Today I wanted to dive into a topic that is very near and dear to my heart: Hypothyroidism. My dad was diagnosed with hypothyroidism many years ago and has been struggling ever since to get his symptoms under control and get to the root of the cause of his poor thyroid function. I am infinitely proud of him for making the switch to a whole foods plant based diet and for demanding that his doctor give him the proper testing so that he could unearth the cause of his hypothyroidism and treat accordingly, rather than shooting in the dark with medication. I wanted to share a bit about his journey (with his permission) and what has worked for him in hopes that it may help another person gain traction in the fight against hypothyroidism.
To better understand hypothyroidism, it’s important to understand what causes the disease. The top three causes are: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, poor diet and leaky gut syndrome.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an inflammatory disorder) is by far the most common cause of hypothyroidism. This occurs when the thyroid becomes inflamed and is therefore considered an autoimmune disorder. Basically, your body thinks that your thyroid cells are invaders and it tries to remove them before they cause damage or illness. Your body starts producing antibodies that begin to attack the thyroid gland. When these antibodies attack the thyroid, the result is widespread inflammation, which can lead to a plethora of problems throughout the entire body.
- If your diet is lacking in iodine or selenium, trace minerals essential for proper thyroid function, you have an increased risk for developing a thyroid disease. The thyroid needs these minerals to function properly and produce the proper amount of thyroid hormone. Deficiency in selenium specifically will increase your risk for thyroiditis because it stops glutathione activity (a super powerful antioxidant) which normally controls inflammation and fights oxidative stress.
- Leaky gut syndrome. The best way to describe leaky gut is like this. Imagine you have a single line of army men lining your intestines. These men are stacked one person deep, shoulder to shoulder. They are the only defense between what’s going on inside your intestines and you blood stream. When you gut becomes inflamed through food sensitivities (the most common of which are gluten and dairy), high sugar intake, high stress levels, toxin overload from poor diet/environmental pollution (as was the case with my dad who grew up under the smokestacks in Chicago), bacterial imbalances (overuse of antibiotics), and certain bacterial and viral infections as a child (including whooping cough and herpes viral infections), it can cause a separation between some of the army men. The result is that small particles that are normally trapped inside the gut start to leak out into the bloodstream through these tiny openings in the gut lining, creating a flood of autoimmune symptoms.
In order to determine the cause of your hypothyroidism, you are going to have to become a relentless detective. I recommend asking your doctor to test your T3 + T4 levels, your free T3 + T4 levels and your IgA and IgE levels for food sensitivities/inflammation. Don’t take no for an answer. Getting down to the root cause will allow you to create your own personalized plan of attack through diet and medication.
So, what’s the solution? Unfortunately, there isn’t one magic solution that will solve all your problems. We as a society have gotten so accustomed to feeling sick, going to the doctor and getting a magic pill to fix everything without having to really do any work. My dad’s journey to improving his symptoms has taken hard work, commitment and a ton of trial and error. He has had such a great attitude, sense of humor and an open mind throughout the process. The first step to improving your thyroid function and health in general is to make a decision that you DESERVE to be healthy! It sounds so simple, but that decision will empower you to keep chugging along when you are feeling discouraged, to keep fighting for your health. You only have one life to live, why not fight for it?
Now that I know you have made the appointment with you doctor to start investigating the cause of your hypothyroidism, let’s talk about some dietary steps you can take today:
- Cut back on or completely eliminate all refined sugar. Our thyroid function depends on blood sugar levels being kept within a normal range and keeping blood sugar levels within a normal range depends on healthy thyroid function. Quitting sugar can be harder for those with thyroid disease, so take it one step at a time and be kind to yourself. If you need some help cutting out sugar, check out my upcoming 8-Week Sugar Detox.
- Eliminate gluten and dairy. These two dietary components are major contributors to leaky gut in all humans, not just those with thyroid disease. Leaky gut in turn is a major cause and/or contributor of many autoimmune diseases. My recommendation, just say no to dairy and gluten. Now-a-days, there are many non-dairy and gluten free alternatives that are readily available in your typical grocery store. This is perhaps one of the best non-medicinal things you can do to treat your hypothyroidism.
- Eat cruciferous veggies (raw, cooked or juiced). This includes arugula, kale, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnips, and watercress. A great way to eat these is to throw them into your green smoothie! Many people have been misinformed that raw cruciferous veggies promote hypothyroidism, but the science to back this up simply doesn’t exist. You would have to eat HUGE amounts of cruciferous veggies (we are talking pounds and pounds per day) AND have an iodine deficiency for this to be a possible problem. In my experience, the pros far outweigh the cons. These veggies are good for immunity, destroy cancer, reduce inflammation, shrink tumors, balance blood sugar levels, protect your brain and balance estrogen levels.
- Eat a handful of Brazil nuts each day. These nuts are the richest dietary form of selenium out there, the mineral essential in converting thyroxine to its active form, T3. As mentioned above, you also need selenium to ensure proper glutathione production and to help decrease thyroid antibodies. I suggest eating about 3-5 brazil nuts a day. Again, a great way is to throw them into your green smoothie to add a delicious nutty flavor. Make sure you are storing your Brazil nuts in the freezer because they will go rancid quickly if left in the pantry.
- Eat sea veggies because they are rich in iodine. Iodine attaches to tyrosine (an amino acid) to form thyroxine. Insufficient iodine levels lead to insufficient production of thyroid hormone and therefore inhibited thyroid function. Sea veggies include arame, nori, kombu, wakame, hijiki, dulse, agar and kelp. I suggest starting with arame because it is mild. You can usually find it in shredded strands that have a crispy texture. Soak a small handful in water until soft, then add them to your favorite salad.
- Add a scoop of maca to your daily smoothie. Maca helps to balance the hypothalamus and pituitary, which are responsible for the release of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). TSH then regulates thyroxine levels. Maca also contains zinc, B vitamins and iron, all of which are critical for optimal thyroid function.
I hope today’s very personal post helps you or perhaps someone close to you in the journey towards healthy thyroid function. Health doesn’t have to be a daily struggle, but it will take some effort on your part to get down to the root cause of your hypothyroidism. My advice is to follow in my dad’s footsteps. Take things one day at a time. Don’t feel like you need to incorporate all of these suggestions about in one day. Start small. Notice how perhaps cutting gout gluten affects your mood, your energy, your digestion and your hypothyroidism symptoms. You have the power to take control of your health and I am here to support you. Happy Monday!
Plants for Life,
Stephanie Misanik, INHC, RYT-200