Nutrition Therapy to Address 10 Causes of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Hypothyroidism
If you’ve been diagnosed or suspect Hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, then symptoms like immense fatigue, loss of enthusiasm for life, unusual weight gain, sensitivity to cold, dry skin, brittle nails and thin, falling hair are probably no strangers to you.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common autoimmune condition and is the #1 cause of hypothyroidism in the United States.
In Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the immune system mistakenly launches an attack against the tissues of the thyroid gland. The body creates antibodies that bind to receptors and inhibit the production of thyroid hormone. While 90% of people with hypothyroidism are producing antibodies to thyroid tissue, some patients test negative for antibodies simply because the immune system stops producing antibodies when it is depressed. Thus the gold standard for a Hashimoto's diagnosis is through a biopsy of the thyroid.
Those diagnosed with Hashimoto’s are at risk for other autoimmune disorders including Type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease, celiac disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Hypothyroidism wreaks havoc on the internal balance of the body. Blood sugar is affected and metabolic syndrome may result due to a slowed rate of glucose uptake by the cells as well as a slowed rate of insulin clearance from the blood stream.
Traditional medical treatment includes the use of synthetic thyroid medication which may cause severe headaches, insomnia, bone loss, and rapid heart contractions. Bio-identical forms of thyroid hormone like Armour may be more effective than synthetic forms of T4 like Synthroid, Levoxyl, Unithroid, etc.
Treating with medication or thyroid replacement alone, however, does not address the underlying roots of the autoimmune condition.
Nutrition Therapy is incredibly effective at addressing many of the root causes of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis/ Hypothyroidism:
Inflammation: When the immune system attacks the tissues of the thyroid gland, inflammation results. Inflammation disrupts the production as well as regulatory mechanisms of thyroid hormones. Inflammation also decreases the number and sensitivity of thyroid hormone receptors. Additionally, inflammation decreases the conversion of T4 to T3, the active form of thyroid hormone. So if you are taking a medication that provides synthetic T4 alone, your body many not actually be converting it into a form of thyroid hormone that the body can actually put to use. Reduce systemic inflammation by enjoying omega-3-fatty acid rich foods like wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hempseeds. Also sneak turmeric into the diet whenever you can. Turmeric contains the powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant curcumin. Turmeric tea is also a delicious option!
Intestinal permeability: When the barrier of the digestive tract becomes permeable in leaky gut syndrome, large protein molecules are able to enter directly into the bloodstream. The body mounts an immune response, which eventually leads to the development of autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Stress, food intolerances, dysbiosis caused by medications, vaccines and antibiotics, infections, and other factors all lead to leaky gut syndrome. Low levels of stomach acid may also increase intestinal permeability and inflammation. A Nutritional Protocol like the GAPS diet can work wonders at repairing the gut.
Gluten intolerance: Gliadin, the protein portion of gluten found in wheat, barley, and rye, actually has a molecular structure that closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gliadin enters the bloodstream through a permeable gut lining, antibodies tag it for destruction. These gliadin antibodies also attack the tissues of the thyroid gland. This immune response can last up to 6 months after each time that it is consumed. Follow an elimination diet to identify food sensitivities. A properly designed elimination diet will help to heal the gut, support detoxification mechanisms in the body, balance immune system activity, and decrease inflammation. See my 11-Day Renewal for an elimination diet and detoxification protocol.
Gut Dysbiosis: Gut bacteria assist in converting T4 into the active thyroid hormone T3. If gut dysbiosis is present and beneficial bacteria are low in numbers, there will be a significantly reduced conversion of T4 to T3. Boost healthy bacteria populations in the gut with probiotic-rich foods including raw cultured vegetables, raw organic milk kefir, coconut kefir, and kombucha.
Excess weight and Insulin Resistance: Excess fat in the body produces chemicals that fuel inflammation and stimulate the immune system to attack the thyroid. As mentioned just a bit ago, inflammation chemicals of the fat cells also impair T4:T3 conversion which prevents proper thyroid activation. Studies reveal that repeated insulin surges that characterize insulin resistance increase the destruction of the thyroid gland in people with autoimmune thyroid disease. Find a professional that will guide you through an easeful approach to weight loss or check out my 3 month 1:1 Mentorship Embody, Align & Shine.
