It’s easy to get overwhelmed when looking for the best way to optimize your health, especially when it comes to the thyroid. Should you be gluten-free, dairy-free, follow a plant-based diet, avoid sugar, restrict calories, exercise a lot or just a little, or prioritize sleep or movement? These are some of the questions you may find yourself asking.
Long story short, there is no known cure for hypothyroidism or hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The good news is that the thyroid is very responsive to lifestyle changes, so don’t give up hope on feeling great again!
Treatment goals should be focused on preventing worsening of your thyroid function, relieving symptoms and improving your quality of life. In the section “natural treatments for hypothyroidism and hashimoto’s” we will avoid getting hung up on every little detail and go straight for a few key strategies that you can easily implement, without getting caught up in the weeds.
I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in 2013 and hashimoto’s thyroiditis in 2019. Receiving my hashimoto’s diagnosis was met with both relief and regret. Relief that I finally had answers and regret that I had allowed chronic stress to go untreated over the past decade. I took that wake-up call as more of a call to action. Over the past 2 years I have been able to stop taking three prescription medications and implement natural treatments for hypothyroidism and hashimoto’s to regain control of my life.
What Does the Thyroid Do?
The thyroid is one of the most important glands in our bodies. The hormones it secretes, T3 and T4, affect nearly every cell and organ system in our bodies and therefore influence our metabolism, mood, concentration, temperature regulation, sleep, bowel function and more.
Hypothyroidism, having a thyroid gland that can no longer make enough thyroid hormone for the body’s needs, is one of the most frequently diagnosed diseases in Western society. Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) has become the single biochemical parameter used to diagnose hypothyroidism due to its convenience and sensitivity, measuring serum TSH. TSH is used to define primary hypothyroidism, while subclinical hypothyroidism is defined as an elevated TSH and normal levels of thyroid hormones FT3 and FT4.
Prevalence of Hypothyroidism
An estimated 5% of the general population has a diagnosis of hypothyroidism, while another 5% reportedly remain undiagnosed. Hypothyroidism is more prevalent in women than men and seen in white people more than black or Hispanic people. The peak age for receiving a diagnosis of hypothyroidism is between 30 to 50 years of age.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism may include (but are not limited to); fatigue, dry skin, feeling cold, constipation, weight gain, muscle aches, joint pain, thinning hair, depression, and impaired memory.
Hypothyroidism causes a lower metabolism, the rate at which we burn calories. Thyroid hormones play an important role in the amount of energy used at both a rested state and when consuming a meal. Using less energy and creating less thermogenesis (heat) results in a decrease in your metabolism and ability to burn fat.
Impaired glucose tolerance is a common side effect of hypothyroidism. This means that your body is not able to remove the sugar you eat from your blood steam. When this sugar is not used, it is stored as fat. One study reported that standard T4 treatment alone does not restore normal glucose tolerance.
Traditional Treatments for Hypothyroidism
Levothyroxine (LT4) is one of the most frequently used drugs in the world and is reportedly effective in treating most cases of hypothyroidism. The goal of traditional thyroid treatment is to replicate normal thyroid function as closely as possible by replacing a hormone that is missing. Even with standard LT4 treatment, some people still experience symptoms such as psychological distress, brain fog, depression and anxiety.
The effectiveness of combination therapy remains controversial. Approximately 10-15% of individuals with hypothyroidism do not feel that LT4 treatment alone is beneficial, however research has not shown T3/T4 combination therapy to be beneficial and without side effects. The American Thyroid Association recommends trials of combination therapy on an individual basis and only under certain circumstances.
As the most common cause for hypothyroidism in the United States and one of the most frequently occurring autoimmune diseases, Hashimoto’s is characterized by impairment of the immune system, destruction and scarring of the thyroid tissue, excessive production of antibodies against thyroid antigen, and lymphocytic infiltration. Hashimoto’s is most prevalent in white women between the ages of 30 and 60 years old.
While genetics represent the most significant risk factor for developing Hashimoto’s, other triggers include environmental, existential and nutritional factors.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s
Individuals with hashimoto’s may experience mood changes, depression, anxiety, brain fog, problems concentrating, dry skin, hair loss, chronic fatigue, changes in body weight and disturbances in bowel movements.
Natural Treatments for Hypothyroidism & Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Nutrition, Stress and sleep have the largest influence over our hormone function; therefore, our hormones are constantly changing in response to our actions. This is really great news, as long as you know what to do, right? There are so many opinions and guides on what you can do to manage symptoms of a thyroid disorder. This article will focus on several big pillars that will not only help you manage your symptoms from hypothyroidism or hashimoto’s, but will also help with general hormone regulation and overall health and wellness.
