Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t properly make or release thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland normally releases many crucial hormones that travel through the bloodstream to reach receptors found throughout the whole body. So a disturbance in thyroid function can cause widespread, noticeable health problems.
Almost 5 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 has some form of hypothyroidism. (1) Some estimates suggest up to 40 percent of the population suffers from at least some level of underactive thyroid. Women — especially older women — are the most susceptible group for developing hypothyroidism. People who are elderly or who have other existing autoimmune diseases — like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease, for example — are also at a higher risk.
What are some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism? Changes to your metabolism, heart function, digestion, energy, appetite, sleep or mood … even the growth of your hair, skin and nails can all be caused by hypothyroidism. (2)
However, a hypothyroidism diagnosis is not a death sentence! There are many ways to treat hypothyroidism naturally through a hypothyroidism diet plan and other natural remedies. Find out how to start your journey below.
Hypothyroidism vs. Hyperthyroidism
The thyroid is a small gland located on the base of your neck, sometimes described as butterfly-shaped. In one way or another, your thyroid is connected to the way every organ in your body functions. Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are the two conditions that affect how an improperly working thyroid might cause symptoms throughout the body.
Symptoms your doctor might recognize as caused by hyperthyroidism include:
- unexplained weight loss
- hair thinning or loss
- anxiety, shakiness
- excessive sweating
- racing heartbeat
- more bowel movements than normal
- flushed, itchy skin
If left unchecked, people with hyperthyroidism can lose bone density and develop an irregular heartbeat, increasing their risk for stroke.
There are medications commonly prescribed to limit the activity of the thyroid. Surgery may also be recommended as a last resort to remove all or part of the thyroid. It’s worth researching ways to treat hyperthyroidism naturally, as removing sources of inflammation from your diet and taking advantage of thyroid-supporting supplements and essential oils can help to make a big difference.
The opposite of an overactive thyroid is, logically, an underactive thyroid. If your physician tests you for hypothyroidism, it’s likely you’re experiencing symptoms such as:
- mood disorders (like depression)
- hair loss
- weight gain
- cracked skin
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a diet low in iodine, radiation exposure and various other factors may contribute to developing underactive thyroid. People at risk for thyroid disease are encouraged to avoid radiation exposure as much as possible, such as X-rays or dental treatments.
Is hypothyroidism curable? There is no cure for a hypothyroidism diagnosis, but there may be ways to naturally increase thyroid hormone production through dietary means, such as a hypothyroidism diet.
Conventional medicine generally suggests levothyroxine (a synthetic thyroid hormone pill) tablets be taken each day throughout the rest of one’s life.
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.
Before I discuss the natural treatment of hypothyroidism and a hypothyroidism diet, you first must understand both the potential causes of hypothyroidism as well as the symptoms.
9 Potential Causes of Hypothyroidism
1. Inflammatory disorders of the thyroid
The most common cause of hypothyroidism in developed nations is a condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This is an autoimmune endocrine disorder that occurs when the thyroid becomes inflamed. When someone has Hashimoto’s, their own body essentially begins to attack itself by producing antibodies that try to destroy the thyroid gland. (4)
Why does this happen? The immune system mistakenly thinks that the thyroid cells are not a part of the body, so it tries to remove them before they can cause damage and illness. The problem is that this causes widespread inflammation, which can result in many different problems. According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, 90 percent of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s that inflames the thyroid gland over time, but this isn’t the only cause of hypothyroidism.
2. Poor diet (especially one lacking in iodine and selenium)
A diet low in nutrient-rich foods, especially in iodine and selenium (which are trace minerals crucial for thyroid function), increases the risk for hypothyroid disorders. The thyroid gland needs both selenium and iodine to produce adequate levels of thyroid hormones. (5) These nutrients also play other protective roles in the body. For example: severe selenium deficiency increases the incidence of thyroiditis because it stops activity of a very powerful antioxidant known as glutathione, which normally controls inflammation and fights oxidative stress. (6) Getting on track with a hypothyroidism diet ensures that you get the appropriate amounts of selenium and iodine in your diet.
3. Hormone imbalances
In some rare cases, because the pituitary gland makes a hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) — which controls the levels of hormones being pumped out of the thyroid — a problem with the pituitary gland can cause changes to thyroid function. (7)
4. Gut inflammation (Leaky Gut Syndrome)
An unhealthy gut environment can contribute to nutrient deficiencies and raise autoimmune activity in the body. Food sensitivities or allergies, including those to gluten and dairy, can trigger gut inflammation. Other causes of a damaged gut are high stress levels, toxin overload from diet and the environment and bacterial imbalances. When leaky gut occurs, small particles that are normally trapped inside the gut start to leak out into the bloodstream through tiny openings in the gut lining, which creates an autoimmune cascade and a series of negative symptoms.
