Hypothyroidism Diet: Treating Underactive Thyroid in a Natural Way

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Hypothyroidism DietThe hypothyroidism diet can be a savior for those with an underactive thyroid. Hypothyroidism is considered a generally misunderstood condition. The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland found at the base of the neck. This gland is basically the control center for the metabolic function of every cell in the body.

The thyroid is responsible for producing two major hormones called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). When thyroid hormone is deficient, it may be due to the lack of stimulation by the pituitary gland, which is necessary for secreting thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

The pituitary will secrete TSH when there thyroid hormone levels are low, but hypothyroidism happens when thyroid hormone levels are low and TSH levels are high. Thyroid diseases are thought to affect about 20 million Americans. Some estimates say that 40% of the population is affected by hypothyroidism.
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Causes of Hypothyroidism

Iodine deficiency was thought to be the most common cause of hypothyroidism, but the American diet provides plenty of iodine through iodized table salt and processed food. Iodine deficiency is still a potential cause, however, since many have trouble absorbing the mineral. Today, Hashimoto’s disease (an autoimmune disorder) is considered the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It’s a condition where the body creates antibodies that suppress thyroid hormone production and attack thyroid tissue. Other potential root causes associated with hypothyroidism include:

  • Gut inflammation known as leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability;
  • Hormonal imbalances, especially with cortisol and DHEA, and estrogen and progesterone;
  • High amounts of emotional stress;
  • Interactions with certain medications, including synthetic estrogen and lithium;
  • Radiation or surgery on the thyroid;
  • Inactivity or lack of exercise;
  • Thyroid or head injuries;
  • Genetics;
  • Pregnancy; and
  • Poor diet.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

How do you know if you have hypothyroidism? There is a long list of signs and symptoms that a person may experience, including:

  • Depression, irritability, and apathy;
  • Anxiety, nervousness, and panic attacks;
  • Feeling constantly cold, especially when it’s warm;
  • Tingling feet and hands;
  • Hair loss;
  • Brittle nails;
  • Dry skin;
  • Voice changes such as hoarseness and slow speech;
  • Frequent infections and a weak immune system;
  • Poor concentration or memory;
  • Weight gain, weight loss, and a lack of appetite;
  • Premenstrual syndrome;
  • Joint and muscle pain, such as arthritis and gout;
  • High blood pressure and low blood pressure;
  • Insomnia, lethargy, and chronic fatigue;
  • Constipation;
  • Diminished reflexes and delayed reflexes;
  • Non-pitting edema (fluid retention);
  • Yeast infections such as candida; and
  • Infertility and birth defects.

Hypothyroidism is also related to a number of other conditions such as heart palpitations, cystic breasts or ovaries, diabetes, osteoporosis, high cholesterol, multiple sclerosis, heart attack, stroke, endometriosis, and nutritional deficiencies.

How Hypothyroidism Diet Affects Your Metabolism

There are many direct effects on a person’s metabolism as a result of hypothyroidism: weight gain, weight loss, and a poor appetite, for example. Basically, the lack of thyroid hormones in hypothyroidism will lead to a general reduction in how the body uses carbohydrates, protein, and fat. As a result, the metabolism slows down, which leads to moderate weight gain; the person also experiences cold feet or hands.

Another symptom related to metabolism is tissue swelling and fluid retention, also known as edema. In turn, weight problems can lead to other health issues such as hypertension and diabetes. A hypothyroidism diet isn’t for weight loss—it’s to alleviate the stress on your thyroid gland, and to treat the underlying conditions and symptoms associated with low thyroid function.

Why Should You Eliminate Gluten and Include More Iodine in a Hypothyroidism Diet Plan

Where should you start when it comes to the hypothyroidism diet? One of the first things to eliminate from the diet is gluten. That is because the majority of those who suffer from thyroid disorders have an issue with digesting gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, rye, and couscous. You can find in everything from bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, and cakes—in other words, it’s in all the good stuff.

Celiac disease is characterized by gluten sensitivity or intolerance. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology in 2012 found that celiac patients have an increased risk of thyroid autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s disease. You may find that going gluten-free can improve your hypothyroidism symptoms. Grains without gluten include brown rice, wild rice, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, sorghum, teff, amaranth, and uncontaminated oats.

The hypothyroidism diet should include foods high in iodine, such as organic eggs or sea vegetables. Iodine is important because it is needed in the production of the T3 and T4 hormones. Iodine deficiency can lead to hypothyroid-related symptoms including an enlarged thyroid gland, weight gain, fatigue, weakness, fatigue, and depression. At the same time, too much iodine can also interfere with proper thyroid function.

Food to Eat in Hypothyroidism Diet Plan

There are a number of foods that should be included in the diet of a person with hypothyroidism.

1. Foods Rich in Omega-3

Essential fatty acids like omega-3 are important for thyroid function. Good food sources of omega-3 include grounded flaxseed or flaxseed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and wild-caught fatty fish like salmon, trout, or tuna.

