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Traditional Chinese Medicine: Although not well studied in addressing hypothyroidism, TCM can have positive effects on imbalances in the immune system, and is useful in treating other autoimmune conditions. It may be helpful early in the course of Hashimoto’s, but TCM should not be used in place of conventional therapy when thyroid replacement is indicated.
The thyroid gland uses iodine (mostly from foods in the diet like seafood, bread, and salt) to produce thyroid hormones. The two most important thyroid hormones are thyroxine (tetraiodothyronine or T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3), which account for 99% and 1% of thyroid hormones present in the blood respectively. However, the hormone with the most biological activity is T3. Once released from the thyroid gland into the blood, a large amount of T4 is converted as needed into T3 - the active hormone that affects the metabolism of cells.
"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).
“More than 70 countries, including the United States and Canada, have salt iodization programs. As a result, approximately 70% of households worldwide use iodized salt, ranging from almost 90% of households in North and South America to less than 50% in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean regions. In the United States, salt manufacturers have been adding iodine to table salt since the 1920s, although it is still a voluntary program.” [http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/#h3]
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.
If that’s not enough to calm your concerns, some experts suggest that eating cruciferous vegetables may actually be beneficial if you have autoimmune hypothyroidism since the thiocyanates may slow the absorption of iodine in people getting too much, which is possible if you are eating a typical Western diet of fast foods, French fries, and other processed products, that contain iodized salt, and you are heavy-handed with the salt shaker.
Think milk, butter, cheese, and meat. If you buy the cheap, conventionally raised versions at the supermarket, those types of deliciousness can also disrupt all your thyroid’s hard work. You omnivores (like us) can avoid this dilemma by choosing organic, or at least antibiotic-free and hormone-free meats and dairy. It’ll save you in the end, with fewer medical costs down the line.
Refined Flour Products – Any food made with refined carbohydrates, like enriched wheat flour, for example, negatively impacts hormone levels and can contribute to weight gain. Refined flour products include bread, cereals, pastas and all baked goods. If possible, remove most grains from your diet all together, or at least try to greatly limit the amount of products you eat that are made with any flour by choosing 100 percent whole, ancient grains instead (like quinoa, buckwheat, etc.)
Also available on the market are combination medications that contain both synthetic T4 and T3 hormones, but such medications aren’t usually recommended. For one thing, most patients see their condition improve with synthetic T4 alone because of the ability of the thyroid to convert these hormones to T3 when needed. Also, synthetic T3-T4 combination drugs can cause anxiety — if you have a preexisting mental health disability, such side effects may be even greater. (3)
Seaweed has a high concentration of iodine, an essential nutrient for thyroid function. "Iodine is the precursor for the production of thyroid hormone," Dr. Dodell explains. Seaweed, packaged as nori, wakame, and dulse, can be used in sushi, soups, and salads. Another plus: Seaweed offers nutritional benefits of fiber, calcium, and vitamins A, B, C, E, and K.
The normal values for the serum T4:T3 ratio are seldom discussed in the literature because measurement of serum T3 levels is not a recommended outcome in hypothyroidism (1). In a large study of approximately 3800 healthy individuals (4), the serum free T4:free T3 ratio was around 3, as opposed to a ratio of 4 in more than 1800 patients who had undergone thyroidectomy and were receiving l-thyroxine monotherapy. The corresponding serum free T4:free T3 ratio in patients continuing to receive desiccated thyroid is not well-defined, but the serum total T4:T3 ratio is known to be low (28, 50). In one study, the serum total T4:total T3 was about 40 in patients receiving desiccated thyroid and about 100 in those taking l-thyroxine monotherapy (60). Of course, this is affected by the timing of blood collection in relation to the timing of l-triiodothyronine administration, which is not commonly reported. Other key factors are the well-known poor reproducibility of the serum total T3 assay (61) and the interferences with direct measurement of free T3 (5).
Essential fatty acids found in fish oil are critical for brain and thyroid function. DHA and EPA omega-3s found in fish oil are associated with a lower risk for thyroid symptoms, including anxiety, depression, high cholesterol, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, diabetes, a weakened immune system and heightened autoimmune disease. Omega-3 fish oil such as cod liver oil can also help balance levels of omega-6s in the diet, which is important for ongoing health.
Another problem of conversion involves too much of the T4 converting into another thyroid hormone called Reverse T3. Reverse T3 is not metabolizing active and can contribute to symptoms of underactive thyroid. Again, proper testing of the thyroid will uncover this issue. Correct thyroid treatment requires the correct evaluation and that is what is performed at LifeWorks Wellness Center.
The best diet for your thyroid requires more than just iodine, selenium, and vitamin D, says Ilic. And—perhaps unsurprisingly—foods that are high in antioxidants are also good for your thyroid. One 2008 study by researchers from Turkey suggests that people with hypothyroidism have higher levels of harmful free radicals than those without the condition.
If you're thinking about upping your intake of salty, processed foods just to fit more iodine into your diet, think again. More than 75% of our dietary sodium intake comes from restaurant, pre-packaged, and processed fare. (In fact, you'd probably be surprised to learn just how many foods are actually just hidden salt traps.) But "manufacturers don't have to use iodized salt in their products," says Ilic. And according to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, they "almost never" do. The upshot: You may be taking in too much sodium (which can set you up for high blood pressure, then heart disease), minus the iodine.
Kelp? No, but don’t take it in supplement form. Thyroid patients should not have more than an average daily recommended intake of 158 to 175 micrograms of kelp per day, Dr. Nasr says. The concentration of kelp in foods is generally not enough to cause a problem. But a kelp capsule can contain as much as 500 micrograms, he says. “Those recommendations to go easy on kelp are for people who don’t understand and take three capsules per day. If you eat kelp once a day, that’s not a problem.”
Goitrogens are naturally occurring substances in certain foods that interfere with the production of thyroid hormones (the hormones that people with hypothyroidism lack). They include some of the most commonly consumed foods of the health-conscious community: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, radishes, soybeans, peanuts, pine nuts, peaches and millet. The good news is that many health professionals believe that cooking may inactivate goitrogens.
Constipation is a common symptom of hypothyroidism. Whole-grain foods such as cereal, bread, pasta, and rice are high in nutrients in addition to fiber, which can help with bowel regularity. However, fiber can interfere with synthetic thyroid hormones, cautions Turner. Some people with hypothyroidism choose to avoid whole-grains altogether, but if you do choose to eat them, "the recommendation is to take your thyroid medication several hours before or after eating foods rich in dietary fiber," she says.
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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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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