Suppose you own one Master Utility Factory that produces two powerful energy-regulating compounds that regulate all the chemical processes in all your cells for the rest of your life. Powerful compounds, right? Now, imagine some weapon attacks your Master Factory so less of those valuable compounds are being produced. Fiction? Hardly! The butterfly-shaped gland in your neck produces thyroid hormone (T3 and T4). Since they control the way your body uses energy and your chemical processes, the thyroid hormones affect all cells and major organs in the body. One out of ten individuals over the age of sixty will experience an attack on their Master Factory and develop low thyroid (hypothyroidism). In fact, about 300 million people across the world suffer from thyroid gland dysfunction.1 Most of these have low thyroid (hypothyroidism). In this article, we examine common risk factors of autoimmune hypothyroidism. By correcting the risk factors, the quality of life may be improved for those individuals who have this condition.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones. Even if the thyroid hormones are within normal levels, the TSH levels may be elevated and signal early hypothyroidism. TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) is a pituitary hormone that stimulates the production of thyroid hormones in the thyroid gland.
Signs & Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
- Fatigue and weakness
- Dry skin
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Weight gain or fluid retention
- Hoarseness or difficulty in swallowing
- Depression, mood swings, slow reflexes, coordination problems
- Brain fog and memory loss
- Muscle pain and cramps, stiffness, and tenderness
- Thinning hair
- Elevated cholesterol and hypertension
- Menstrual irregularities
What to do?
A person may have some of these symptoms and not have a thyroid problem at all. Individuals who have hypothyroidism might not experience all of these signs and symptoms. If you experience some of the above, you need to have three lab tests performed: TSH, T-3, and T-4 to rule out thyroid deficiency. If there are abnormalities in these measurements, one should be tested for thyroid autoantibodies and reverse T-3. Nearly 90% of cases are caused by Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland.
Take Medication as Ordered.
If you have hypothyroidism, your doctor will prescribe thyroid medication. Periodically your thyroid hormones will be checked to be sure you are taking the correct dose. If you do not take the medication, your symptoms will become worse and you can damage some organs. Thyroid medication is not a typical drug in that it is not foreign to the body. Coffee, antacids, iron or calcium supplements decrease its absorption. Thyroid medication might be more effectively taken before bedtime on an empty stomach.
Can it be done? The answer is that it depends upon what causes it. If it is simply inflammation of the thyroid or iodine deficiency, hypothyroidism is largely reversible. Otherwise, it is not. Nearly 90% of cases are caused by Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Hashimoto’s and complicated inflammation of the thyroid gland are not considered reversible. Please note that sometimes in Hashimoto’s the thyroid hormones are elevated before they decline.2However, there are lifestyle strategies that can help in these cases, but they won’t replace needed thyroid medication.
Lifestyle Strategies for Prevention and Treatment:
Have a Dietician Check your Diet for Deficiency.
Iodine is a trace mineral needed for the production of thyroid hormones. If caught early, hypothyroidism caused by iodine deficiency can be reversed. Excess iodine intake may increase thyroid autoimmunity and interfere with the release of thyroid hormones into the blood.3 High intakes of iodine may also contribute to hypothyroidism. Iodine supplementation can interfere with the effectiveness of thyroid medicine.
Selenium is another trace element that is essential to the thyroid. Selenium helps to recycle thyroid hormones. Maintaining a physiologic level of selenium is important to prevent thyroid disease. Selenium might help in cases of autoimmune thyroid problems.4 Selenium deficiency is common in celiac disease.5 Brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium. Lima and pinto beans, brown rice and chia seed provide selenium as well for the vegetarian.
Either an iron or vitamin B-12 deficiency can negatively impact thyroid hormones. Iron deficiency can interfere with the synthesis of thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism may reduce one’s ability to absorb vitamin B-12. One study found that about 40% of hypothyroid individuals had low levels of vitamin B-12.6
Check your Vitamin D Hormone Level.
