Natural Hypothyroidism Treatment Diet: The Effective Alternative to a Life of Side Effects
There are currently more than 10 million Americans who have been diagnosed with some kind of thyroid disease, while experts estimate that an additional 13 million people may have thyroid problems that have not been diagnosed. Thyroid dysfunction negatively affects overall health and well being, and is one of the most common hormonal imbalances associated with aging. Natural hypothyroidism treatment starts with avoiding those foods that interfere with healthy thyroid function, and consuming more foods that support the thyroid.
Your Thyroid Explained
Your thyroid is the largest endocrine gland in your body. It consists of two lobes connected in a butterfly shape and wraps around your windpipe. The thyroid absorbs iodine, that you consume, and combines it with tyrosine to produce thyroid hormones. These hormones help to regulate metabolism as well as cardiovascular function, digestive function, brain development, bone growth, and muscle control.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid fails to produce enough thyroid hormones. This can occur as a result of exposure to radiation, especially around the head or neck, consuming too much of certain foods that interfere with thyroid function, medication that suppresses thyroid function, radioactive iodine treatment, removal of the thyroid, mercury exposure, and adrenal insufficiency. Hypothyroidism that is a result of removal of the thyroid or damage from radiation may require thyroid replacement therapy. For most other cases of underactive thyroid, natural hypothyroidism treatment can be used to ease the symptoms of hypothyroidism without the potential side effects of medication.
Those with a family history of thyroid issues or a personal history of chronic fatigue, as well as those who are over the age of 60, and women who are past menopause, are at increased risk of developing hypothyroidism. If you have high cholesterol, there is a good chance that an undiagnosed thyroid problem is responsible. Hypothyroidism has also been shown to increase the risk of heart attack, especially in older women. Natural hypothyroidism treatment may help reduce this risk.
Because thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating so many of the body’s functions, symptoms of underactive thyroid are related to an inability of the body to regulate itself adequately. Such symptoms include fatigue, depression, dry skin, brittle hair or hair loss, feeling cold at normal temperatures, inability to sweat in hot weather, constipation that is not alleviated with magnesium, unexplained weight gain that is hard to lose, and high cholesterol, especially that doesn’t respond to medication or to natural hypothyroidism treatment.
How Thyroid Problems are Diagnosed
The most common way to diagnose underactive thyroid is through blood testing. There are a couple of different lab tests that can be run, but one of the most accurate is the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) test. When there isn’t enough thyroid hormone in the body, the pituitary gland responds by releasing thyroid stimulating hormone. As thyroid hormone levels increase, the pituitary stops producing TSH, so TSH readings above a specified level is considered to indicate hypothyroidism. This test has its flaws, however, as many health care professionals disagree on how high the TSH levels must be before a diagnosis of hypothyroidism should be considered. The trend in recent years has been the ever lowering of the TSH threshold of hypothyroidism, resulting in many more diagnosed as having hypothyroidism compared to decades ago. Physicians are encouraged to start treating with prescription medicine even though laboratory test may be normal as long as patients complain of fatigue.
If a person truly has hypothyroidism, then treating hypothyroidism with medicine or naturally can help prevent the condition from growing worse and return the thyroid to normal functioning. If a person has symptoms of low thyroid because of other conditions, such as adrenal fatigue, then thyroid replacement is only a temporary symptom patch until the root cause is resolved.
The best laboratory test for thyroid function are serum TSH, free T3, and free T4. Testing for TSH can only detect primary hypothyroidism, which is an insufficiency of the thyroid itself. It cannot detect secondary hypothyroidism, which occurs when the thyroid is underactive due to a problem in the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus. To diagnose secondary hypothyroidism, other tests need to be done, such as a CT scan of the brain. Adrenal fatigue is a common cause of low thyroid symptoms and not recognized by conventional medicine as secondary hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism and the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response
Adrenal fatigue is one of the most common causes of secondary hypothyroidism. In those who suffer from primary hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue can exacerbate the problem. Reduced adrenal function results in impaired thyroid function, which can be detected by high levels of TSH and thyroid binding globulin (TBG), as well as low levels of free T4 and T3, and low body temperature. Treating the root cause of secondary hypothyroidism typically leads to improvement in thyroid function.
