Dr. Amy Myers, Contributor
Hypothyroidism And Hashimoto’s Symptoms Persist Despite Medication
If you’ve been diagnosed with thyroid dysfunction, particularly Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism, your doctor’s first (and likely only) treatment protocol was prescribing supplemental thyroid hormone, typically Synthroid® or Levoxyl® which are the brand name versions of levothyroxine. In fact, Synthroid® is the number one most prescribed drug in America! (Did he/she ever mention ‘stress’?) However, despite the 21.6 million prescriptions for Synthroid ordered each month, millions of thyroid patients continue to struggle with symptoms of fatigue, brain fog, inability to lose weight, hair loss, low libido, depression, and more. The reason for this is simple. While supplemental thyroid hormone such as levothyroxine boosts your levels of the storage form of thyroid hormone (which may not be the best solution for you), it doesn’t address the root cause of why your thyroid isn’t functioning optimally in the first place. There are five common environmental factors that cause thyroid dysfunction, and the best way to restore thyroid function is to address each of them. I explore all five of these root causes of thyroid dysfunction in my new book, The Thyroid Connection, and provide a step-by-step, 28-day plan to restore thyroid function and regain health and vitality. Here are my top five tips to address your root causes and get your thyroid back on track.
1) Optimize Your Diet
When working with thyroid patients to optimize their diet I focus on two key areas – getting all of the nutrients your thyroid needs to work properly, and eliminating toxic and inflammatory foods that sabotage your thyroid and damage your gut. I put these foods into two categories, foods to enjoy and foods to toss. Foods to enjoy, include eating real, whole foods rich in the vitamins and minerals that power your thyroid, including iodine, tyrosine, selenium, zinc, iron, vitamin A, vitamin D, and B vitamins. You want to focus on high-quality, grass-fed, and pasture-raised proteins, complex carbohydrates and starchy vegetables, healthy fats, organic berries, and flavorful herbs and spices. Toxic and inflammatory foods to toss include sugar, caffeine, alcohol, any processed or junk foods, GMOs, preservatives, dyes, and sweeteners. Inflammatory foods are those that often produce an immune response and trigger inflammation when you eat them. These include gluten and grains, legumes, dairy, corn, soy, nightshades, eggs, nuts, and seeds. These inflammatory foods should be avoided for 28 days and then you can add them back in one at a time to determine which foods you react to and which ones you can keep in your diet. Gluten (and dairy for most people) is the only exception to that rule – I recommend that all of my thyroid patients eliminate it for good. It is not only highly inflammatory and causes leaky gut (more on that below), it can actually cause your immune system to attack your thyroid through a phenomenon called molecular mimicry. Gluten proteins and your thyroid tissue have many similarities in their chemical structures, so when you eat gluten-containing foods your immune system goes to attack the gluten but inadvertently attacks your thyroid in a case of mistaken identity.
2) Heal Your Gut
Most people who have thyroid dysfunction also have dysfunction in their immune system because the vast majority of thyroid dysfunction is autoimmune in nature. If this is the case for you, then you’re almost certainly having a leaky gut as well. Having a leaky gut means the the tight junctions that usually hold the walls of your intestines together have become loose, allowing undigested food particles (including gluten), microbes, toxins, and more to escape your gut and enter your bloodstream, causing a huge rise in inflammation that triggers or worsens thyroid dysfunction. Fortunately, the cells in your gut turn over about every 48 hours, so you can heal your gut in as little as thirty days, by following functional medicine’s 4R Program:
- Remove the Bad — Remove inflammatory foods, toxins, and stress that damage your gut, as well as gut infections from yeast, parasites, or bacteria
- Restore the Good — Replenish enzymes and acids necessary for proper digestion
- Reinoculate with Healthy Bacteria — Make sure you have plenty of friendly bacteria in the form of probiotics to support your immune system
- Repair the Gut — Provide the nutrients and amino acids needed to build a healthy gut lining
3) Reduce Toxin Exposure & Support Your Detox Pathways
It’s unfortunate that no matter who you are or where you live, whether it be urban, rural or anywhere in-between, exposure to toxins in the air we breathe, water we drink, and household and beauty products we use is a fact of life. These toxins can disrupt your endocrine system (including your thyroid) and prompt inflammation and gut damage. Some toxins such as mercury, perchlorate, nitrates, chlorine, bromine, and fluoride are all easily absorbed and stored by the thyroid and can severely interfere with thyroid function. The good news is that there are plenty of simple steps you can take to reduce your toxic burden. I teach my patients a two-part approach to dealing with toxins: reducing your exposure and supporting the body’s natural detoxification system. You can reduce toxin exposure by minimizing your use of plastic, filtering your air and water, using toxin-free body products, and eating organic foods. I realize that eating a completely organic diet isn’t always feasible or affordable, so I like to refer to The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. The first includes the twelve foods that have the highest concentration of pesticides; choosing organic for them should be prioritized. The Clean Fifteen lists the foods with the lowest concentration of pesticides, and buying organic for these can be prioritized second.