This hormone (calcitrol) helps to balance the various components of the immune system so that they attack harmful invaders and not our tissues. Deficiency of vitamin D may increase the risk of autoimmune thyroid disease. One study found that even when adjustments were made for age, the presence of thyroid antibodies was inversely correlated with vitamin D levels.7 Another study examined the impact of vitamin D deficiency in individuals who were otherwise healthy. Researchers found that vitamin D deficiency was linked to a higher risk of thyroid auto-antibodies such as those found in Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease (an autoimmune thyroid disease characterized by elevated levels of thyroid hormones).8,9
Get Adequate Sleep.
Insufficient amount of sleep elevates TSH from the pituitary gland.10,11 Chronic sleep loss can reduce the capacity of even young adults to perform basic metabolic functions such as processing and storing carbohydrates or regulating hormone secretion. Loss of sleep, even for a few short hours during the night, can prompt one’s immune system to turn against healthy tissue and organs. Losing sleep for even part of one night can trigger the key cellular pathway that produces tissue-damaging inflammation.12 Why is this important? Inflammation is a major pusher for thyroid diseases.
Adopt Regular Schedule for Meals, for Rising, for Retiring.
Circadian rhythms influence the manufacture of thyroid hormones—like many other hormones. Disrupting the light-dark cycle of mice increased their susceptibility to inflammatory disease, indicating that the production of a key immune cell is controlled by the body’s circadian clock.13 Human beings are sensitive to disturbed circadian rhythms.
Enjoy Plant-Based, Anti-Inflammatory Diet.
The composition and distribution of gut bacteria intimately impacts your thyroid health. Unfriendly bacteria generate inflammatory compounds that can damage your thyroid gland, while friendly gut bacteria release anti-inflammatory compounds that protect health. Consuming a plant-based, whole food diet helps to populate the gut with friendly bacteria. A plant-based diet protects from cardiovascular disease, a complication of hypothyroidism.14 The risk of hospitalization or death from heart disease is 32 percent lower in vegetarians than people who eat meat and fish.15
Even if you are not quite ready to be a vegetarian, moderately increasing your intake of whole fruits, veggies, and legumes can really help you. Indeed, a large dietary study from 18 countries, found that even relatively moderate intakes of fruit, vegetables, and legumes such as beans and lentils may lower a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death.16
One caveat here: Do not eat these foods raw if you have a thyroid problem: bok choy, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, turnips, and soy have a compound which sometimes interferes with the thyroid hormone.17 Cooking deactivates it. Ingestion of lard provokes significant thyroid dysfunction in rodents. High doses of green tea can impair thyroid function.18
Purify your Drinking and Cooking Water.
In England, water fluoridation above a certain level is linked to 30 percent, higher than expected, rates of underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). We need a tad bit of fluoride for bones and teeth though. This observational study indicates that excess of 0.3 mg/liter of fluoride is problematic. Check your water company and find out what the level of fluoride is in your water. You might need to purchase a charcoal water filter.19
Seriously Limit Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors.
Endocrine disruptors (EDs) interfere with the work of the endocrine glands and their respective hormones. They adversely impact the reproductive, immune, and nervous system.20 Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products, including plastics, metal food cans, dish soap, fragrances, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, nail polish, many shampoos, vinyl, and pesticides. EDs mimic or partially mimic the body hormones and interfere with the way in which a hormone works. Sometimes they interfere with how hormone receptors work. Early childhood exposure to endocrine disruptors was associated with depressed thyroid function in girls as young as three years of age.21
So how does one limit exposures? Eat organically grown foods when you can. Avoid scented laundry soaps and dryer sheets. Rinse your dishes and hands well after you use soap. Since EDs tend to accumulate in dust, frequent damp dusting and vacuuming floors can reduce your exposure. Never microwave food in Styrofoam or plastic. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that have been linked to thyroid dysfunction.22 Phthalates are found in PVC, cleaning supplies, perfumes, UV protection creams, personal hygiene products, and air fresheners.
Check your Medications.
