Hypothyroidism is a common thyroid disorder caused by deficient production and secretion of thyroid hormones. Because the thyroid plays an integral role in metabolism in nearly every cell in the body, multiple systems can be affected by a hypothyroid condition.
It is more common among women, caucasians, and the elderly. Some common signs and symptoms to look for include: weight gain or difficulty losing weight, cold intolerance, high cholesterol and triglycerides, foggy headedness, fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, muscle and joint pain, depression, GI complaints, and menstrual problems. A number of diseases and conditions can cause these symptoms, so lab tests are essential for diagnosis.
Thyroid replacement therapy is the mainstay among treatments for hypothyroidism and is extremely effective at reducing symptoms and normalizing lab values. While it is the most common and perhaps the most effective way of treating hypothyroidism, it is not the only way. Nutritional and herbal supplements can be an effective strategy in treating hypothyroidism, especially when there are frank deficiencies. For those who want alternatives or have mild cases of hypothyroidism, the following treatments may be reasonable options.
Shed some light on the matter
Melatonin and cortisol can have an impact on thyroid hormones. Melatonin has been shown to decrease circulating T4. Full-spectrum light therapy may be beneficial in the treatment of hypothyroidism because of the effects light has upon the pineal gland and its decrease in production of melatonin.
Reduce and manage stress
It is known that stress can either cause or worsen many health problems – hypothyroidism is no exception. Those who are under constant stress or who have poor ways of dealing with stress have increased exposure to cortisol, which decreases thyroid hormone activity (primarily by inhibiting 5’-deiodinase, the enzyme responsible for the conversion of T4 to T3). Discovering new ways to relieve stress can have a positive effect.
Consider your diet
Soy and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage contain goitrogens, natural substances that have been found to inhibit thyroid function. Isoflavones from soy and isothyocianates from cruciferous vegetables appear to be the culprits and work by inhibiting thyroid peroxidase, an important enzyme involved in the production of thyroid hormones.
These compounds are heat-sensitive, and cooking decreases the goitrogenic effects. Cooking these foods and limiting consumption may help some with thyroid disease. Studies have not demonstrated that these foods negatively impact the health of those without thyroid problems.
Gluten sensitivity is also an important dietary consideration. Recent studies have shown a positive association between celiac disease and autoimmune thyroid disease. Two possible mechanisms of action come in to play when considering the links between the two. First is that celiac disease can lead to loss of the intestinal barrier, causing alterations of the immune response.
Second is that both share genes responsible for disease. A 2001 study involving 220 patients demonstrated a five-fold increase in frequency of celiac disease in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. While celiac disease normally has a classic presentation of GI symptoms, there are many with celiac who have only mild or no symptoms at all.
Avoidance of gluten is both effective and necessary in the treatment of celiac; however, the effects of a gluten-free diet on those with hypothyroid have been mixed. A 1999 study showed improvement in hypothyroid symptoms and reduction of thyroxine dose when on a gluten free diet. Given the links between the two disorders, it is reasonable to consider a gluten free trial on those with autoimmune hypothyroidism. Similarly, it is worth considering testing for hypothyroidism in those with celiac disease.