When the adrenal glands become exhausted, they lose the ability to manage normal bodily function. In order to conserve energy, the adrenal glands reduce metabolism to allow the body to rest. When this occurs, the thyroid responds by reducing production of T3 and T4 and the liver increases synthesis of TBG, which prevents the thyroid hormones from being released into the cells.
In this situation, T4 and T3 levels may appear normal on lab tests, though symptoms of hypothyroidism may be present. Thyroid replacement therapy, in this case, will often be successful if the adrenal fatigue is addressed first.
Thyroid replacement increases metabolic function, the exact opposite of what the adrenal glands are trying to do. The medication may seem to help for a little while, but quite often, it ultimately make the problem worse. Lab testing may show improvements in T3 and T4 levels, while symptoms continue to worsen. Frequently, this leads to a vicious cycle that ends up with the patient taking high doses of very strong medications, with minimal relief or even worsening of symptoms.
Adrenal Fatigue and Hypothyroidism
Anyone suffering from hypothyroidism, especially if it does not respond to medication, should consider adrenal fatigue as a possible cause. Sufferers who have not tried medication and would like to consider natural hypothyroidism treatment may also consider whether adrenal fatigue may be a possible cause of their symptoms. Those with hypothyroidism caused, or aggravated, by adrenal insufficiency, typically see their symptoms improve as their adrenal function improves, and those on thyroid replacement are generally able to reduce their need for medication, typically over the course of a few weeks and may be able to discontinue use entirely.
When adrenal fatigue and underactive thyroid occur together, they can produce a vicious cycle of dysfunction, leading to increasing doses of medication, and the side effects they can produce. Unfortunately, it is common in the medical field to treat hypothyroidism with medication first, without pinpointing the cause, and without considering natural treatment of hypothyroidism.
It is important for hypothyroid sufferers who are on medication or who are treating the condition with supplements to not discontinue these without the supervision of a healthcare professional, as doing so may result in unpleasant withdrawal and could, in rare cases, trigger a full adrenal crisis.
For those patients with hypothyroidism who have not yet begun a course of treatment, it is important to consult with a physician who can determine the cause of your underactive thyroid and whether your symptoms would benefit from supporting the adrenal glands and treating your hypothyroidism naturally. Even primary hypothyroidism can be aggravated by adrenal fatigue and can benefit from supporting the adrenal glands, and natural hypothyroidism treatment can be used as a complementary therapy for those patients requiring medication.
Foods to Avoid for a Natural Hypothyroidism Treatment
Treating hypothyroidism naturally starts with diet. Eating foods that support healthy thyroid function, and avoiding those foods that suppress thyroid function, can go a long way to ease symptoms of hypothyroidism in some sufferers. Any time the thyroid struggles to produce enough thyroid hormone, it grows larger, trying to function better. Enlargement of the thyroid is known as goiter, and substances that interfere with thyroid function, stimulating this growth, are known as goitrogens.
Many common foods, some of them otherwise quite nutritious, contain goitrogens. The first step in treating hypothyroidism naturally is to avoid the following foods that interfere with normal thyroid function:
Soy products – Research suggests that phytoestrogens in soy may impair the action of an enzyme needed in the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Soybeans and soy based foods may also interfere with the body’s ability to use synthetic thyroid hormone in those who are on thyroid replacement therapy. Cooking soy does not make a difference in this case. Other studies indicate that soy does not cause hypothyroidism in those with adequate iodine storage. Regardless, if your thyroid is not functioning well, avoiding or cutting back on soy may help.
