these antibodies and why it would attack itself. Some think that a virus or bacterium might trigger this, while others believe that genetic factors cause autoimmune disorders. It could also be a combination of the two factors. Regardless of the cause of autoimmune diseases they are thought to be a cause of hyperthyroidism. When the immune system attacks the body, it often targets the thyroid. This limits the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones and results in hyperthyroidism.
Limit or eliminate junk foods and highly processed products: This plan focuses on whole, unrefined foods as they are fundamental to a healthy diet. Realistically it’s very difficult to eliminate all highly processed (often pre-packaged) foods, but just be mindful of cutting down. Likewise, snacks listed are optional depending on your regular eating habits, and there are bonus snack recipe ideas if you scroll to the bottom.
Thyroid hormone replacement has been used for more than a century to treat hypothyroidism. Natural thyroid preparations (thyroid extract, desiccated thyroid, or thyroglobulin), which contain both thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), were the first pharmacologic treatments available and dominated the market for the better part of the 20th century. Dosages were adjusted to resolve symptoms and to normalize the basal metabolic rate and/or serum protein-bound iodine level, but thyrotoxic adverse effects were not uncommon. Two major developments in the 1970s led to a transition in clinical practice: 1) The development of the serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) radioimmunoassay led to the discovery that many patients were overtreated, resulting in a dramatic reduction in thyroid hormone replacement dosage, and 2) the identification of peripheral deiodinase-mediated T4-to-T3 conversion provided a physiologic means to justify l-thyroxine monotherapy, obviating concerns about inconsistencies with desiccated thyroid. Thereafter, l-thyroxine mono-therapy at doses to normalize the serum TSH became the standard of care. Since then, a subgroup of thyroid hormone–treated patients with residual symptoms of hypothyroidism despite normalization of the serum TSH has been identified. This has brought into question the inability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to universally normalize serum T3 levels. New research suggests mechanisms for the inadequacies of l-thyroxine monotherapy and highlights the possible role for personalized medicine based on deiodinase polymorphisms. Understanding the historical events that affected clinical practice trends provides invaluable insight into formulation of an approach to help all patients achieve clinical and biochemical euthyroidism.
The problematic compound in soy (for your thyroid) are the isoflavones. In fact, a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reported that researchers fed some subjects 16 mg of soy isoflavones, which is the amount found in the typical vegetarian's diet, and others 2 mg soy isoflavones, which is the amount found in most omnivore's diets.
The first step in natural treatment of hypothyroidism is to eliminate the causes of 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.
It is doubtful that nutritional deficiencies are the sole cause of an underactive thyroid, but not having enough of these micronutrients and minerals can aggravate symptoms of low thyroid function. Increasing the intake of; vitamin D, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, zinc, copper, vitamin A, the B vitamins, and iodine can help in natural hypothyroid treatment.
However, iodine intake has dropped during the past few decades. Americans get approximately 70% of their salt intake from processed foods that, in the United States and Canada, generally don’t contain iodine. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicates that, on average, Americans are getting adequate amounts of iodine, with the potential exception of women of childbearing age.10
“Some evidence suggests that soy foods, by inhibiting absorption, may increase the dose of thyroid hormone required by hypothyroid patients. However, hypothyroid adults need not avoid soy foods. In addition, there remains a theoretical concern based on in vitro and animal data that in individuals with compromised thyroid function and/or whose iodine intake is marginal, soy foods may increase risk of developing clinical hypothyroidism. Therefore, it is important for soy food consumers to make sure their intake of iodine is adequate.” [Messina]
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).
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.
But determining the correct dosage isn’t a quick process — you will need a blood test between six and eight weeks after you first start taking your medicine to see if your hormone levels are normalizing. If your doctor thinks you need a dosage adjustment, he or she will do so and recheck your hormone levels after another six to eight weeks. Once your thyroid hormone levels stabilize, you won’t need another thyroid check for six months. (5) Controlled hypothyroidism requires only an annual checkup. (3)
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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