The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located behind the Adam’s apple. This small gland serves as the body's thermostat because it’s always regulating temperature, hunger, and energy levels. When someone has a thyroid problem, you can understand how this may lead to specific issues.
The National Women’s Health Information Center estimates nearly 20 million Americans are suffering from thyroid disorders.
Our goal in this article is to help you better understand hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease so you can better serve your clients and provide them with an action plan that puts them on the right track.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
As we mentioned, the thyroid is a small gland at the base of your neck. This gland regulates and controls a lot in your body, and when it’s not functioning correctly, you have a thyroid disorder.
One example of a thyroid disorder is hypothyroidism. With this condition, the thyroid gland is underactive, so it doesn’t make and release hormones properly. The gland is responsible for releasing critical hormones that travel to receptors through the bloodstream. When this doesn’t happen properly, it can cause widespread health problems.
Hashimoto’s disease is another relative condition where your immune system attacks the thyroid. The inflammation, as a result of Hashimoto’s disease, often causes hypothyroidism. This disease is most common in middle-aged women but can affect men or women of any age.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
The thyroid is such an essential part of the body that when it breaks down and doesn’t work properly, it can impact the entire body.
Hormones produced by the thyroid assist with breaking down cholesterol and control triglyceride fat levels. For this reason, thyroid problems can cause heart problems.
Here are some of the other symptoms of hypothyroidism:
Fatigue - When someone has an underactive thyroid, their metabolism slows down. When the individual has a slow metabolism, they often feel sluggish and lethargic.
Weight Gain - Similar to the previous point, when the individual has a slow metabolism, it is more difficult to keep weight off. Some hormones may not properly control appetite, which can also lead to weight gain.
Depression and anxiety - Many times, individuals with hypothyroidism will have a hard time sleeping well. They’ll get sick frequently, they won’t have a lot of energy, their hormones are improperly balanced, and they have a low sex drive. When you pile all of these factors together, it can quickly lead to depression and other mental health disorders.
Goiter - While this health issue doesn’t typically cause any pain or side effects, it can become noticeable if it becomes severe enough. Goiter is when the nodules at the base of the neck become inflamed.
Here are some other potential symptoms:
- Muscle aches
- Kidney problems
- Heart problems
- Hair loss
- Cracked skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Changes in menstrual cycle
- Feeling cold
What Causes Hypothyroidism
There is an endless amount of factors that may cause hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s disease. Here are some of the most common ones:
A Diet Lacking In Iodine And Selenium
Any form of poor dietary habits can lead to hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland requires a certain level of these two minerals because they play a protective role in the body. For example, selenium deficiency stops the activity of glutathione, which controls inflammation.
It’s important to have a solid dietary foundation that is rich in whole fruits and vegetables to ensure you get all the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
Vitamin B Deficiency
B vitamins play a significant role in thyroid function and hormonal regulation. People with thyroid problems need to take a nutritional supplement with the whole vitamin B complex and B12 vitamins if levels are low.
Many whole grains, legumes, seeds, and leafy greens contain a good source of vitamin B.
Inflammatory thyroid disorders
The most prominent cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. We talked about this a bit previously. This autoimmune disorder happens when a person's thyroid becomes inflamed. Their immune system starts to attack itself with its goal to destroy the thyroid gland.
This happens because the immune system starts to reject the thyroid cells and tries to remove them so they don’t cause damage to your body. When this happens, a person will experience severe inflammation and a variety of other health problems.
The pituitary gland is responsible for making a thyroid-stimulating hormone. In some cases, the pituitary gland will not perform correctly. When this happens, it can cause changes and abnormalities in thyroid function.
Many people experience gut inflammation due to poor diet, but some have other unpreventable issues such as leaky gut syndrome. This is where small particles leak into the bloodstream through small openings in the lining of your gut.
Those who have leaky gut syndrome may experience hypothyroidism due to toxin overload and bacterial imbalances in the gut.
Congenital hypothyroidism is not common, but there is some evidence that Down’s newborns are sometimes born with a dysfunctional thyroid gland. According to the National Institute of Health, only 1 out of 4,000 newborns are likely to have this disorder. While it is uncommon, it’s possible if they have a close relative with an autoimmune disease.
We all know that stress leads to an assortment of health problems, one being advanced thyroid issues. Stress impacts your hormones and causes inflammation in the body. When this happens, it disrupts the neurotransmitter function, which can cause or worsen symptoms of thyroid disease.