Oral contraceptives, pregnancy, and conventional female hormone replacement therapy may increase thyroid carrier protein levels and, thereby, lower the amount of free thyroid hormone.23 NSAIDs (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs), prednisone, certain asthma medications, lithium, and the anti-diabetic medicine metformin are commonly used medications that can negatively impact thyroid function. So if you have hypothyroidism, ask your pharmacist if any of the medications you are taking could contribute to your hypothyroidism.24
Get your Blood Sugar Tested.
Hypothyroidism may increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, especially if one has prediabetes. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes over a long-term follow-up increased by 13 percent for people with low thyroid function or those with low-normal thyroid function. However, the diabetes risk was 40 percent higher for individuals with reduced thyroid function if they already had prediabetes, the investigators reported.25 Follow a lifestyle program that reduces your risk for developing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and preserves heart health.
- Eat a largely plant-based diet.
- Avoid consumption of refined carbohydrates.
- Seriously limit your intake of saturated fats and trans fats.
- Engage in regular exercise.
- Lose weight if obese.
Hashimoto’s may also increase the risk for type 1 diabetes.26
Watch your Heart Health.
Individuals who have a subclinical hypothyroidism–a mildly underactive thyroid only detectable by a blood test–are twice as likely to develop heart failure.27 Total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, cholesterol, triglycerides and C – reactive protein should be evaluated annually. Since Hashimoto’s increases your risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency, have your B-12 level checked annually. Deficiency in this vitamin can damage the nerves, the blood and blood vessels, and the immune system. Individuals with Hashimoto’s are more likely to develop pernicious anemia in which B-12 is not absorbed properly.28
Pay Attention to Your Gut Health.
Your gut contains friendly bacteria that make compounds that protect you from common chronic diseases. It also houses unfriendly microbes that produce inflammatory compounds that promote disease. Dysbiosis (a condition in which there is an imbalance of the microorganisms within the gut so that the unfriendly microbes predominate) has been found in autoimmune thyroid conditions. 29 The composition of the gut microbiota has an influence on the availability of essential micronutrients for the thyroid gland. Iodine, iron, and copper are crucial for thyroid hormone synthesis. Selenium and zinc are needed for converting inactive T4 to active thyroid hormone known as T3 and vitamin D assists in regulating the immune response. Those micronutrients are often found to be deficient in autoimmune thyroid diseases, resulting in malfunctioning of the thyroid. Supplementation of probiotics showed beneficial effects on thyroid hormones and thyroid function in general. 30 Correcting lifestyle practices that create the imbalance of the microflora in the gut is also essential. Click on this blue line to access more information.
For participants in a study, the change from a low-fat and high-fiber diet to a “Western diet” (high sugar, high fat, low fiber) made a difference in their microbiota composition and unfavorably changed their gut microflora. 31 Foods rich in fiber impact the immune regulation and have anti-inflammatory effects. 32
This is especially important if you have Hashimoto’s. Autoimmune diseases often alternate between flare-ups and remission. Overcrowding your schedule increases the risk for more flare-ups. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism may persist even if an individual is taking the correct dose of thyroid medication.33 Hypothyroidism can cause depression and mood swings. Take time to care for yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually.
There is much you can do to lower your risk for hypothyroidism. If you do get it, treat it, and adopt the strategies outlined in this article to reduce your risk for complications. Hypothyroidism can have serious consequences and should be treated by a competent health care professional.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is helpful and is educational. It is not the author’s or authors’ or Wildwood Health Institute’s intent to substitute the blog article for diagnosis, counseling, or treatment by a qualified health professional.
Copyright through December 2023. All rights reserved by Wildwood Sanitarium, Inc.