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. (8)
During or following pregnancy, although it’s not exactly known why, some women begin to produce very high levels of thyroid hormones, followed by a very rapid decline. This condition is known as postpartum thyroiditis. The symptoms often disappear within 12–18 months but can also lead to permanent hypothyroidism.
7. Interactions of certain medications
Specific medications seem to lead frequently to the development of underactive thyroid. The most common of these include drugs to treat cancer, heart problems and certain psychiatric conditions.
8. High levels of emotional stress
Stress impacts hormones and is known to worsen inflammation. Stress can raise levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which disturbs neurotransmitter function and worsens symptoms of thyroid disease. These include low energy levels, poor mood, low concentration, disturbed appetite and weight gain and the inability to get restful sleep. (9)
9. Inactivity and lack of exercise
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.
The thyroid is considered a “master gland.” In addition to producing crucial hormones, it helps control the process of turning nutrients from food into usable energy on which the body runs. Because the thyroid plays such a major part in your metabolism, dysfunction can affect almost every part of the body, including your energy levels and ability to burn calories.
Key hormones produced by the thyroid also help the liver break down cholesterol that circulates through the bloodstream. The thyroid can also stimulate enzymes that are needed to control triglyceride fat levels; this is why changes in thyroid function cause lead to heart problems.
Other noticeable effects of hypothyroidism include moodiness and a sluggish metabolism. Essentially, when your thyroid is underactive, your metabolism will slow down, which might mean you always feel tired or struggle to keep off weight.
Your mood is especially susceptible to changes in hormone levels, so some people with hypothyroidism deal with depression, anxiety, trouble getting good sleep and low immunity. The thyroid gland helps regulate chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, which control your emotions and nerve signaling. This is the reason an out-of-balance thyroid can mean drastic emotional changes at times.
Some of the most common warning signs of hypothyroidism include: (10)
- Depression and anxiety
- Weight gain
- Goiter (nodules at the base of the neck, sometimes accompanied by tightness in the throat, coughing or swelling)
- Feeling cold
- Muscle aches and tenderness
- Stiffness and swelling in the joints
- Hair loss
- Rough, cracked skin
- Trouble breathing
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
- More frequent cold or flu due to low immune function
To find out if you have hypothyroidism, your doctor will run blood tests to check for levels of the hormones known as T4 (thyroxine) and TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). Hypothyroidism is diagnosed when TSH is high. Sometimes, TSH can be high, but the thyroid is still producing enough hormones. This condition is referred to as subclinical (or mild) hypothyroidism.
Mild hypothyroidism is usually the early stage. It can progress to hypothyroidism if a hypothyroidism diet isn’t adopted and lifestyle changes aren’t made. When the condition isn’t corrected, more severe autoimmune reactions can occur — this can cause worsened problems like impaired brain function, infertility, unhealthy pregnancy, obesity, heart complications and joint pain.
In some cases, people with an extremely underactive thyroid may fall into what is known as a myxedema coma, characterized by declining mental status, hypothermia and the slowing of many internal organs. If you or someone you know has severe thyroid problems and begins to show major lethargy or stupor, seek emergency medical attention at once.
Myxedema comas are rare and occur most often in the elderly and women, especially in the winter months. Generally, it is the result of undiagnosed and/or untreated hypothyroidism and can be fatal if left untreated.
Another symptom to be aware of is thyroid nodules, a buildup of cells within the thyroid, creating an abnormal lump. Most thyroid nodules aren’t dangerous. But some of them become cancerous over time. If your physician suspects you have thyroid nodules, he or she should have them evaluated to check for cancer cells.
For patients with thyroid cancers, a common conventional treatment method is known as radioiodine, or radioactive iodine. Because the thyroid absorbs most of your body’s iron content, this concentrated radiation is supposed to successfully kill most of the diseased thyroid cells without damaging cells throughout the rest of the body.