2. Sea Vegetables

As mentioned, some iodine-rich foods are good for thyroid function. If your hypothyroid diet includes iodine, add sea vegetables such as nori (for sushi rolls), kelp, dulse, wakame, arame, kombu, or hijiki.

3. Nuts

Nuts such as Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts are all high in selenium. People deficient in selenium are known to have high levels of T4 and TSH, and selenium is required for the conversion, or deiodination of T4 to the active T3.

4. Probiotic-Rich Foods

Leaky gut syndrome is a potential cause of hypothyroidism. In this condition there is intestinal permeability and an imbalance of good bacteria, or microflora, in the gut. Probiotic foods will help balance gut bacteria, which will also improve thyroid function. Examples of probiotic foods include kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, natto, miso, and kombucha.

5. Antioxidant Rich Vegetables and Fruit

Overall, the diet for hypothyroidism should contain plenty of vegetables and fruits that are high in antioxidants. Foods high in antioxidants include apples, blueberries, raspberries, asparagus, and bell peppers. The high fiber in these foods also supports digestion, heart health, and balances blood sugar levels and hormones.

Other Foods to Eat

Other foods you should add to the hypothyroidism diet include bone broth, coconut oil, and clean filtered water.

The following chart includes foods to eat and avoid for people with hypothyroidism.

Foods to Eat Foods to Avoid
Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables
such as berries, apples, asparagus,
or bell peppers
Brassica vegetables such as cauliflower,
broccoli, kale, and cabbage
Non-gluten grains such as quinoa,
millet, rice, amaranth, oats, and
buckwheat.
Gluten and refined carbs such as bread,
cereal, backed goods, pizza, and pastas
Probiotic-rich foods such as kimchi,
kombucha, sauerkraut, natto, and miso
Conventional dairy such as cow’s milk,
cheese, and other dairy products
Clean and filtered water Tap water, which contains chlorine and
fluorine
Bone broths from beef, chicken,
or fish bones
Sugar and sugar products, and processed
food in general
Seaweeds such as kelp, nori,
kombu, and dulse
Soy products
Wild-caught fish such as salmon,
trout, mackerel, and sardines
Fatty foods such as butter, margarine,
mayonnaise, and fatty cuts of meat
Coconut oil Alcohol

Foods to Avoid in Hypothyroidism Diet Plan

Here are a number of foods you should eliminate from your diet for optimal thyroid function.

1. Sugar and Refined Flour Products

Sugar is known to disrupt the hormone balance important for metabolism; those with weight issues often have thyroid problems. Excess sugar can lead to weight gain, depression, fatigue, mood changes, and hormonal disturbances. There is a lot of added sugar in refined carbohydrate and flour products. These products also contain gluten, which negatively affects the thyroid.

2. Dairy Products

Similar to gluten, dairy can also trigger an inflammatory reaction for the thyroid. Avoid conventional and pasteurized cow’s milk and dairy products. As an alternative, choose organic and raw goat’s milk.

3. Tap Water

Those with hypothyroidism should be especially aware of this one. Most tap water contains chlorine and fluorine, which are chemicals that interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iodine.

4. Soy Products

Soybeans and soy products contains isoflavones, which may interfere with thyroid hormone production. Soy isoflavones are also thought to aggravate hypothyroidism in adults with iodine deficiency. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2010, researchers found that women that consumed soy tripled their risk of hypothyroidism.

5. Limit Brassica Vegetables

Brassica vegetables contain goitrogens that may suppress thyroid function when eaten in large amounts. Examples of Brassica vegetables include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, and bok choy. That said, cooking these vegetables can deactivate the goitrogens. Other foods that contain small amounts goitrogens include pine nuts, peanuts, peaches, and cassava root.

Other Foods to Avoid

Other foods you should avoid on a hypothyroid diet include fatty foods, processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine. Caffeine is known to block the absorption of thyroid hormone replacements.

How to Treat Hypothyroidism Naturally

Besides a hypothyroid diet, there are also a number of natural remedies that help support the thyroid. A synthetic thyroid hormone or T4 (levothyroxine) is often given for hypothyroidism treatment, but it’s considered ineffective when adrenal fatigue is also an issue. The following are some hypothyroidism natural treatments you should consider instead.

1. Iodine and Tyrosine

Thyroid hormones are made from the amino acid tyrosine and iodine. It’s a good idea to take iodine under a doctor’s supervision, since too much iodine can actually inhibit thyroid gland synthesis. It’s recommended that the daily intake of iodine not exceed 600 micrograms a day. You can also take 500 micrograms of L-tyrosine twice daily on an empty stomach.

2. DHEA

DHEA is often deficient in people with hypothyroidism. If this is the case, then DHEA supplementation can help offset the deficiency. DHEA is also used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases. High doses of DHEA require doctor supervision, especially when there are signs of excess testosterone in women or excess estrogen in men.