Imbalanced Blood Sugar: When blood sugar is low, the adrenal glands come to the rescue with increased cortisol secretions. Cortisol causes the liver to produce glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis in order to bring blood sugar levels back up to normal. It is common to swing from hypoglycemia to hyperglycemia, keeping the body in a hypervigilant state. This weakens and inflames the gut, imbalances hormone levels, exhausts the adrenal glands, disrupts detoxification pathways, and impairs overall metabolism, all of which weaken thyroid function further. Eat breakfast within one hour of waking and every 3 hours after that to balance blood sugar levels. Keep blood sugar levels under control by eliminating sugars, refined grains, and flours and emphasizing fresh vegetables, healthy fats, and high quality proteins.
Estrogen Dominance: Estrogen fluctuations can trigger the gene expression of Hashimoto’s when inflammation is also present. Estrogen surges also exacerbate the immune response on the thyroid. Estrogen dominance decreases the amount of free thyroid hormone by increasing levels of thyroid-binding globulin (TBG). Constipation impairs hormone clearance and ultimately causes elevations in estrogen. Low thyroid function, conversely, causes constipation, inflammation, infections, and malabsorption in the gut by slowing transit time. Emphasize plenty of COOKED cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels spouts and cauliflower which will support the body in eliminating excess estrogens.
Stress: Disrupts the HPA axis, which directs thyroid hormone production. Chronic stress depresses hypothalamic and pituitary function. Inflammatory cytokines, released during the stress response reduce levels of thyroid stimulating hormone by down-regulating the HPA axis. These cytokines also interfere with the conversion of T4 to active T3 and suppress thyroid receptor site sensitivity. Stress weakens immune barriers in the GI tract, lungs, and the blood-brain barrier, which are meant to prevent foreign substances from entering the bloodstream and brain. Repeated assaults result in an autoimmune disease. Lastly, prolonged cortisol elevations decrease the liver’s ability to clear excess estrogens from the blood. Excess estrogen then increases levels of thyroid blinding globulin, proteins that attach to thyroid hormone, rendering it inactive. Adopt an adrenal nourishing lifestyle. Practice stress management and relaxation techniques, greatly minimize stimulants, and finally, get plenty of love, fresh air, and sunshine. Adaptogenic herbs like rhodiola, holy basil, and ashwagandha can also be very helpful in supporting the adrenals.
Vitamin D deficiency: Vitamin D has been shown to be very beneficial in Hashimoto’s. It regulates insulin secretion and sensitivity and balances blood sugar. A leaky and inflamed GI tract, common to those with low thyroid function, reduces the absorption of vitamin D. High cortisol levels cause cholesterol to be used to make cortisol instead of vitamin D. Fat cells in those carrying excess weight take up vitamin D, leaving less in the blood serum. Many drugs including antacids, replacement hormones, corticosteroids, and blood thinners also interfere with vitamin D absorption. Inflammation reduces the utilization of vitamin D. Get plenty of sunshine, supplement with vitamin D if needed, and be sure to include plenty of sources of K2 in the diet as well from sources like natto, hard cheeses, kefir, egg yolks, and butter from grass fed cows as well as yellow/orange vegetables, dark greens, organ meats, cod liver oil, and raw dairy for vitamin A.
Selenium Deficiency and Iodine Excess: While iodine restriction alone has been shown to normalize thyroid function, iodine only appears to cause problems for those with Hashimoto’s when a selenium deficiency is also present. Table salt is the most common source of iodine in the Standard American Diet. Supplemental forms of iodine can increase the autoimmune attack on the thyroid. Iodine also reduces the activity of the enzyme thyroid peroxidase (TPO), which is required for proper thyroid production. Avoid table salt and use mineral rich sea salt instead. Include natural forms of iodine in the diet with sea vegetables, and be sure to get enough selenium by eating 3 brazil nuts a day.
Of course this is just a starting point for healing Hashimoto's Thyroiditis or hypothyroidism naturally. Remember, recovery from Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism is completely possible if you are committed to healing the body, mind, and spirit with a holistic approach.
The Thyroid Alternative by Dr. Nikolas R. Hedberg
Thyroid Power by Dr. Richard L. Shames and Dr. Karilee Halo Shames
Thyroid Balance by Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld and Deborah S. Romaine
Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? by Dr. Datis Kharrazian
The Clinician’s Handbook of Natural Medicine by Dr. Pizzorno, Murray, and Joiner-Bey
Hormone Balance by Dr. Scott Isaacs
Healthy Healing by Dr. Linda Page
Living Well with Autoimmune Disease by Mary Shomon