Cruciferous vegetables – Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, spinach, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale. These vegetables can interfere with the ability of the thyroid to take up iodine, suppressing its function. Cooking these vegetables diminishes this effect. They can also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iodine, the critical element in the production of thyroid hormone. For many people, limiting consumption to five ounces or less per day is enough to improve thyroid function as part of a course of natural hypothyroidism treatment.
Caffeine – Research shows that caffeine can interfere with thyroid hormone replacement. It may also negatively affect those who are following a course of natural hypothyroidism treatment.
Alcohol – Drinking alcohol can cause all kinds of thyroid problems and interfere with the ability of the thyroid to produce hormones as well as interfering with the body’s ability to use those hormones. Eliminating, or at least strictly moderating, alcohol consumption is a vital component of natural hypothyroidism treatment.
Gluten – In some individuals, gluten sensitivity has been found to trigger autoimmune thyroid disease. Some of those patients have seen complete remission of thyroid disease by simply eliminating gluten from their diets. Gluten is a protein contained in wheat, barley, and many other grains.
Millet – Though gluten free, millet contains a apigenin, a compound that reduces the activity of a specific enzyme the thyroid uses to produce hormone. This compound is not affected by cooking. Individuals with hypothyroidism, who consume millet, should consider different grains as part of a natural course of treatment for hypothyroidism. Other foods that contain apigenin include citrus fruits, onions, chamomile, parsley, and wheat sprouts.
Organ meats – All organ meats are high in lipoic acid, a fatty acid that can disrupt thyroid function and reduce levels of thyroid hormone, and can interfere with some thyroid medication.
Fat – Fatty foods have been shown to interfere with absorption of thyroid medication and may interfere with the production of hormone in the thyroid as well. It may be helpful to limit or eliminate fried foods, fatty cuts of meat, and other fatty foods.
Quercetin – Quercetin and related compounds interfere with thyroid function by reducing activity of an enzyme required to convert iodine to hormone and an enzyme needed to use thyroid hormone that is produced. Related compounds include kaempferol and rutin. These compounds can be found in capers, some berries, some citrus fruits, broccoli, apples, grapes, apricot, red wine, and tea. Boiling can destroy nearly a third of the quercetin and related compounds in food.
Foods that support thyroid function
Eliminating foods that interfere with normal thyroid function is just one part of the natural hypothyroidism treatment equation. The second part is consuming more of those foods that promote healthy thyroid function. Eat more of the following foods to help your thyroid function more effectively.
Nuts – Magnesium is a critical component of thyroid function, and nuts are high in magnesium. Brazil nuts are especially beneficial, as they combine the point of magnesium, a mineral that boosts both the thyroid and the immune system and is a critical component of natural hypothyroidism treatment.
Leafy greens – Spinach, Swiss Chard, and other leafy green veggies are also excellent sources of magnesium.
Selenium – Trace amounts of selenium are needed to produce the enzymes the thyroid needs to produce hormones. Along with Brazil nuts, tuna, mushrooms, and sunflower seeds are good sources of selenium.
Iodine rich foods – In many cases, hypothyroidism is associated with inadequate iodine stores. In these cases, consuming foods that are high in iodine is an important part of natural hypothyroidism treatment and, in most people, adding iodine is well tolerated. However, in individuals with undiagnosed thyroid disease or who have certain other risk factors, too much iodine can cause the thyroid to become overactive, a condition known as hyperthyroidism. One of the highest sources of iodine is seaweed. One gram of seaweed, depending on the variety, can contain nearly 3,000 micrograms of iodine. In addition, some varieties of seaweed, particularly the kelp family, contain other compounds that are known to be powerful thyroid inhibitors.
Those who have adrenal fatigue need to be especially careful in using selenium and iodine as natural support for thyroid function. The more advance the AFS, the higher the risk that such minerals can be too stimulating for the body to handle. While they are good for thyroid support, adrenal crash can be triggered, with worsening anxiety and fatigue. In severe case, one could be bedridden or housebound.
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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