A low thyroid level, also known as hypothyroidism, is a condition where your thyroid gland is not as active as it should be. Millions of people suffer from the condition, though many don't realize it until it has progressed.
Low thyroid activity can lead to a number of health issues, including major issues such as obesity, infertility, heart disease, and joint pain.
Hypothyroidism tends to start off slow and increase over time, so symptoms may appear gradually year over year. Many symptoms are also attributable to aging or other issues, so the root cause may not be obvious until testing is performed. Still, it's worth knowing the symptoms, so you know what to look for.
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include: fatigue, cold sensitivity, constipation, dry skin, weight gain, puffiness in the face, hoarseness, weak muscles, elevated cholesterol, muscle aches, joint pain, thinning hair, depression, poor memory, and even goiter. If you suspect you may have a thyroid issue, consult with your doctor for tests and a prescription.
Hypothyroidism is typically easy to control with synthetic hormones, though it may take some time to properly dial in on the appropriate dosage to alleviate symptoms.
Managing Low Thyroid Naturally
Hypothyroidism cannot be cured through organic means and healthy eating alone.
The reason is the root causes of hypothyroidism.
- Autoimmune disease. These diseases are generally not curable, only manageable.
- Thyroid surgery. You can't use natural means to restore part of the body that has been removed.
- Radiation therapy. If radiation treatment damages the thyroid, the damage may be permanent, or it may recover once treatment has completed.
- Medication side-effects. Some medications, such as lithium, may depress thyroid activity. Natural remedies can counter some of the symptoms, but you would have to stop the initial medication to solve the problem.
- Congenital diseases. A defective thyroid gland, unfortunately, cannot be returned to the manufacturer for a replacement.
- Pituitary disorders. In some cases, the pituitary gland can fail to produce enough of the hormone that stimulates thyroid production; natural remedies don't affect this.
- Pregnancy. Pregnancy has a "cure" in that eventually you are no longer pregnant, and as such, pregnancy-related thyroid conditions are often temporary. Changing your diet or taking supplements will only minorly affect your thyroid in this condition.
One potential, albeit rare, cause for hypothyroidism is an iodine deficiency. Iodine is a trace mineral your body needs to produce thyroid hormones. This is one cause that can be treated through dietary changes or natural remedies.
While you cannot CURE a low thyroid with natural remedies – outside of that one specific case – you can manage the symptoms. Alleviating some of the symptoms through natural means might allow you to reduce the dosage of any synthetic hormones you have to take, and can alleviate symptoms such as pain and muscle aches that would otherwise be dominant.
You can split dietary and natural remedies into two categories: foods to eat, and foods to avoid. As with any slate of natural remedies, make sure your doctor knows what you're eating, and avoid making major dietary changes without consulting with a doctor first.
As a special note, we're going to draw attention to iodine here. Iodine is present in iodized salt, but it's also naturally present in some plants, such as kale, broccoli, spinach, seaweed, and kelp. You probably ready the bit above about an iodine deficiency potentially causing hypothyroidism, but that's only half of the story.
In particular, iodine in excess amounts can also exacerbate low thyroid levels. Too much iodine is just as bad as not enough iodine. Directly taking iodine supplements or eating foods high in iodine can make your symptoms worse. Since iodine deficiency is a rare cause of low thyroid conditions, the chances that it makes you better are slim. Consult your doctor to make sure iodine isn't the cause of or solution to your problem.
Foods to Eat
First up, look at the foods that you can eat more of in your daily diet. Keep in mind that, though these foods are largely good for you, everything can be detrimental in excess. If you're already eating a healthy amount of these kinds of foods, eating more of them is unlikely to provide much benefit.
Eat foods with selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral that your body needs, similar to iodine. It helps your body activate thyroid hormones, which ensures that they can be properly used rather than processed and removed. Selenium can also have some antioxidant effects. Special note here: you should avoid taking a high-dosage selenium supplement. Just like iodine, too much selenium can be dangerous, but in this case it's simply toxic. This is why we recommend food-based sources, not supplements, for minerals like selenium.
What foods can you get selenium from? The absolute best food source is brazil nuts. They aren't ideal, however, because they can provide too much selenium, just like supplements. Other, lower-dose options include fish, ham, and a range of enriched grain products. You can also get some selenium from chicken, cottage cheese, and mushrooms.
Eat foods with zinc. Zinc is another mineral that your body needs, but it's more prominent and more available in foods you're likely to be eating. Zinc has a number of health benefits, including boosting the immune system, which is why zinc supplements are a common remedy for a cold.