3. Vitamins and Minerals

There are many vitamins and minerals that help manufacture thyroid hormone, including selenium, zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin E. Selenium in particular is necessary in the production of the most active thyroid hormone, free T3. Other nutrients known for normal thyroid hormone manufacture include vitamin C, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, and vitamin B6. Vitamin D and iron are also important for proper thyroid function.

4. Homeopathy

Thyroidinum 3x or 6x is a homeopathic thyroid preparation used to stimulate thyroid activity. Other homeopathic remedies often used for hypothyroidism include lycopodium, pulsatilla, sepia, nux vomica, and calcarea carbonica. Consult a homeopath for the remedy that best matches your symptoms.

Other Supplements

Other natural remedies used for hypothyroidism include essential fatty acids like borage oil or evening primrose oil, glutathione, probiotics, digestive enzymes, natural progesterone, a thyroid glandular, and a pituitary glandular.

Hypothyroidism and Herbal Supplements

Herbal medicine is also used heavily in the treatment of hypothyroidism. Here are few herbal supplements you should add in your treatment protocol.

1. Bladderwrack:

In traditional Chinese medicine, bladderwrack is brown seaweed that has been used for treating hypothyroidism caused by iodine deficiency for thousands of years. People taking blood thinners should use caution before using bladderwrack due to the anticoagulant activity associated with the seaweed.

2. Ashwagandha:

Ashwagandha has been shown to improve stress and thyroid hormone levels. Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that helps the body adapt to stress and balance hormones. Adaptogens help balance T4 levels and lower cortisol. Clinical trials have found that ashwagandha can help increase thyrosine hormone levels in hypothyroidism patients.

3. Guggulu:

Guggulu is an Ayurvedic herb made from the gum resin of the Commiphora mukul tree. The active ingredient in guggulu is called guggulsterone, which is responsible for stimulating the thyroid. Some animal studies that shown that guggulu can stimulate thyroid function by increasing T3 synthesis, and therefore the conversion of T4 to T3.

4. Gotu Kola:

Gotu kola is another adaptogenic herb that helps regulate the nervous system and hormones to enhance a person’s energy. It can treat hypothyroidism by stimulating thyroid function. Gotu kola is best taken in tincture form for hypothyroidism.

5. Other Herbs for Hypothyroidism:

Other herbs used for hypothyroidism include goji berries, coleus forskohlii, Siberian ginseng, bayberry, licorice root, rhodiola, holy basil, ginseng, and gentian.

Lifestyle Changes to Implement When Suffering from Hypothyroidism

Here are some lifestyle changes can effectively complement hypothyroidism treatments.

  • Daily exercise: Exercise will help to stimulate thyroid gland secretion and increase tissue sensitivity to thyroid hormone. Exercise will basically help improve overall thyroid function and assist with weight loss.
  • Acupuncture and acupressure: Acupuncture and acupressure can also help improve thyroid function. Acupressure points often used for hypothyroidism include triple warmer 17 (TW17), lung (Lu1), bladder 23 and 47 (B23 and B47), and conception vessel 6 (CV6).
  • Massage: A massage can help improve circulation, reduce stress, and increase a person’s energy levels.
  • Yoga: Various yoga postures are done specifically to balance, purify, and strengthen the nervous, circulatory, and endocrine systems. The shoulder stand pose will help stimulate the parathyroid and thyroid glands by increasing blood flow while having a firm chin locked position during the pose.
  • Aromatherapy: Geranium oil is an essential oil thought to regulate the thyroid hormone, and treat depression and fatigue. Other essential oils that benefit the thyroid include rose, neroli, bergamot, and jasmine.

A Cautionary Note about Hypothyroidism

Do you think you may have hypothyroidism? It’s very important to note that the majority of doctors rely on the TSH blood test to diagnose hypothyroidism. However, the test is considered very unreliable, and it often fails to diagnose mild and moderate cases of hypothyroidism. It’s a good idea to take your basal body temperature.

A comprehensive blood thyroid panel is also considered helpful. If your basal body temperature is low and you display many hypothyroidism symptoms, but your TSH blood tests is normal, it may be a good idea to work with a holistic or naturopathic doctor that will look at preventative methods in a hypothyroidism treatment plan.

Remember to take a look above at the foods to eat and the foods to avoid as part of the hypothyroidism diet. Before embarking on any new dietary plan, seek advice from your doctor.

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Jon Yaneff, CNP

About the Author, Browse Jon's Articles

Jon Yaneff is a holistic nutritionist and health researcher with a background in journalism. After years of a hectic on-the-go, fast food-oriented lifestyle as a sports reporter, Jon knew his life needed a change. He began interviewing influential people in the health and wellness industry and incorporating beneficial health and wellness information into his own life. Jon’s passion for his health led him to the certified nutritional practitioner (CNP) program at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. He graduated with first... Read Full Bio »