Historically, before measuring and treating TSH levels became the gold standard, hypothyroidism was treated using a patient-specific, symptom-oriented approach. Research is now showing that measuring TSH may be less reliable than once thought for a plethora of reason, including the broad population-based references ranges that are neither universally agreed upon nor age, patient, gender or ethnicity specific. By all accounts, we may need to return to a more symptom-based approach when treating hypothyroidism.
Nutrition is a heavy hitter when it comes to natural treatments for hypothyroidism and hashimoto’s and I like to keep it simple! Sure, you can get caught up in all the nitty gritty details, but that will leave you feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. Elizabeth Benton of Primal Potential says “love foods that love you back” and I think that’s a great motto.
- Consume vegetables with most meals. Aim for ½ of your plate to be plant-based. Choose vegetables that satisfy you and that your body tolerates well. A diet high in vegetables will help you consume adequate fiber, with 25-35 grams being the minimum you should consume daily.
- Eat healthy, whole-food fats. This will keep you feeling full and satisfied longer. This includes fats from avocados, coconut, olive oil, macadamia nuts, salmon, and eggs, for example. Fatty fish, such as salmon, provides a great source of Omega 3, which is great for reducing inflammation.
- Consume lean protein throughout the day, aiming for at least several ounces per meal and snack. Foods such as organic, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, pork, eggs and wild caught fish are great choices.
- Limit processed, junk foods. Snack foods are full of salt and sugar and increase inflammation in the body.
- Gluten and Dairy. Research suggests that if you are not sensitive or intolerant to gluten and dairy, then you should not follow a gluten-free or dairy-free diet. On the contrary, many individuals with hashimoto’s feel better when avoiding gluten and dairy, with approximately 75% of individuals with hashimoto’s eventually being diagnosed with lactose intolerance.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole-food sources of healthy fats and proteins will ensure you get adequate amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals. A few minerals that are key to good thyroid function are listed below and can be consumed adequately and preferably through the diet, without supplementation.
The microbiome has a critical link to thyroid health. Like the thyroid, the microbiota in our gut is constantly changing in response to our eating habits, environmental factors and lifestyle. Fluctuations in thyroid hormone levels affect the composition of the gut, increasing the risk of intestinal bacterial overgrowth, gut dysbiosis and leaky gut in individuals with hashimoto’s. This stimulates the autoimmune process and inflammatory markers as well as changes in metabolism. Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, fiber and fermented foods will help the good bacteria in your gut flourish.
In addition to the nutrition recommendations above, it may be necessary to support your gut health with targeted probiotics. Sure, you can consume probiotics in some fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut, but you don’t always know what strain or the amount you are consuming. Below, I have listed several products I personally consume daily to help with mood, anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, gut health and metabolism.
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Chronic stress significantly affects your whole body; which includes your thyroid function, mental health, physical health and immune system. Environmental factors such as physical or emotional stress, alcohol intake, medication usage, cigarette smoking, excessive exposure to heavy metals, and food contaminants creates oxidative stress which leads to inflammation, thyroid dysfunction and progression of hashimoto’s disease.
Stress management is one of the most effective natural treatments for hypothyroidism and hashimoto’s and can be achieved through getting adequate sleep, exercising, journaling, spending time outdoors, and meditating. My previous post, Stress Belly 101, has helpful information on how stress affects our body and ways to reduce stress.
Dr. Emily Kiberd thoroughly discusses “9 Tips for Exercising with Hashimoto’s” in this recent blog post. Exercising with hashimoto’s is a delicate balance. I have found that many individuals severely calorie restrict and over-exert themselves with exercise in an attempt to lose weight, which is not effective for individuals with hashimoto’s.
Toxins are hormone disruptors in our bodies. When possible, aim to avoid eating or drinking from plastic containers or using cookware that leaches chemicals into your food. If you are able, choose organic produce and grass-fed meats. The blog, Wellbeing with Grace, has a few great posts on ways to avoid toxins in items like deodorant, cookware and fragrances.
Having a diagnosis of hypothyroidism or hashimoto’s thyroiditis is not the end of the road, it’s the beginning of learning a new way to take care of yourself. While treatment with Levothyroxine is the gold standard, there are many natural treatments for hypothyroidism and hashimoto’s that are targeted at eliminating the symptoms you experience from having a thyroid disorder. I believe both traditional and natural methods should be considered in symptom-based treatment of hypothyroidism and hashimoto’s. Best of luck on your journey to controlling your symptoms rather than letting them control you!
The purpose of this information is to inform and empower the reader to make positive lifestyle changes. The intent is not to replace medical advice or instructions given by your doctor or healthcare provider.
*If you purchase items through this link, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
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