- Bajaj J. Various Possible Toxicants Involved in Thyroid Dysfunction: A Review. J Clin Diagn Res. 2016 Jan; 10(1): FE01–FE03
- Ventura M. Selenium and Thyroid Disease: From Pathophysiology to Treatment. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5307254/
- Stazi AV, Trinti B. Selenium status and over-expression of interleukin-15 in celiac disease and autoimmune thyroid diseases. Ann Ist Super Sanita. 2010;46(4):389-399
- Jabbar A, Yawar A, Waseem S, et al. Vitamin B12 deficiency common in primary hypothyroidism. J Pak Med Assoc. 2008 May;58(5):258-61
- Goswami R, Marwaha RK, Gupta N, et al. Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and its relationship with thyroid autoimmunity in Asian Indians: a community-based survey. Br J Nutr. 2009 Aug;102(3):382-6
- Sayki Arslan. Isolated Vitamin D Deficiency Is Not Associated with Nonthyroidal Illness Syndrome, but with Thyroid Autoimmunity. The Scientific World Journal, 2015
- Kim D. The Role of Vitamin D in Thyroid Diseases – MDPI. www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/18/9/1949/pdf
- University of Chicago Medical Center. “Lack Of Sleep Alters Hormones, Metabolism, Simulates Effects Of Aging.” ScienceDaily. 25 October 1999. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991025075844.htm
- Lynn Kessler, MD. Changes in Serum TSH and Free T4 during Human Sleep Restriction. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2910542/
- Elsevier. “Loss Of Sleep, Even For A Single Night, Increases Inflammation In The Body.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 September 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080902075211.htm>
- X. Yu, D. Rollins, K. A. Ruhn, J. J. Stubblefield, C. B. Green, M. Kashiwada, P. B. Rothman, J. S. Takahashi, L. V. Hooper. TH17 Cell Differentiation Is Regulated by the Circadian Clock. Science, 2013; 342 (6159): 727 DOI: 10.1126/science.1243884
- Francesca L Crowe. Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and nonvegetarians: results from the EPIC-Oxford cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr, January 30, 2013 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.112.044073
- European Society of Cardiology. “Reassessing the benefits of plant-based eating.” ScienceDaily. 29 August 2017. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170829091009.htm
- Bajaj J. Various Possible Toxicants Involved in Thyroid Dysfunction: A Review. J Clin Diagn Res. 2016 Jan; 10(1): FE01–FE03
- Ibid., Bajaj
- BMJ. “Water fluoridation in England linked to higher rates of underactive thyroid.” ScienceDaily. 24 February 2015. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150224083811.htm
- Morgenstern R. Phthalates and thyroid function in preschool age children: Sex specific associations. Environment International, 2017; 106: 11 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.05.007
- John D. Meeker. Relationship between Urinary Phthalate and Bisphenol A Concentrations and Serum Thyroid Measures in U.S. Adults and Adolescents from NHANES 2007-08. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2011; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1103582
- Arafah BM. Increased need for thyroxine in women with hypothyroidism during estrogen therapy. N Engl J Med. 2001 Jun 7;344(23):1743-9
- Haugen BR. Drugs that Suppress TSH or cause central hypothyroidism. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2784889/
- The Endocrine Society. “Low thyroid function linked to greater odds of type 2 diabetes.” ScienceDaily. 2 April 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160402111257.htm
- Milas K. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Complications. EndocrineWeb. May 3, 2017
- American Thyroid Association. “Even Mild Thyroid Problems Double Risk Of Heart Condition.” ScienceDaily. 9 October 2007. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071005143412.htm
- Jovana Knezevic. Thyroid-Gut-Axis: How Does the Microbiota Influence Thyroid Function? Nutrients. 2020 Jun; 12(6): 1769. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7353203/
- Jovana Knezevic. Thyroid-Gut-Axis: How Does the Microbiota Influence Thyroid Function? Nutrients. 2020 Jun; 12(6): 1769.
- Maslowski KM, Mackay CR. Diet, gut microbiota and immune responses. Nat. Immunol. 2011;12:5–9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21169997/
- Köhling H.L., The microbiota and autoimmunity: Their role in thyroid autoimmune diseases. Clin. Immunol. 2017;183:6374. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28689782/
- Peterson SJ. Is a Normal TSH Synonymous with “Euthyroidism” in Levothyroxine Monotherapy? The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2016; jc.2016-2660 DOI: 10.1210/jc.2016-2660