Emphasizing lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, heart-healthy fats and omega-3s, high-fiber foods, and appropriate portions can help manage or prevent illnesses associated with thyroid disease. As Schneider notes, “It’s eating for prevention of all these diseases that accompany thyroid disease: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.” As an added bonus, fiber can relieve constipation that people with hypothyroidism often experience.
If hypothyroidism is left untreated, symptoms of myxedema can appear. These include very dry skin, and swelling around the lips and nose called non-pitting (firm) edema. More severe symptoms can be life-threatening and include low blood pressure, decreased body temperature, shallow respirations, unresponsiveness and even coma. Fortunately, advanced hypothyroidism such as this is quite rare.
Gluten – Many people with thyroid issues are also sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that results in an allergy to gluten. Gluten is found in all wheat, rye and barley products, so carefully check ingredient labels to avoid hidden gluten that is lurking in many packaged foods. Undiagnosed sensitivities to gluten can further raise inflammation, create nutrient deficiencies and worsen hormonal problems.
It’s more of a problem for people with iodine deficiency or those who eat huge amounts of goitrogens. “Goitrogens are not as active when they’re cooked, so eat them cooked,” says Fiorella DiCarlo RDN, CDN, with both clinical and research experience in medical nutrition therapy in New York City. “The last thing I want to do as a dietitian is to tell people to not eat vegetables!,” she adds. It sounds weird, but if you have a precondition, eating these vegetables raw and in large quantities could affect your thyroid.
According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, 90% of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune hypothyroid condition, whereby the immune system attacks thyroid tissue. Therefore, to cure thyroid disease, or any autoimmune condition, you have to get to the source of the imbalance; focusing on suppression of symptoms with medication is simply barking up the wrong tree.
Medications that are used to treat an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) may cause hypothyroidism. These drugs include methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil (PTU). The psychiatric medication, lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), is also known to alter thyroid function and cause hypothyroidism. Interestingly, drugs containing a large amount of iodine such as amiodarone (Cordarone), potassium iodide (SSKI, Pima), and Lugol's solution can cause changes in thyroid function, which may result in low blood levels of thyroid hormone.
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.
Bone broth — Beef and chicken stock contain the amino acids L-proline and L-glycine, which can help repair the digestive lining and improve hypothyroidism. Bone broth also contains numerous important minerals that nourish the digestive tract and prevent deficiencies like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and silicon. Bone broth has been shown to help overcome food sensitivities, improve energy and fight fatigue, increase immunity and lower pain of the muscles and joints.
Giving appropriate doses of T3 is trickier than appropriately dosing T4. T4 is inactive, so if you give too much there is no immediate, direct tissue effect. T3 is a different story, though, as it is the active thyroid hormone. So if you give too much T3, you can produce hyperthyroid effects directly—a risk, for instance, to people with cardiac disease.
In developing countries, insufficient amounts of iodine in the diet account for most cases of hypothyroidism. Iodine is necessary for the production of the two main thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T-4) and triiodothyronine (T-3). In the U.S. – where salt is iodized, and most Americans get plenty of iodine from table salt – an autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause. Hashimoto’s is more common in women and in those with a family history of autoimmune diseases. It involves immune-related inflammation and destruction of the thyroid gland, which reduces proper functioning and production of thyroid hormone. The exact cause and triggers of Hashimoto’s still remains unknown.
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.
Gluten intolerance is highly associated with inflammatory disorders of all kinds (63). It is also a contributing factor in many autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, autoimmune cardiomyopathy, lymphoma and dermatitis herpetiformis (skin disease) among others (64, 65). If you have a thyroid problem or just want to avoid having a future thyroid problem, the first place to start is on a gluten-free nutrition program!
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.
The thyroid uses iodine to convert T4 into freeT3. If you have hypothyroidism, you may not have an iodine deficiency per se, but your thyroid is almost certainly struggling in some way to get ahold of the iodine available to it and do what it needs to do with it. If the root cause is left unaddressed, simply increasing iodine is not always useful and at worst can be dangerous depending on how high you’re increasing your supplementation thinking if a little is good, then more will “solve” your problem.
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.
High-fat fried foods, like mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers and um…fried chicken and French fries can contribute to inflammation in the body, says Blum. Inflammation from Hashimoto’s disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leads to an underactive thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism primarily affects middle-aged women, according to the Mayo Clinic, but it can target anyone at any age.
Certainly, many of the foods listed above are an important part of a healthy diet. Try to eat a varied diet so that you avoid eating large amounts of goitrogenic foods on any one day. Be especially careful about raw juicing, which can concentrate these foods. Cooking, steaming, and even blanching (such as with kale) reduce goitrogen content and are good options when you wish to consume these foods.
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