One of the best sources of zinc in your diet is meat, particularly red meat. Beef, lamb, and pork are all good options for more zinc. If you're trying to stick with a vegan or vegetarian diet, other natural sources of zinc include legumes like chickpeas and lentils, seeds like pumpkin and sesame, and nuts like pine nuts and cashews. You can also find zinc in dairy sources like milk and cheese.
Eat foods with vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is one of the essential nutrients your body needs for healthy functioning. It's also a vitamin your body can't synthesize on its own, so you need to get all of your B12 from dietary sources or supplements. B12 deficiency is of particular concern for vegetarians, as well as for pregnant women, so it's good to be aware of it even without thyroid issues.
Dietary sources of vitamin B12 include organ meats, like liver and kidneys from lamb, which are one of the best available sources of the vitamin. You can also get high levels of B12 from seafood sources like clams and sardines. Beef, of course, is another great source of the vitamin, as well as vitamins B2, B3, and B6. B12 is also commonly added to enriched foods, like fortified cereals, milk, and nutritional yeast.
Eat more probiotics. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the population of your small intestine – the bacteria that live there and exist in symbiotic relationships with us – is very important for everything from hormones and vitamin uptake to cognitive function and even dementia. Keeping a healthy gut biome is increasingly important as we learn more and more about how it all works and is interconnected.
Probiotic foods are foods that have "spoiled" with healthy bacteria. For example, milk-based probiotics include yogurt, particularly greek yogurt, and kefir. Other sources are fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, both of which are forms of fermented cabbage. If those don't suit your fancy, you can try tempeh, or natto, which are forms of fermented beans.
Eat more colorful berries and fruits. Fruits, particularly colorful berries like raspberries, blueberries, and red grapes, are generally very healthy foods. They contain a lot of sugar, though it's healthier sugars rather than the processed, unhealthy sugars you get in most processed foods. They contain water, though you should be drinking plenty of water on a daily basis anyway.
Fruits also tend to come packed with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including a lot of beneficial antioxidants. Since joint pain and swelling is one of the primary annoying symptoms of a low thyroid, antioxidants, with their anti-inflammatory properties, can help alleviate that pain.
Foods to Avoid
Next, let's talk about foods to avoid. Some of these may exacerbate symptoms of low thyroid, while others might contribute to thyroid and hormone issues. It's better to minimize these foods as much as possible while still maintaining a robust, varied diet.
Try to avoid processed sugars. Processed food and processed sugar are basically the opposite of antioxidants. They can increase inflammation around joints and in tissues. This additionally can slow down the body's ability to absorb and utilize hormones, which makes your thyroid less effective.
Sugary foods also tend to contribute to weight gain, which is another symptom of thyroid issues. Fighting to maintain a healthy weight will be easier if you minimize or eliminate processed sugars and sugary foods from your diet. Instead, opt for healthier options like fresh fruits for your sweet tooth cravings.
Consider cutting gluten. There's no evidence to suggest that gluten has an effect on thyroid levels at all. However, gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease, is an autoimmune disease. People who have one autoimmune disease tend to be at risk for or develop other autoimmune diseases. Thus, if your thyroid issues are caused by an autoimmune disease, it's possible that you may develop a gluten sensitivity as well.
Luckily, as awareness of celiac improves and as the gluten-free diet picks up steam as a fad, it's becoming easier and easier to avoid gluten. Many products are now clearly labeled as gluten-free when possible. There are also numerous guides and articles available with gluten-free diet plans and meal guides you can follow.
Cut back on soy products. One common fear associated with soy products is that soy, which contains a chemical known as a phytoestrogen, may have an effect on human hormones. Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens, which are chemically different from human estrogen hormones. There is minimal evidence to suggest that soy is responsible for major thyroid conditions or estrogen conditions in any way.
However, soy products may have some inhibitory effect on the body's ability to absorb thyroid medications. If you're already on a thyroid medication such as a synthetic hormones, you may want to cut back on the soy products.
Cut back on coffee. Coffee is a staple of many people's morning routines, but it's not necessarily a healthy option. Straight coffee is bitter and packed with caffeine, which can exacerbate inflammation and other health issues. Many people also mix coffee with sugar to sweeten it, which as mentioned above is not a good dietary staple.
Coffee can also stimulate the adrenal gland, which wears it out over time. This means your body has less ability to manage hormones and the associated thyroid production. Beyond that, coffee can also inhibit absorption of thyroid medications. It's better to replace your morning beverage with tea instead.
Avoid over-eating anything. One of the biggest keys to eating a thyroid-healthy diet is to maintain a healthy balance. Avoid over-eating anything, be it meats or vegetables, supplements or vitamins. Too much of a good thing is often detrimental, just as much as too little. Eating a balanced diet is the most important and most beneficial thing you can do. Well, that, and keeping your doctor in the loop to make sure any prescriptions and medications are accurate.