Hypothyroidism is a common endocrine disorder where the thyroid gland is unable to produce enough vital thyroid hormones. There are usually no symptoms in the early stages, but untreated hypothyroidism can cause health problems later on.
The thyroid gland is located at the base of your neck and is shaped a bit like a bow tie or a butterfly that bends around the bottom of the throat. It is a very important gland, producing thyroxine, a hormone that helps regulate your metabolism, your heart rate and in children, their growth and development.
The thyroid is stimulated to produce its hormones by another hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and TSH receptor (TSHR) are key proteins in the control of thyroid function. TSH synthesis in the anterior pituitary is stimulated by thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) and inhibited by thyroid hormone in a classical endocrine negative-feedback loop. When thyroid hormone levels are abnormally low, TSH is typically high.
Some of the common symptoms associated with hypothyroidism are fatigue, poor ability to tolerate cold, weight gain, hoarseness of voice, constipation, poor concentration and memory, and even hair loss. However, there are plenty of natural remedies you can try to treat hypothyroidism, regulate your metabolism, and all the related symptoms.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
One of the most important factors that leads to hypothyroidism is exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides, which act as hormone or endocrine disruptors and interfere with thyroid hormone metabolism and function. Common causes of hypothyroidism are listed below.
1. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroidism), a form of thyroid inflammation caused by your own immune system.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a common disorder. It affects as many as 10 million people in the US alone, and approximately 10% of women over age 30 have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (the disease affects women ten times more than men).
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is characterized by thyroid inflammation due to attacks from the body’s own immune system on the thyroid gland. This causes the thyroid’s tissue to gradually decay, which directly impacts the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones. This will eventually result in hypothyroidism when the thyroid is unable to make the amount of thyroid hormone that your body needs.
2. Iodine Imbalance
Iodine is needed for the production of the thyroid hormones. If the body has too much or too little iodine then this can lead to hypothyroidism, or other complications such as hyperthyroidism and goiter.
Many different drugs affect thyroid function. Most of these drugs act at the level of the thyroid in patients with normal thyroid function, or at the level of thyroid hormone absorption or metabolism in patients requiring exogenous levothyroxine.
A small subset of medications including glucocorticoids, dopamine agonists, somatostatin analogs and rexinoids affect thyroid function through suppression of TSH in the thyrotrope or hypothalamus. Fortunately, most of these medications do not cause clinically evident central hypothyroidism.
We deal with stress every day of our lives. Whether we’re in rush hour traffic or facing an important work deadline, our stress levels are sometimes out of control. Can that be bad news for our thyroid—a delicate gland that can sense when our bodies are out of whack? While there’s no proof that stress causes most thyroid problems, it may play a factor. Stress may exacerbate an underlying thyroid condition.
For example, say hypothyroidism runs in your family. Under stress, your body releases the hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol can interfere with thyroid hormone production: It can stimulate the thyroid to work harder to create sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone.
Whether they’re synthetic or natural, toxins are a piece of the complex thyroid puzzle. Toxins, including halogens, perchlorates, polychlorinated biphenyls, perfluorooctanoic acid, dioxins, soy, pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, heavy metals, antibacterial products, may be affecting your thyroid function.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism can be caused by viral infections, radiation damage, some medications, pregnancy and other rarer causes. Most often, too little iodine in the body can cause hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is diagnosed by symptoms and lab tests (high TSH). Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
- Disturbed sleep cycle, usually sleeps a lot more
- Dry, coarse hair
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Intolerance to cold
- Decreased heart rate
- Swelling of the thyroid gland (goiter)
How to Treat Hypothyroidism
1. Take Iodine
This is the most important trace element found in thyroid functioning. Without iodine, our thyroid does not have the basic building blocks it needs to make the necessary hormones to support all of the tissues in the body (1). Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3) are the most essential, active, iodine-containing hormones we have. In 2012, a CDC report showed that women of childbearing years in the United States, ages 20-39, had the lowest iodine levels of any other age group.
Primary sources of iodine are sea vegetables including kelp, nori, kombu, dulse, arame, wakame, hijiki; seafood including haddock, clams, salmon, shrimp, oysters, sardines and iodized sea salt.
Secondary sources are eggs, spinach, garlic, asparagus, Swiss chard, mushrooms, summer squash, sesame seeds, lima beans.
2. Take Essential Fatty Acids and Vitamin B Supplements
If your hypothyroidism is caused by an autoimmune reaction, fatty acids can help reduce inflammation in your body. High doses of fish oil can be used to decrease inflammation. Your doctor should help you determine the proper dosage and monitor your intake because high doses of fish oil affects your body’s blood clotting ability. Vitamin B-12 supplementation can help reduce your hypothyroid symptoms and give you more energy.
