Almost 5% of Americans will suffer from hypothyroidism after the age of 12, and according to the American Thyroid Association, women are five to eight times more likely to have thyroid problems than men. So, what causes hypothyroidism? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIDDK), the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the U.S. is Hashimoto’s disease.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own thyroid tissue. This also causes inflammation of the thyroid gland. The causes of Hashimoto’s are still not completely understood, but it seems to be passed on genetically and may be aggravated by environmental factors such as pollution, pesticides, diet and other factors. Sometimes Hashimoto’s disease occurs along with other autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease and type 1 diabetes. Taking into account what we know about hypothyroidism and autoimmune diseases, here are some ways to help manage and even stop symptoms of hypothyroidism.
The most common hypothyroid treatment is levothyroxine. Levothyroxine (Synthroid) is a synthetic hormone that is identical to the T4 hormone produced by the thyroid gland. This medication successfully controls thyroid hormone levels for many people. However, levothyroxine and similar thyroid drugs are often prescribed to people with borderline hypothyroidism. According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, prescribing this drug to borderline patients doesn’t have much benefit. People with borderline low thyroid levels may not actually have hypothyroidism, but they may be experiencing symptoms like fatigue.
People who are unnecessarily prescribed drugs for hypothyroidism, including Levothyroxine, will usually start to feel better, as far as their symptoms of fatigue go, but it can also have dangerous side effects if extra thyroid hormone is not needed, such as elevated heart rate, arrhythmias, insomnia and bone density loss.
While there is no miracle diet that has been proven to cure hypothyroidism, there does seem to be a correlation between the contemporary Western diet and the rise of autoimmune disorders. Diets high in unhealthy fats, sugar and simple carbohydrates cause excessive development of white adipose tissue (a type of fat). These tissues were once thought to do nothing but store energy, but it has been discovered that they also release substances that cause inflammation and play a role in the body’s immune system. They may play a role in the development of autoimmune diseases. Try to maintain a diet low in processed foods and simple carbohydrates.
Studies indicate that our gut microbiome, or the bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal tract, most likely influences the development of autoimmune conditions. In modern societies, there are fewer variations of gut bacteria, both good and bad, and there are more occurrences of autoimmune diseases. Ask your doctor about taking a well-rounded probiotic.
Lastly, many have heard that goitrogens that exist in foods such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach and others are bad for the thyroid. However, the goitrogenic effects in these foods are often counteracted by the presence of iodine, and if these foods are cooked, most of the goitrogenic compounds are inactivated. Talk to your doctor about which foods you should or shouldn’t eat.
Chronic stress is common in our society with the productivity, emotional labor and work hours that are demanded of us on top of the stress of raising a family and managing a household. Chronic stress may be a factor in the development of autoimmune diseases, and we do know that stress can exacerbate symptoms. To help moderate stress, be sure to exercise. Also set aside some time each day to reduce stress by practicing yoga, meditation or taking a hot bath. Be sure to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
For more information about thyroid conditions and to save money on related medications, visit our Thyroid Conditions Page.