The Hypothyroidism Diet Plan
Foods to Eat on a Hypothyroidism Diet
What foods are good for an underactive thyroid? Here are the top foods for a hypothyroidism diet to start the healing process:
Wild-caught fish — These provide the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, essential for hormone balance and thyroid function. Balancing the level of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your hypothyroidism diet can reduce inflammation and support healthy neurological function. Fish such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon, Atlantic mackerel and Pacific sardines are some of the best sources of omega-3s to increase neurotransmitter activity and support a healthy mood and immune system. Just be aware of the fish you should never eat and choose the best varieties available.
Coconut oil — This provides medium-chain fatty acids in the form of caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid, which support a healthy metabolism, increase energy and fight fatigue. A staple of the hypothyroidism diet, coconut oil is easy to digest, nourishes the digestive system and has antimicrobial, antioxidant and antibacterial properties that suppress inflammation. Coconut oil helps improve immunity and can increase brain function, endurance and mood while stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Seaweed — Good seaweeds are some of the best natural sources of iodine and help prevent deficiencies that disturb thyroid function. I’d recommend having some every week as part of your hypothyroidism diet. Try kelp, nori, kombu and wakame. You can look for dried varieties of these at health food stores and use them in soups, with tuna fish or in fish cakes.
Probiotic-Rich Foods — These include kefir (a fermented dairy product), organic goat’s milk yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, natto, sauerkraut and other fermented veggies. As part of your hypothyroidism diet, probiotics help create a healthy gut environment by balancing microflora bacteria. This reduces leaky gut syndrome, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation and autoimmune reactions.
Sprouted Seeds — Flax, hemp and chia seeds provide ALA, a type of omega-3 fat that’s critical for proper hormonal balance and thyroid function. Adequate levels of fats in your hypothyroidism diet support a healthy mood and brain function while helping to lower inflammation. Eating plenty of healthy fats also stabilizes blood sugar levels and can help you stay at a healthy weight.
Clean Water — Water helps with hydration and digestive function while preventing fatigue and moodiness. For prevention of constipation, low energy and sugar cravings, drink at least eight ounces every two hours.
High Fiber Foods — People with hypothyroidism may have digestive difficulties, so aim for 30–40 grams of fiber daily. Not only does a high-fiber diet help with digestive health, it also improves heart health, balances blood sugar levels and supports a healthy weight by making you feel fuller. Some easy ways to increase fiber intake include eating more fresh vegetables, berries, beans, lentils and seeds.
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.
Fruits and Vegetables — These are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are necessary for combating free-radical damage and lowering inflammation. They are nutrient-dense and should make up a large portion of a healthy diet since they support digestive health, brain function, heart health, hormone balance and a healthy weight.
Foods to Avoid on a Hypothyroidism Diet
These are foods that should not appear in your hypothyroidism diet:
Goitrogen Foods — People with hypothyroidism may want to stay away from eating large amounts of raw Brassica vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, soy and Brussels sprouts. These vegetables might impact thyroid function because they contain goitrogens, molecules which impair thyroid perioxidase. (11) When consuming these cruciferous vegetables, it’s best to steam them for 30 minutes before consuming and keep portions moderate in size. These pose more of a risk for people with iodine deficiencies.
Tap Water — Most tap water contains fluorine (an endocrine disruptor) and chlorine that inhibit iodine absorption. As mentioned earlier, iodine levels may be high enough in most people’s diets, but this doesn’t mean that everyone is capable of absorbing and using all of the mineral. (12)
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. 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.
Conventional Dairy — Like gluten, dairy can be especially problematic for the thyroid, triggering reactions that raise inflammatory responses. Avoid conventional cow’s milk dairy products that are not organic and have been pasteurized. Consumption of organic, raw goat’s milk or organic A2 cow’s milk is a better choice.
Sugar — Sugar can disrupt the hormone balance necessary for metabolism. People with thyroid issues have a difficult time losing weight. Because the thyroid is a key gland for hormonal balance and metabolism, it’s best to avoid sugar as it can contribute to hormonal disturbances, fatigue, mood changes, worsened depression and weight gain.
Refined Flour Products — Any food made with refined carbohydrates, like enriched wheat flour, for example, negatively impacts hormone levels and can contribute to weight gain. Refined flour products include bread, cereals, pastas and all baked goods. If possible, remove most grains from your diet altogether. Or at least try to greatly limit the amount of products you eat that are made with any flour by choosing 100 percent whole, ancient grains instead (like quinoa, buckwheat, etc.).
Natural Hypothyroidism Remedies
In addition to adopting a hypothyroidism diet, use these five natural remedies for decreased symptoms or to eliminate hypothyroidism.
