Unfortunately, hypothyroidism is one of the most underdiagnosed diseases in the United States. This is mainly due to the fact that the symptoms can often be attributed to other conditions. The only way to diagnose the condition for sure is with a specific blood test at your doctor’s office, called a thyroid panel.
The standard treatment for hypothyroidism is to take hormone replacement medication each day. Just like with any other medication, these drugs come with side effects, and remembering to take a pill every day is a hassle. Not only that, but these drugs only address the symptoms of the disease. They do nothing to correct the underlying cause of the disease or correct your thyroid function.
The good news is, hypothyroidism usually develops gradually over time, so you may be able to address the issue before it becomes too severe. Best of all, there are many ways to improve your thyroid function naturally, without resorting to levothyroxine or other prescription thyroid medications.
What does your thyroid do?
Your thyroid is responsible for producing two main hormones in the body, called T3 and T4. These hormones travel through the bloodstream and influence your menstrual cycles, hair growth, sleep quality, energy levels, metabolism, and more.
The small, butterfly-shaped gland is located at the base of the neck, just below your Adam’s apple, and it can play a major role in how you look and feel each day.
If your thyroid is functioning normally, it produces T3 and T4 at a ratio of 20% to 80%. When the thyroid isn’t producing adequate amounts of thyroid hormones, it can lead to a condition called hypothyroidism (or underactive thyroid).
In many cases, hypothyroidism is caused by a lack of certain nutrients in the diet, an unhealthy gut, or severe and chronic stress. It can also be caused by an iodine deficiency, an autoimmune disorder, heavy metal poisoning, pesticide or chemical toxicity, or in rare cases, a tooth infection that leaks toxins into the body which find their way to the thyroid gland.
What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
These are the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism in women and men:
- Still feeling tired after 8 to 10 hours of sleep or finding it necessary to take a nap each day.
- Unexplainable weight gain or the inability to lose weight despite eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
- Mood swings and/or issues with anxiety and depression.
- Women may experience hormone imbalances that cause severe PMS and irregular menstrual cycles.
- Men and women may experience fertility issues and low sex drive.
- Joint and muscle pain and inflammation, including carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
- Always feeling cold, especially in the hands and feet.
- Hair loss, cracking or dry skin, and brittle nails.
- Brain fog, lack of focus, and poor memory.
- Swelling of the neck, hoarseness, or excessive snoring.
If you feel like you are experiencing these symptoms, contact your doctor and request that he run a complete thyroid panel to confirm that your thyroid is, or isn’t, functioning properly.
Natural Ways to Overcome Hypothyroidism
Here are the best natural ways to support your thyroid, while boosting your energy levels and overall health.
1. Start by Switching to a Gluten-Free Diet
Many people suffering from an underactive thyroid gland notice a huge improvement when they switch to a gluten-free diet. Although only about 1% of people suffer from true celiac disease, many people are sensitive to gluten (or gluten intolerant) without even realizing it.
People who have gluten sensitivity are more likely to experience the symptoms of hypothyroidism. This happens because eating gluten when you’re sensitive to it causes inflammation in your gut and other parts of your body, interfering with proper hormone production.
The best diet for hypothyroidism is a gluten-free diet that includes only gluten-free grains, cooked vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, healthy fats, and free-range/hormone-free proteins.
2. Foods to Avoid When You Have an Underactive Thyroid
In addition to switching to a gluten-free diet, there are certain foods to avoid if you have hypothyroidism. Steer clear of cruciferous vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables, and raw veggies in general. Cooking your vegetables first is important because it neutralizes their goitrogenic properties. Goitrogenic foods suppress the thyroid and limit its ability to regulate metabolism in the body.
Stick to healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter, and avoid unhealthy fats like margarine, vegetable oil, and canola oil. Cut out all processed foods and foods that have artificial ingredients.
Eliminate soy and soy products, too, because they may contribute to hormonal imbalances. And finally, avoid animal and dairy products that come from hormone-treated animals, especially farm-raised fish. Deep-sea fish that contain high amounts of mercury should also be avoided.
3. Cut Back on the Sugar
We all know that we should cut back on the sugar, but if you have an underactive thyroid, it’s especially important. Consuming too much sugar encourages the growth of candida in the body, which is a type of yeast that has been linked to Hashimoto’s disease (an autoimmune thyroid condition).
Proper thyroid function is crucial for regulating the metabolism of carbohydrates and sugars. So, if you aren’t producing adequate amounts of thyroid hormones, your body will struggle to keep your blood sugar balanced. This results in metabolic issues, weight gain, and fatigue.
4. Increase Your Intake of Iodine
Your thyroid needs iodine in order to produce those all-important hormones, and most of us don’t get enough of it in our diets. Although you could take an iodine supplement to increase your intake, you’re probably better off getting it from whole food sources.
Foods that are good sources of iodine include:
- Yogurt and cheese
Keep in mind that it is possible to get too much iodine, so you don’t need to eat these foods in excess. Try incorporating them a few times a week to see if it makes an improvement in your symptoms. You might also want to ask your doctor to test your iodine levels first, just to see if you are deficient.
5. Probiotics Are Your Friend
As mentioned above, having a healthy gut plays a key role in the function of your thyroid. The gut is one of the main places where thyroid hormones are stored. Healthy gut bacteria is also crucial for converting T3 thyroid hormone into T4, which is the main thyroid hormone that’s usually low in people who have hypothyroidism.
You can get more healthy gut bacteria by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement. Look for one that has several different strains of good bacteria, especially Lactobacillus, L. acidophilus, and L. rhamnosus. These are the good gut bacteria that are most crucial to proper thyroid function.
6. Take Control of Your Stress Levels
Chronic stress is a leading cause of thyroid dysfunction. If you already have hypothyroidism, stress can also cause your symptoms to flare-up. It’s extremely important that you learn how to take control of your stress levels if you have an underactive thyroid!
Some great ways to manage stress include meditation, aromatherapy, yoga, or massage. You could also try taking daily walks in nature or reading a good book. Anything that brings you joy and helps you relax can help to reduce stress.
Try to make time for self-care every day, even if you have to physically write it in your calendar and treat it just like any other appointment. If you can’t seem to find the time to do it each day, start with a couple of times a week do it more often when time allows.
7. Give Acupuncture a Try
Acupuncture can be very useful for balancing thyroid hormones. People with hypothyroidism who receive acupuncture regularly often notice significant improvements in their thyroid markers. Acupuncture is also great to relax and combat stress. It can also relieve some of the common symptoms of hypothyroidism, like muscle tension, depression, insomnia, and fatigue.
Some Final Advice
If you are experiencing the symptoms of an underactive thyroid, you should consult with your doctor to confirm the diagnosis. Even if he recommends thyroid medication to get your hormone levels balanced, the tips suggested above will still help support your thyroid gland and balance hormone levels naturally. Some people who make these changes in their diet and lifestyle are able to wean themselves off of thyroid medication over time, with the help of their healthcare provider.