Hashimoto’s disease is the most common autoimmune disease linked to hypothyroidism. In fact, the condition in which the autoimmune system targets the thyroid specifically is commonly known as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is when the immune system targets antibodies directly to the thyroid, causing inflammation of the thyroid gland and thus limiting the gland’s ability to produce its delegated hormones.
Brazil nuts are packed with another nutrient that helps regulate thyroid hormones: selenium. In one 2003 study by researchers in France, women who consumed higher amounts of selenium were less likely to develop goiters and thyroid tissue damage than those who didn't. Plus, it may also help stave off long-term thyroid damage in people with thyroid-related problems like Hashimoto's and Graves' disease, according to a 2013 review in the journal Clinical Endocrinology.
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).
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.
A discussion on thyroid disease and good health isn’t complete without stressing the importance of physical activity. Lisa Lilienfield, MD, a thyroid disease specialist at the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Virginia, and a certified yoga instructor, is a firm believer in the importance of exercise, particularly for clients with a thyroid disorder. “With hypothyroid patients, certainly exercise can help with weight gain, fatigue, and depression. With hyperthyroidism, anxiety and sleep disturbances are so common, and exercise can help regulate both.”
In its earliest stage, hypothyroidism may cause few symptoms, since the body has the ability to partially compensate for a failing thyroid gland by increasing the stimulation to it, much like pressing down on the accelerator when climbing a hill to keep the car going the same speed. As thyroid hormone production decreases and the body’s metabolism slows, a variety of features may result.
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).
Fat is your friend and cholesterol is the precursor to hormonal pathways; if you’re getting insufficient fat and cholesterol, you could be exacerbating hormonal imbalance, which includes thyroid hormones. Natural, healthful fats include olive oil; ghee; avocados; flax seeds; fish; nuts and nut butters; hormone- and antibiotic-free full fat cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese (yes, full fat, not skim); and coconut milk products.
Try this: Soak wakame seaweed in hot water for 20 minutes, then drain and combine with rice vinegar, sesame oil, grated ginger, honey, or agave, and thinly sliced scallions for an easy seaweed salad. Brush sheets of nori with olive oil; sprinkle with a mix of brown sugar, salt, smoked paprika, and cayenne; and pan fry for 15 seconds. After allowing this to cool, cut into triangles. Soak hijiki seaweed in hot water for 10 minutes; drain and toss with a mixture of minced red onion, shredded carrots, cooked quinoa, and green peas; drizzle with a dressing of white miso, black sesame seeds, sesame oil, and garlic.
To offer some perspective: up to 95% of the thyroid hypothyroidism in the US is caused not by an iodine deficiency, but occurs as the result of an autoimmune disease so avoiding cruciferous vegetables will do little to fix your underactive thyroid, and may deprive you of valuable healthy benefits such as dietary fiber, and anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting antioxidants.5
72. Garber JR, Cobin RH, Gharib H, Hennessey JV, Klein I, Mechanick JI, et al. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American Thyroid Association Taskforce on Hypothyroidism in Adults. Clinical practice guidelines for hypothyroidism in adults: co-sponsored by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American Thyroid Association. Thyroid. 2012;22:1200–1235. [PMID: 22954017] [PubMed]
“Infants fed soy formula are at higher risk for hypothyroidism and for later development of autoimmune thyroid diseases. In humans, goiter has been seen in infants fed soy formula; this is usually reversed by changing to cow milk or iodine-supplemented diets . After the 1960s, manufacturers reportedly began adding iodine to formulas to mitigate thyroid effects.” [Doerge]
The foods listed above do not contain any thiocyanate when they are in their living, intact state, because thiocyanates do not form until the plant is cut, crushed, or chewed. For example, fresh broccoli contains a harmless substance called glucosinolate, which turns into a thiocyanate called sulforaphane when the vegetable is damaged (see my broccoli blogpost for more information).
Do a little Googling, and you might turn up a page or two claiming that cruciferous vegetables can cause thyroid troubles. The truth is a little murkier. While it's true that these veggies contain compounds called glucosinolates, which might interfere with your body's production of thyroid hormones in high amounts, it's pretty unlikely that they'll harm your thyroid if you're eating normal-size servings. One case report in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted the story of an 88-year-old woman who showed up to the ER with hypothyroidism after eating about 2 or 3 pounds of bok choy a day—but, as Ilic points out, "that's not a normal amount."
If you do choose to eat gluten, be sure to choose whole-grains varieties of bread, pasta, and rice, which are high in fiber and other nutrients and can help improve bowel irregularity, a common symptom of hypothyroidism. Also be sure to take your hypothyroidism medication several hours before or after eating high-fiber foods, to prevent them from interfering with the absorption of your synthetic thyroid hormone.
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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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