The Pituitary Gland
The pituitary gland controls the thyroid and is considered the master of the endocrine system. It’s located at the base of the brain, and it exists to monitor and regulate the activity of all other glands. It produces a hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which helps the thyroid to release more T4 and T3.
When there is too much T4, the pituitary slows down the amount of TSH, which causes the thyroid to slow its activity. The goal is for each level to remain steady and constant. In some situations, the pituitary gland may not work correctly due to trauma, surgery, or infection.
This disorder is called hypopituitarism. When this happens, the organ stops producing enough of one or more of the hormones necessary to balance out T4 and T3 levels.
Whole-Food Remedies for Hypothyroidism
We believe in taking a more holistic approach to thyroid health. There are many dietary changes a person can make in their life to help remedy their thyroid problems. Here are some of the nutrient-rich foods you should eat if you have an under-active thyroid.
1. Seaweed - Some seaweeds provide a great natural source of iodine. They also help reduce symptoms of hypothyroidism and prevent deficiencies.
2. Sprouted seeds - Look for seeds like flax, hemp, and chia seeds. These all provide omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for promoting proper hormonal balance.
3. Probiotics - As we said previously, gut health is an integral part of maintaining a healthy thyroid. One of the best ways to keep your gut in shipshape is with healthy bacteria from fermented vegetables, kombucha, and other probiotic-rich foods.
4. Coconut oil - Coconut oil is a great source of fatty acids that help increase energy and speed up metabolism. This is an essential part of fighting the symptoms of hypothyroidism because they are known to spiral and work alongside each other. If the individual suffering can keep their energy level up, they’re likely to lead a better life.
5. Fiber-rich foods - Fiber supports a healthy weight, and it even balances out blood sugar. It’s important for people with hypothyroidism to have a good amount of fiber because they may have a hard time digesting and processing food. These individuals should have no less than 30 grams of fiber per day.
6. Fruits and vegetables - What’s better than vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables to balance out a diet? These contain antioxidants that help fight inflammation and support digestive health. A person with hypothyroidism should make fruits and vegetables a significant part of their diet.
7. Water - It might sound silly, but water is an important part of controlling hypothyroidism as well. Those with the disorder often feel lethargic and hungry much of the time. A great way to combat those feelings is by drinking eight ounces of water every two hours. By doing this, you’re fighting fatigue and helping yourself feel full longer.
8. Zinc - According to a hormone study, zinc is an important nutrient that improves T3 levels in the body. It’s essential to convert the thyroid hormone T4 into T3, and the research shows that zinc plays a significant role in this process. Legumes and nuts are a great source of zinc, and most adults need between 8 and 11 milligrams a day.
9. Tyrosine - Protein provides tyrosine, and it’s recommended for thyroid hormone production and conversion. The best way to get tyrosine is to ensure you have between 10 and 35 percent of your calories from protein.
Foods to Avoid
While there are many whole-foods we recommend, there are some that a person with thyroid problems should stay away from. Here are a few examples:
1. Dairy - Dairy causes an undesirable reaction in the thyroid that leads to inflammation. We recommend avoiding all animal dairy products, especially ones that are not organic.
2. Gluten - Many times, people with hypothyroidism also have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. It’s essential to stay away from gluten because it can worsen gut health and lead to more severe problems down the road.
3. Sugar - Sugar plays with your hormones and reduces your metabolism. Much of the time, individuals with thyroid issues find it challenging to lose weight, and consuming excess sugar will only make this worse. The best bet is to avoid sugar because it will only heighten all of the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Supplements for Thyroid Problems
While we recommend using whole food options to help with hypothyroidism, there are some natural supplements an individual can take to help promote a better lifestyle:
Ashwagandha - This herb helps reduce stress and balance out hormones. There are even studies that show the herb helps reduce the severity of the disorder by increasing thyroxine levels.
Iodine - We know that iodine is essential for thyroid health, and you may need to take a supplement to get the amount you need. It is not recommended to take iodine supplements if you have Hashimoto’s disease because it can increase the chances of developing an overactive thyroid.
For those living with hypothyroidism, they may experience lethargy, depression, weight gain, and digestive problems. It’s necessary to understand the symptoms so you can develop an action plan to help this person get back to a healthy lifestyle.
No disease or disorder should hold anyone back, and there are plenty of natural treatment options to help!
Article Categories: Food & Nutrition Science