Ashwagandha (500 milligrams daily)
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb that helps the body respond to stress, keeping hormone levels better in balance. Adaptogens helps lower cortisol and balance T4 levels. In fact, in clinical trials, supplementing with ashwagandha for eight weeks helped hypothyroidism patients significantly increase thyroxine hormone levels, which reduced the severity of the disorder. (13) Also, try other adaptogen herbs like rhodiola, licorice root, ginseng and holy basil, which have similar benefits.
Iodine (150–300 micrograms daily)
Studies show that even small amounts of supplementary iodine (250 micrograms) cause slight but significant changes in thyroid hormone function in predisposed individuals. (14) A diet rich in whole foods that contain iodine — including fish, sea vegetables, eggs, raw dairy and seaweed — can help prevent deficiency.
Iodine supplements should not be taken with Hashimoto’s disease because getting too much iodine over the longterm increases the risk of developing an overactive thyroid. While it’s nearly impossible to get too much from eating a variety of healthy foods alone, sometimes people taking supplements or eating very high amounts of dried algae and seaweed can exceed the recommended upper limit of 500 milligrams per day.
Selenium (200 micrograms daily)
The thyroid is the organ with the highest selenium content in the whole body. Selenium is necessary for the production of the T3 thyroid hormone and can reduce autoimmune affects. In patients with Hashimoto’s disease and in pregnant women with thyroid disturbances, selenium supplementation decreases anti-thyroid antibody levels and improves the structure of the thyroid gland.
Because it helps balance hormone levels, selenium can lower the risk for experiencing thyroid disorder during pregnancy (postpartum thyroiditis) and afterward. (15) Other studies have shown that when selenium deficiency is resolved through supplementation, patients experience on average 40 percent reduction in thyroid antibodies compared to a 10 percent increase when given a placebo. (16)
L-tyrosine (500 milligrams twice daily)
An amino acid used in the synthesis of thyroid hormones, thyroxin (T4) is naturally produced from the iodination of tyrosine, a nonessential amino acid obtained both from protein-containing dietary sources and through the body making some itself.
Supplementing with L-tyrosine has been shown to improve sleep deprivation and can help combat fatigue and a poor mood by improving alertness and neurotransmitter function. One reason L-tyrosine is beneficial in healing thyroid symptoms is because it plays a role in the production of melatonin, dopamine and/or norepinephrine, which are our natural “feel good” hormones. (17)
Fish oil (1,000 milligrams daily)
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 supplements can also help balance levels of omega-6s in the diet, which is important for ongoing health.
Vitamin B-Complex (one B-complex capsule daily)
Vitamin B12 and thiamine are important for neurologic function and hormonal balance. Research shows that supplementing with thiamine can help combat symptoms of autoimmune disease, including chronic fatigue. In one clinical study, when patients with Hashimoto’s were given 600 milligrams per day of thiamine, the majority experienced complete regression of fatigue within a few hours or days. (18)
Vitamin B12 is another important nutrient for fighting fatigue because it benefits the central nervous system in many important ways: maintaining the health of nerve cells (including neurotransmitters); protecting the covering of nerves called the cell’s myelin sheath: and turning nutrients from food into usable energy for the brain and body.
Probiotic Supplement (50 billion CFU per serving)
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.
Essential Oils for Hypothyroidism
To improve thyroid function and help treat symptoms of autoimmune disease, try some of these essential oil protocols on top of your hypothyroidism diet:
- Combine three drops of frankincense oil with five parts lemongrass oil and five parts clove oil. Rub these directly on the thyroid, which is located at the front lower part of your neck. You can also try putting two drops of frankincense oil on the roof of your mouth twice daily.
- Similarly, try rubbing two to four drops of lemongrass oil and myrrh directly on the thyroid area, along with the reflexology points on the feet (the big toes) and on the wrists multiple times per day.
- To combat muscle or joint pain, try a soothing bath using geranium, clove, myrrh and lemongrass oils.
- To fight fatigue, try a combination of peppermint and citrus oils, such as lemon and grapefruit.
- To improve your mood and reduce anxiety or irritability, use chamomile, frankincense and lavender oil, either diffused in your home or added to a bath.
Key Points about the Hypothyroidism Diet
- Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t properly make or release thyroid hormones.
- There is no cure for a hypothyroidism diagnosis, but there may be ways to naturally increase thyroid hormone production through dietary means.
- When your thyroid is underactive, your metabolism will slow down, which might mean you always feel tired or struggle to keep off weight.
- 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.
From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.
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