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.
A pituitary injury may result after brain surgery or the blood supply to the brain has decreased. When the pituitary gland is injured, hypothyroidism results in low TSH blood levels because the thyroid gland is no longer stimulated by the pituitary TSH. Usually, hypothyroidism from pituitary gland injury occurs in together with other hormone deficiencies, since the pituitary regulates other processes such as growth, reproduction, and adrenal function.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones. This can happen after the surgical removal of the thyroid gland, if infants were born with congenital hypothyroidism, stress or simply if the thyroid gland is tired of working and is not functioning well. If these hormones are not produced adequately, symptoms like cold intolerance, constipation, fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, goiter and even depression can occur. (See Hypothyroidism Symptoms for more symptoms)
Short of eating a few kelp salads, you probably don't have to worry about getting too much iodine from any other foods. In particular, dairy products are full of this nutrient (and in more manageable amounts), according to a 2012 research in the journal Nutrition Reviews. Part of the reason is because livestock are given iodine supplements and the milking process involves iodine-based cleaners. Plain, low-fat yogurt, or Greek yogurt is a good source—it can make up about 50% of your daily intake of iodine.
Coconut oil — This provides medium-chain fatty acids in the form of caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid, which support a healthy metabolism, increase energy and fight fatigue. A staple of the hypothyroidism diet, coconut oil is easy to digest, nourishes the digestive system and has antimicrobial, antioxidant and antibacterial properties that suppress inflammation. Coconut oil helps improve immunity and can increase brain function, endurance and mood while stabilizing blood sugar levels.
If for some reason the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus are unable to signal the thyroid and instruct it to produce thyroid hormones, it may cause decreased T4 and T3 blood levels, even if the thyroid gland itself is normal. If pituitary disease causes this defect, the condition is called "secondary hypothyroidism." If the defect is due to hypothalamic disease, it is called "tertiary hypothyroidism."
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.
Zinc is critical to thyroid health and is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. In fact, deficiencies of this mineral can lead to hypothyroidism. (Additionally, thyroid hormones are essential for zinc absorption, so hypothyroidism can lead to zinc deficiency.) Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc; other good sources include oysters, crab, lobster, legumes, nuts, and sunflower seeds.
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.”
The first step in treatment of hypothyroidism is to eliminate the effects and causes of the 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.
Much of the iodine in the average American diet comes from dairy products, according to a 2008 study by researchers from the Food and Drug Administration. But our consumption of dairy has been on the decline for decades: During the years between 1970 and 2012, there's been a 60-gallon drop, largely because we're drinking milk less often, say the researchers.
Coconut Oil – Provides medium-chain fatty acids in the form of caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid that support a healthy metabolism, increase energy and fight fatigue. A staple of the hypothyroidism diet, coconut oil is easy to digest, nourishes the digestive system and has antimicrobial, antioxidant and antibacterial properties that suppress inflammation. Coconut oil helps improve immunity and can increase brain function, endurance and your mood while stabilizing blood sugar levels.
If you have subclinical hypothyroidism, discuss treatment with your doctor. For a relatively mild increase in TSH, you probably won't benefit from thyroid hormone therapy, and treatment could even be harmful. On the other hand, for a higher TSH level, thyroid hormones may improve your cholesterol level, the pumping ability of your heart and your energy level.
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.
You probably get enough zinc already (most people in the U.S. do), but if you have a poor diet or a GI disorder that interferes with your ability to absorb zinc, you might be at risk for a deficiency, says Ilic. Meats are a good source: One 3-ounce serving of beef chuck roast contains 7 milligrams; a 3-ounce beef patty contains 3 milligrams; and a 3-ounce serving of dark chicken meat contains 2.4 milligrams.
The most common treatment I use is Armour thyroid, (9) a prescription drug made from desiccated (dried) porcine thyroid. It contains the full spectrum of thyroid hormones, including T4, T3, and T2 (10). That last one – T2 – is a little-known product of thyroid metabolism that actually may be very important. The right dose ranges from 15 to 180 milligrams, depending on the person.
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.
A diet low in nutrient-rich foods, especially in iodine and selenium (which are trace minerals crucial for thyroid function), increases the risk for thyroid disorders. The thyroid gland needs both selenium and iodine to produce adequate levels of thyroid hormones. And these nutrients also have other protective roles in the body; for example, severe selenium deficiency increases the incidence of thyroiditis because it stops activity of a very powerful antioxidant known as glutathione which normally controls inflammation and fights oxidative stress.
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.
“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]
Despite these successes, authors have questioned the efficacy of l-thyroxine monotherapy because about 10% to 15% of patients are dissatisfied as a result of residual symptoms of hypothyroidism (1, 2), including neurocognitive impairment (3), and about 15% of patients do not achieve normal serum triiodothyronine (T3) levels (4). Studies of several animal models indicate that maintaining normal serum T3 levels is a biological priority (5). Although the clinical significance of relatively low serum T3 in humans is not well-defined (1), evidence shows that elevating serum T3 through the administration of both l-thyroxine and l-triiodothyronine has benefited some patients (6, 7). However, this has not been consistently demonstrated across trials (1). Novel findings highlight the molecular mechanisms underlying the inability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to universally normalize measures of thyroid hormone signaling (8, 9), and new evidence may lay the foundation for a role of personalized medicine (10). Understanding the historical rationale for the trend toward l-thyroxine monotherapy allows us to identify scientific and clinical targets for future trials.
"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).
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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