The second goal, detoxification, involves supporting your detox pathways by getting plenty of the vitamins and nutrients needed by your liver (where most of your detoxification occurs), staying hydrated, and doing activities to make you sweat, such as exercising or using an infrared sauna.
4) Address Underlying Infections
The thyroid is not an isolated operating system in your body. Many factors affect the thyroid and its ability to function properly. One key factor is underlying infections, infections that have taken root in the body long ago and continue to contribute to low level inflammation and chronic immune firing, which can trigger or worsen thyroid dysfunction. Common infections linked with thyroid problems are herpes, epstein-barr (mono), hepatitis C, yersinia enterocolitica, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), H. Pylori, Toxoplasmosis, Blastocystis hominis. Your doctor can run test to determine if you have any latent infections that might be contributing to your thyroid dysfunction. If you have a bacterial infection, you can take herbs or antibiotics to get rid of your infection. If you have a viral infection you can lighten your viral load by strengthening your immune system to prevent infectious flare ups. This includes avoiding immunosuppressant drugs, maintaining a healthy gut, and getting plenty of vitamin D and vitamin C.
5) Relieve Your Stress
Stress is a major factor in overall health and well-being, and plays a particularly important role in thyroid health. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, can cause you to underproduce thyroid hormones, keeps these hormones in their inactive state, and desensitizes thyroid receptors in your cells. That last one is important because it means even if you’re taking supplemental thyroid hormone and your levels are within range, you could still be experiencing hypothyroid symptoms. Because of our modern lifestyles, most of us can’t avoid stress entirely, I know I can’t! The key here is to focus on managing and relieving stress to prevent long-term impacts on your health. That’s why I’ve included lots of different research-backed methods for relieving stress in my book, The Thyroid Connection. Everyone relieves stress differently, and it’s important to find out what works best for you. Some of my favorite stress-relieving activities include going on a walk with my husband and dog, taking a relaxing epsom salt bath, and doing deep breathing exercises. There are also a few tools that I love for stress management. They include:
- HeartMath Inner Balance App – This tool uses an external heart rate sensor on your earlobe paired with an iPhone app to help you synchronize your heart rate, breath, and mind. As a very goal-oriented person (yes, even in my stress reduction!), I love that it lets you set goals and track your progress.
- Audio-Visual Entrainment – This technique involves visual patterns plus sounds to induce a hypnotic state of relaxation. You look at the waves on a small screen while listening to the sounds through your headphones. You can find audio-visual entrainment devices on Amazon, and I use one from Mind Alive.
- Binaural Beats – When your brain receives two different frequencies, one in each ear, it creates a third frequency in an effort to synchronize them. This third frequency can be used to guide your mind into a more relaxed state that helps you disconnect from anxiety. There are lots of different binaural beats albums on iTunes, and I recommend trying a few to find ones that work best for you.
What lifestyle strategies have you used to address the root causes of your thyroid dysfunction? Share them in the comments below or on my Facebook page.
About the Author
Dr. Amy Myers is a functional medicine physician and New York Times Bestselling Author of The Autoimmune Solution and The Thyroid Connection. Her second book, The Thyroid Connection, explores why thyroid disease is such an epidemic and what truly causes thyroid dysfunction, and provides a 28-day plan to jumpstart your health and reverse thyroid symptoms, whether you have Graves’, Hashimoto’s, thyroid cancer, nodules or cysts, or have had your thyroid removed or ablated. Be sure to follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.