Over my several decades working as a Functional Medicine doctor, I can assure you that even in the toughest cases, you can heal your thyroid. With some patients, I can do this through the dietary, nutrient, and lifestyle factors I’ve discussed here. For others, that healing requires trial and error using several medications and working closely with a physician.
The amount in broccoli, cabbage, and kale in a usual diet is considered of minimal risk. For example, there was no adverse effect on thyroid function from consuming five ounces of cooked Brussels sprouts every day for four weeks.5,6 One note of caution, if you have a thyroid disorder, it's important to realize that juicing concentrates the amount of thiocyanate, on the order of 2000 mcg per glass.7
Although I’m a fan of getting what you need from real food whenever possible, herbs, supplements, and vitamins can still have a place in the thyroid diet plan. It’s hard to give tips here as many people over-medicate and only feel worse later. Hopefully these tips will help; they apply to most auto-immune conditions (This advice was given by my naturopath who focuses on hormonal and thyroid health.):
With the availability of multiple forms of thyroid hormone replacement, early clinical trials were designed to assess efficacy and dose equivalency among natural thyroid (typically desiccated), synthetic l-thyroxine, and/or l-triiodothyronine. These were not designed as superiority trials, their therapeutic goals were the normalization of serum PBI or BMR, and doses were dramatically higher than used today. For example, desiccated thyroid and intravenous l-thyroxine monotherapy normalized BMR, pulse, and body weight in myxedema (29), l-triiodothyronine monotherapy was likewise effective (30), and the potency of l-triiodothyronine exceeded that of l-thyroxine (31).
Less common causes of hypothyroidism include congenital (birth) defects (one of the reasons for newborn screening is to check for failure of the pituitary gland to produce enough thyroid stimulating hormone, usually due to a benign pituitary tumor), and pregnancy. Some women can develop hypothyroidism during or immediately following pregnancy, often as a result of developing antibodies against their own thyroid tissue. This is dangerous for both the developing fetus and mother, and can lead to miscarriage, developmental abnormalities, premature delivery and an increased risk of preeclampsia – a potentially dangerous complication in the later stages of pregnancy.
Goitrogens are substances found naturally in certain foods that can slow down the production of thyroid hormone—keep in mind, though, this phenomenon occurs typically in people with an underlying iodine deficiency (which is rare in the United States). Still, even for people without iodine deficiency, experts recommend not over-consuming goitrogenic foods.
Think twice before reheating your plastic bowl of takeout soup or keeping that frozen dinner in its original container when you microwave it. Put it on a plate or in a bowl made from ceramics like bone china, stoneware, porcelain or glazed earthenware. Your thyroid is part of your endocrine system, and you can disrupt it by heating food in plastic. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says endocrine disruptors are in many everyday plastic products, including bottles, food, and containers with BPA. Endocrine disruptors work by mimicking naturally occurring hormones in the body, like thyroid hormones.
Chromium picolinate, which is marketed for blood sugar control and weight loss, also impairs the absorption of thyroid medications. If clients decide to take chromium picolinate, they should take it three to four hours apart from thyroid medications.23 Flavonoids in fruits, vegetables, and tea have been shown to have potential cardiovascular benefits. However, high-dose flavonoid supplements may suppress thyroid function.24 The Natural Standards Database provides an extensive list of supplements that have a potential impact on thyroid function, so taking precautions and coordinating patient care with a knowledgeable practitioner is prudent.
Infants fed soy formula are at higher risk for hypothyroidism and for later development of autoimmune thyroid diseases. In humans, goiter has been detected 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, 2002)
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Although it’s not very common, newborns are sometimes born with a dysfunction of the thyroid gland, a genetic condition called congenital hypothyroidism. Some evidence shows that people are more likely to develop hypothyroidism if they have a close family member with an autoimmune disease. But according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the likelihood of congenital hypothyroidism is very low and only about 1 out of every 4,000 newborns is born with a thyroid disorder. (8b)
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.)
The NIH studied the link between hypothyroidism and small intestine problems. These problems included an overgrowth of bacteria, such as yeast. Probiotic supplements contain live bacteria that can help keep your stomach and intestines healthy. Besides supplement forms, fermented food and drink, such as kefir, kombucha, raw cheese, and yogurt contain useful probiotics.
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.
Vitamin D is important for immune system health and is made in the skin from exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Vitamin D is also found in foods like fatty fish, cod liver oil, and fortified cereals. Research suggests that vitamin D deficiency may be linked to the development of Hashimoto's thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroid disease), and that vitamin D supplementation may help with the treatment of thyroid disease.
If you have hypothyroidism or a family history of goiters, you can reduce your risk by mixing up your choice of vegetables so you aren’t eating a lot of the same vegetable day in and day out, cooking your vegetables and chewing them thoroughly which helps to break down the worrisome substances, says Dr. Leung. And, it wouldn’t hurt to avoiding eating cruciferous vegetables raw; even lightly steaming then will deactivate the thiocyanates enough to assure that you aren’t eating more than your thyroid can handle.3
For more information on how a natural hypothyroid treatment protocol might be able to help you, I recommend getting my free guide entitled “6 Steps On How Natural Thyroid Treatments Can Restore Your Health”. You can obtain your free copy simply by filling out your name and email address on the right side of this page. And just to let you know, this guide contains 100% pure content, and is not a “sales report”, or a pitch for any product or service. You’ll also receive emails on natural thyroid health (typically once or twice a week), and will also receive updates on any free webinars I offer in the future.
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.
Exercise and a healthy diet are important for controlling chronic stress and managing hormone-related neurological function. Research shows that people who regularly exercise usually get better sleep, deal with stress better and more often maintain a healthier weight, all of which reduce some of the biggest risk factors and symptoms associated with hypothyroidism.
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.
An inexpensive and versatile food, beans are a great source for sustained energy, which can be helpful if hypothyroidism leaves you feeling drained. Beans contain protein, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, and loads of vitamins and minerals. They are also high in fiber, which can be beneficial if you suffer with constipation, a common side effect of hypothyroidism. If you're new to beans, there are many varieties to try, all of which can be used as the base for entrées, as side dishes, and to enhance soups, salads, and stews. Just be sure not to overdo it — guidelines recommend that adults get 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day, but excess fiber can interfere with your hypothyroidism treatment.
“We summarized that adequate iodine nutrition of 150 mcg a day is essential for normal thyroid function but that an excessive intake—be it from a variety of sources (eg, fortified salt, supplements, seaweed, seafood)—can have the reverse effect: too much iodine can cause hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism and too little iodine low may lead to hypothyroidism,” Dr. Leung says.
It’s imperative dietitians have a good understanding of the metabolic changes associated with thyroid disease so they can set realistic goals and expectations for clients. Most people with hypothyroidism tend to experience abnormal weight gain and difficulty losing weight until hormone levels stabilize. Moreover, it’s common for patients with Graves’ disease to experience periods of high and low thyroid hormone levels, so it may take several months to achieve a balance. During this time, it’s essential clients focus on healthful behaviors such as eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, managing stress, and sleeping adequately rather than focus on the numbers on the scale.
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.
You may have read that green, leafy veggies like kale, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts can make hypothyroidism worse. But before you keep reading, ask yourself a question: Do you live in the United States? That’s key — because if you do, you likely don’t need to worry about these cancer-fighting veggies messing with your hypothyroidism management. (7)
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