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“A teaspoon of iodine is all a person requires in a lifetime, but because iodine cannot be stored for long periods by the body, tiny amounts are needed regularly. In areas of endemic iodine deficiency, where soil and therefore crops and grazing animals do not provide sufficient dietary iodine to the populace, food fortification and supplementation have proven highly successful and sustainable interventions.” [Brahmbhatt 2001].
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.
The purpose of treating hypothyroidism is to maintain normal metabolism by correcting a deficient output of thyroid hormone. Once replacement therapy begins, the thyroid will stop producing hormones all together, and replacement must be continued for life. Most mainstream physicians prescribe the drug Synthroid, also known as levothyroxine, a synthetic analog of thyroxine (T-4) and monitor how much to give based on symptoms and levels of TSH. Physicians will generally check TSH levels after a couple of months of being on the medication and adjust it accordingly. They will often used a more cautious course in patients who have cardiovascular disease. This allows the heart time to adjust to an artificially increased metabolism. Side effects of taking too much thyroid hormone include shakiness, palpitations, insomnia and changes in appetite.
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.
Thyroid hormones regulate cholesterol synthesis, cholesterol receptors, and the rate of cholesterol degradation. Hypothyroidism increases LDL levels, and increased cholesterol levels have been shown to induce hypothyroidism in animal models. Normalization of thyroid hormone levels has a beneficial effect on cholesterol, which may be worth noting especially for clients who choose not to take prescribed thyroid medications.7
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.
Limit or eliminate junk foods and highly processed products: This plan focuses on whole, unrefined foods as they are fundamental to a healthy diet. Realistically it’s very difficult to eliminate all highly processed (often pre-packaged) foods, but just be mindful of cutting down. Likewise, snacks listed are optional depending on your regular eating habits, and there are bonus snack recipe ideas if you scroll to the bottom.
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.
“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]
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.
Pill Systems: Natural ingredients combined together to help maintain the functioning of the thyroid gland are available in the form of pill systems. A thyroid supplement called 'thyromine' is used to increase production, thereby combating hypothyroidism. Thyromine supplements are made from natural and herbal ingredients, such as Nori (seaweed rich in iodine) and thyroid bovine powder (maintains functioning of endocrine system).
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.
1. Jonklaas J, Bianco AC, Bauer AJ, Burman KD, Cappola AR, Celi FS, et al. American Thyroid Association Task Force on Thyroid Hormone Replacement. Guidelines for the treatment of hypothyroidism: prepared by the American Thyroid Association Task Force on Thyroid Hormone Replacement. Thyroid. 2014;24:1670–1751. [PMID: 25266247] [PMC free article] [PubMed]
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To document that this was a result of trends toward lower doses, an unblinded study tracked well-being according to various doses and found that the highest well-being was achieved at supraoptimal doses, resulting in a suppressed TSH (65). However, a blinded trial did not reproduce this finding (66). In a call to the public, a 1997 British Thyroid Foundation newsletter asked readers to recount personal history of residual hypothyroid symptoms. More than 200 patients responded, 54 of whom specifically mentioned that they did not feel well despite normal serum markers of thyroid function (67, 68). Because of this surge in symptomatic patients, some clinicians advocated titrating dose by symptoms rather than serum TSH, reminiscent of the period before the 1970s (69).
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.
Although relatively low serum T3 levels could contribute to these residual manifestations, the higher serum T4:T3 ratio should also be considered. This has been well-established for 4 decades (28, 50, 59), but only recently has it been recognized as a relevant measure given that higher serum T4 levels will impair systemic T3 production via downregulation of a deiodinase pathway (9). Thus, some emphasis has recently been directed toward establishing the clinical significance of this ratio (1, 5).
These individuals very often have intestinal permeability and dysbiosis so the heavy proteins can be challenging on their digestive system. Eggs are also one that many people in this category have a sensitivity too. I get them doing just small amounts of proteins and loading up on anti-oxidant rich vegetables and herbs and good fats like coconut oil/butter, etc.
The diagnosis of “subclinical” hypothyroidism that I discussed last week depends on having a TSH level higher than 5 m IU/ml and lower than 10 m IU/ml. As I mentioned above, new guidelines suggest anything over 3 is abnormal. While an improvement, practitioners following these guidelines may still miss many people who have normal test results and a malfunctioning thyroid system.
Other causes of hypothyroidism include surgical removal of the thyroid (usually for cancer), radiation therapy of the head and neck, or complications of medical therapies for hyperthyroidism. (Patients with overactive thyroids are often treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications that reduce thyroid functioning. These effects can be extensive and permanent, and thyroid supplementation is often required flowing these interventions.) Certain medications can worsen or promote hypothyroidism or interfere with thyroid replacement therapy. One such drug is lithium, used for treating psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder.
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
Try this: Cut apples crosswise (don’t peel them—the skin is the richest source of pectin!), dredge in brown sugar, then pan-fry in coconut oil until tender; top with shredded basil and crumbled blue cheese. Spiralize a whole apple with skin, lightly steam in apple juice until tender, and serve with yogurt, hemp seeds, and blueberries as a breakfast noodle bowl. Simmer chopped apples, parsnips, shallots, and sprigs of thyme in broth until tender; remove thyme sprigs and purée until smooth; top with additional thyme and a dollop of crème fraîche.
Probiotics can help heal the gut and aid in nutrient absorption while reducing inflammation. Other benefits of a high-quality probiotic include helping to maintain a stronger immune system; increasing energy from production of vitamin B12; reducing bacterial or viral growth in the gut such as candida; improving skin health and helping with appetite control and weight loss.
There are so many reasons for low thyroid function, yet I see many patients whose doctors have ignored this problem. One young female patient had more than 30 percent body fat and was unable to change her body no matter how hard she worked. She ate perfectly, exercised with a trainer every day, yet her body wouldn’t budge. She also had a slightly depressed mood and other vague symptoms.
goitrogens are foods that can interfere with thyroid function. Goitrogens include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnips, millet, spinach, strawberries, peaches, watercress, peanuts, radishes, and soybeans. Does it mean that you can never eat these foods? No, because cooking inactivates goitrogenic compounds and eating radishes and watercress in moderation isn’t going to be a deal-breaker.
Thyroid surgery - Thyroid surgery may be performed if a patient is experiencing hyperthyroidism, goiters, thyroid nodules, or thyroid cancer. Thyroid surgery involves removing either all of the thyroid or a large portion of the thyroid gland, both of which diminish and/or halt thyroid hormone production. In this case, hypothyroidism will be a lifelong condition and the patient will need to take a supplemental thyroid hormone for the rest of their life.
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.
Megan Casper, RDN, a dietitian based in New York City and the founder of Nourished Bite, points out that iodine deficiency is the leading cause of hypothyroidism worldwide. This mineral can’t be made by the body, so dietary sources like iodized salt, dairy products, seafood, seaweed, and fortified cereals are important. “Iodine is an essential nutrient in the body, and thyroid hormones are composed of iodine,” explains Rizzo. “Those lacking thyroid hormones may also be lacking iodine.”
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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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