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.
Almost 5 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 has some form of hypothyroidism. (1) Some estimates suggest up to 40 percent of the population suffers from at least some level of underactive thyroid. Women — especially older women — are the most susceptible group for developing hypothyroidism. People who are elderly or who have other existing autoimmune diseases — like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease, for example — are also at a higher risk.
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.
You need to reduce the toxins you ingest from additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners (!), excessive sodium, and trans-fats and try to eliminate toxins hiding around your house. Water toxicity is a HUGE problem in thyroid conditions. Most public water systems in the US have fluoride added, which is now linked to slowing down the thyroid; fluoride is believed to be leaching on to the thyroid cells inhibiting the uptake of iodine, hence the altered production of the thyroid hormone (T4).
Everyone has bacteria in their digestive tract, or gut, that is essential to the function of the human body. A healthy adult has about 1.5 – 2 kg of bacteria in their gut, both good and bad. Normal levels of bacteria, or flora, in the gut protect against invaders, undigested food, toxins, and parasites. When the good and bad bacteria in the gut get out of whack (i.e. more bad than good), a whole host of negative reactions can occur in the body. Undigested foods can leak through into the bloodstream causing food allergies and intolerances, vitamins and minerals may not be absorbed, leading to deficiency, and the bad bacteria can produce a whole host of toxins, leading the immune system to not function properly. An effective thyroid diet includes probiotics that you can get from fermented foods.
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 areas of the world where there is an iodine deficiency in the diet, severe hypothyroidism occurs in about 5% to 15% of the population. Examples of these areas include Zaire, Ecuador, India, and Chile. Severe iodine deficiency occurs in remote mountain areas such as the Andes and the Himalayas. Since the addition of iodine to table salt and to bread, iodine deficiency is rare in the United States.
By drinking 1 cup of low-fat milk, you'll consume about one-third of your daily iodine needs. Another good idea: Opt for a glass that's been fortified with vitamin D. One 2013 study found that people with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) were more likely to be deficient in D than their healthier counterparts. (Another honorable dairy mention is cheese, especially cheddar: just one slice is good for 12 micrograms of iodine and 7 IU of vitamin D.)
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.
One to two weeks after starting treatment, you'll notice that you're feeling less fatigued. The medication also gradually lowers cholesterol levels elevated by the disease and may reverse any weight gain. Treatment with levothyroxine is usually lifelong, but because the dosage you need may change, your doctor is likely to check your TSH level every year.
l-Thyroxine monotherapy for athyreotic rats results in a high T4:T3 ratio at doses sufficient to normalize serum TSH levels (8). Yet, the brain, liver, and skeletal muscle tissues of these l-thyroxine–treated animals continue to exhibit markers of hypothyroidism (9), probably because of the inability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to restore tissue levels of T3 (8). This is probably a direct consequence of lower serum T3 levels and the relatively high T4 concentration in these tissues, which inactivates the type 2 iodothyronine deiodinase (D2). In the hypothalamus, loss of D2 is minimal in the presence of T4, which increases sensitivity to T4 levels and explains TSH normalization, despite relatively lower levels of serum T3. Only combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine normalized all thyroid hormone–dependent measures (9), including serum and tissue T3 levels (8). Whether tissue-specific markers of hypothyroidism are restored with l-thyroxine monotherapy in humans remains to be determined, as does the ability of l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine combination therapy to normalize the serum T4:T3 ratio without adverse events. The development of a novel drug delivery system for l-triiodothyronine would facilitate these studies (5).
It is medically proven that small frequent meals are healthier for persons with hypothyroidism compared to eating large-bulky meals per day. A study showed that eating 5-6 small meals a day will help a person lose weight and ward off the symptoms of the disease. It does not only help your intestines to digest food, it also keeps your energy level up.
One of the most powerful things you can do to help your health and metabolism is to drink enough water. Water helps your metabolism function more efficiently and can help reduce your appetite, get rid of water retention and bloating, improve your digestion and elimination, and combat constipation. Some experts even say that we should drink one ounce of water per pound of scale weight.
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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.
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.
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.
To find out if you have hypothyroidism, your doctor will run blood tests to check for levels of the hormones known as T4 (thyroxine) and TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). Hypothyroidism is diagnosed in your thyroid test when TSH is high. Sometimes, TSH can be high, but the thyroid is still producing enough hormones. This condition is referred to as subclinical (or mild) hypothyroidism.
You must take synthetic thyroxine every day in the morning on an empty stomach. Wait at least 30 minutes before eating or drinking (with the exception of water). Skipping doses can cause your thyroid to go off balance. If you do miss a dose, be sure to take it the next day according to your regular schedule. Don’t double up on your dose by taking two pills at a time, because this can increase your levels by too much.
"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).
Kale reigns supreme in the land of leafy green vegetables that we often eat raw, but beware if you have an iodine deficiency. “Kale gets a big baddy,” Blum says. “Eat it cooked.” When raw, this dark green leaf steals the iodine from the thyroid gland. If you must, it’s ok to nosh on the green veggie in your salad, but stop at two servings a day. No need to get extra credit on the superfood.
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People who have been treated for hyperthyroidism (underactive thyroid) like Graves' disease, and received radioactive iodine may be left with little or no functioning thyroid tissue after treatment. The likelihood of this depends on a number of factors including the dose of iodine given, along with the size and the activity of the thyroid gland. If there is no significant activity of the thyroid gland six months after the radioactive iodine treatment it usually means that the thyroid gland no longer functioning adequately. The result is hypothyroidism. Similarly, removal of the thyroid gland during surgery cause hypothyroidism.
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.
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The association between hypothyroidism and energy expenditure was suspected clinically, and the discovery of lower O2 consumption in myxedema provided an early diagnostic tool (19). The development of a device to assess energy expenditure through measurement of the basal metabolic rate (BMR) in humans proved to be useful for not only diagnosis but also titration of therapy (20). The scale was calibrated so that a normal BMR reference range would be around 0%, whereas athyreotic individuals could have a BMR of about −40% (21). Because of lack of specificity (for example, low BMR in malnutrition), BMR was used in conjunction with the overall clinical impression; a low BMR in the setting of high clinical suspicion would secure a diagnosis and justify treatment (21, 22).
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Unless you've been diagnosed with celiac disease, it probably won’t affect your thyroid. Gluten can damage the small intestines of people with celiac disease. They can have other autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s disease (which leads to an underactive thyroid) and Graves' disease (which leads to an overactive thyroid). If you have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet may help prevent these thyroid diseases.
Another great source of selenium, nuts make a handy snack that you can take anywhere. They also go well in salads or stir-fries. Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts are all particularly high in selenium, which helps the thyroid function properly. With Brazil nuts, you only need to eat one or two; with other nuts, a small handful is enough to get your daily nutrients — and be sure to keep an eye on portion size, as nuts are also very high fat.
The disease process for Hashimoto’s is a spectrum, and not all patients require treatment. Some patients have autoimmune antibodies but retain enough thyroid function without the need for intervention for years. Generally, once the body can no longer produce an adequate amount of thyroid hormone for necessary physiological functions, thyroid replacement medication is necessary to correct the hormonal imbalances associated with hypothyroidism.
If your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) and adrenal hormones (cortisol, DHEA) are out of balance, this can make weight loss more difficult. Perimenopause and menopause, as well as estrogen dominance, can also cause a shift of weight to the belly, and make weight loss more difficult. Lack of testosterone in men and women can also make it harder to build fat-burning muscle. And adrenal imbalances can make you tired, less responsive to thyroid treatment, and less able to lose weight.
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