3. Try Coconut Oil
When it comes to boosting metabolism while dieting, researchers suggest adding medium-chain fats to your plan. Authors of a study write that data indicates fats found in coconut oil increase metabolism and may enhance weight loss. They tested the hypothesis on 45 men and women who consumed either medium-chain oil or olive oil as part of a weight-loss program for 16 weeks. As the researchers suspected, consuming the medium-chain oil resulted in greater weight loss, particularly body fat loss, than did olive oil. The study was published in the March 2008 edition of the American Clinical Journal of Nutrition (2).
4. Avoid Soy Products
Avoid overconsumption of soy products that contain high levels of isoflavones, as these products can cause an increase in TSH. Over-the-counter menopause supplements, soy protein powders or other products with high concentrations of soy can exacerbate your thyroid condition (3).
5. Take Fish Oil
You may have heard that stress can make you fat. That’s because the stress hormone cortisol may disrupt your metabolism, putting a damper on weight loss. Researchers hypothesized that fish like salmon and mackerel, which are rich in EPA and DHA, may boost metabolism by suppressing the body’s response to cortisol. The results confirmed their theory. In a study involving 44 healthy men and women, they found that fish oil increased resting metabolic rate and significantly decreased body fat. The study was published in the October 2010 issue of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (4).
6. Avoid Goitrogenic Foods
Goitrogenic foods that enlarge the thyroid and reduce its responsiveness to TSH. Goitrogenic foods include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnips, millet, spinach, strawberries, peaches, watercress, peanuts, radishes, and soybeans. Cooking these foods very well might minimize or eliminate their negative effect on your thyroid. Eating a modest quantity of these foods probably doesn’t create a problem for most people.
7. Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco
Both alcohol and tobacco have a negative effect on thyroid function. However, moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to protect against hypothyroidism. Speak with your doctor about your alcohol consumption habits.
Smoking is harmful for your overall health and should be avoided. However, if you quit smoking after you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, make sure your doctor monitors your TSH levels. Smoking cessation is associated with increased risk of hypothyroidism.
- Moderate alcohol consumption is one drink a day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men. One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
- Although hypothyroidism risk increases after you quit smoking, you should still try to quit smoking. This will be best for you in the long term.
8. Take Selenium
Selenium is indispensable to our thyroid in several ways (5). Selenium-containing enzymes protect the thyroid gland when we are under stress, working like a “detox,” to help flush oxidative and chemical stress, and even social stress – which can cause reactions in our body. Selenium-based proteins help regulate hormone synthesis, converting T4 into the more accessible T3. These proteins and enzymes help regulate metabolism and also help maintain the right amount of thyroid hormones in the tissues and blood, as well as organs such as the liver, kidneys, and even the brain.
Selenium also helps regulate and recycle our iodine stores. These are all very important functions. Selenium rich foods are mushrooms, beef, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, organ meats, halibut and soybeans.
9. Take Herbs
Herbs that have been studied for treating hypothyroidism are Coleus (Coleus forskohlii), Guggul (Commiphora mukul), and Bladderwack (Fucus vesiculosus). These herbs can be taken as capsules, powders, teas, glycerine extracts, or alcohol extracts.
- Put one teaspoon of herb in one cup of hot water and allow it to steep for 5-10 minutes if using a leaf or 10-20 minutes if it is in root form. Drink 2-4 cups per day.
- Do not take alcohol extracts if you have a history of alcoholism.
- Speak with your doctor before you try any of these herbs as they may interact with your other medications or medical conditions.
10. Eat Vitamin D Rich Foods
Vitamin D is a critical regulator of your immune system and research has already established that vitamin D deficiency is highly associated with other autoimmune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis and Type 1 Diabetes. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism – another autoimmune condition (6).
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune attack on the inside of your thyroid gland. Over time, your immune system destroys the inside of your thyroid gland — so much, that you can’t make enough thyroid hormones and you suffer low thyroid symptoms. Fatty fish, canned tuna fish, fortified milk, orange juice and sunlight are the source of vitamin D.
11. Go Gluten-Free
The molecular composition of thyroid tissue is almost identical to that of gluten. So for those with Hashimoto’s, it’s a case of mistaken identity. Eating gluten can increase the autoimmune attack on your thyroid (7).
Chronic stress can worsen thyroid function, while having hypothyroidism can itself create stress. To help calm yourself and relieve anxiety, practice relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and meditation. Those suffering from severe stress might consider talk therapy; some holistic practitioners view low thyroid function as the result of a blocked throat chakra, or feeling like you can’t speak your piece.
You can also explore creative ways such as singing, writing, or creating art. You’ll find your point of calm, and perhaps improve your thyroid health, too.
Just because your thyroid is sluggish doesn’t mean you have to be. Regular physical activity can boost your mood, improve heart function, and rev up your metabolism.
Start slowly. Until lab tests show that your thyroid hormone levels have improved, exercise only moderately, like walking 20 minutes a day. Since thyroid imbalance can affect your heart function, it’s important not to overdo it. After your hormone levels have normalized, add strength training, which can also boost metabolism. Try yoga; some poses, like Shoulder Stand, may improve thyroid function.