A butterfly-shaped gland found at the front of the neck, the thyroid gland, may not look like much, but it can wreak havoc on your health, when it isn’t functioning properly. The thyroid gland produces thyroxin (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), hormones which control the metabolism, respiration, temperature and other essential functions of the human body. Too much or too little of these hormones can lead to thyroid disease, such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
What can you do to treat thyroid disorders?
To treat thyroid disorders, drugs and medications are often prescribed. The most commonly prescribed medication for treating hypothyroidism is levothyroxine, while treatment for hyperthyroidism includes anti-thyroid medicines, such as propylthiouracil or methimazole, radioactive iodine which may destroy the thyroid gland and stop the excess production of thyroid hormones, even surgery to remove the thyroid gland altogether.
A dissatisfaction with normal care, however, has resulted in an increasing interest in a more holistic approach to thyroid disease treatment, one which prefers natural, lifestyle changes, not drugs or medications. Jen Wittman, CHHC, AADP, creator of Thyroid Loving Care and a certified holistic health expert, chef and writer, is an advocate of this strategy. Wittman was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, an autoimmune disorder which attacks the thyroid gland itself, but was able to undo the illness without the use of medicines.
“In my experience, changing diet, improving gut health, managing stress and maintaining overall health and wellness helps support the body so that medicine is unnecessary, or at minimum, may work more effectively,” Wittman said.
Adopting a Healthy Diet
Wittman recommends eliminating gluten, caffeine and soy, in addition to reducing sugar for all thyroid diseases, however, she says that diets are contingent on the individual.
She clarified that some folks gain from a Paleo or Autoimmune Paleo protocol, while others will need to avoid foods like nightshades such as paprika, cayenne, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and potatoes or polyunsaturated fatty acids such as peppermint and vegetable oils. Others also find cutting out milk or alcohol from their diet helps.
“There is not any effective one-size fits all approach when it comes to reversing autoimmune and thyroid conditions”.
According to Charlie Seltzer, MD, owner of Lean4Life Weight Loss & Fitness Solutions, another change some healthcare professionals suggest for individuals suffering from thyroid disease is to avoid eating raw goitrogenic foods like cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, that interfere with the function of the thyroid gland.
But comments on diet’s influence on thyroid function have a tendency to vary. Jabbour, for example, doesn’t believe that exercise and diet can cure thyroid disorder. But one thing they could all agree on though is that eating healthier can fight weight gain and reduce a few of the symptoms like fatigue and depression, especially in the first six months of hormonal therapy when a balance of hormones has not yet been attained.
To Supplement or Not?
Too much or too little of certain nutrients can greatly impact thyroid function. Stella Lucia Volpe, PhD, RD, LDN, FACSM, professor and chair of the department of nutrition sciences at Drexel University at the College of Nursing & Health Professions, clarified that some thyroid diseases could be, but not necessarily is, a consequence of iodine deficiency. Iron or Zinc deficiencies can be variables as well. For instance, the thyroid converts iodine into thyroxin (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) so a deficiency of iodine in your diet can interfere with hormone production.
But iodine deficiency is uncommon in the USA, Jabbour cautioned. Therefore supplementation could be harmful if no authentic deficiency is present, leading to the specific opposite problem. Too much iodine in your diet can also be an issue if you’re at risk for thyroid disease. Mario Skugor, MD, advises his patients with Graves’ disease, another autoimmune thyroid disease, because their thyroid is secreting a surplus of both T4 and T3 to prevent foods.
Wittman considers that most people with thyroid disorder need supplements at least short-term, but that they often can be weaned off them. “There is just not one simple way to reverse these conditions in everybody,” Wittman said. “Rather there are several unique supplements, lifestyle changes, healing modalities and dietary alterations which can be used to reverse the conditions and eliminate symptoms.” Seltzer cautioned against supplementing on your own. See your doctor and get appropriate testing first to make sure it’s necessary in the first location.
Exercise & Your Thyroid
Opinions on exercise also differ. Seltzer does not see it playing an important role in proper thyroid function while exercise in general is good for everybody. “The best exercise routine is the one that a individual is most likely to stay with,” Seltzer said. “I enjoy resistance training supplemented with cardiovascular exercise, with a focus on interval training, but if someone hates lifting weights, then anything is better than nothing.”
Wittman advises her clients to choose exercises which don’t tax the adrenal gland like gentle yoga, walking or Tai Chi. Jabbour and Skugor say patients with hyperthyroidism must watch the intensity and duration of the workouts because exercise may exacerbate an already rapid heart rate along with other symptoms.
What is the Best Strategy?
The absence of consensus on holistic approaches will likely cause your head to spin, right? Can you choose alternative remedies or would you rather stick with normal care for treating thyroid disease? The American Thyroid Association recommends that you work with your healthcare professional about the best strategies to include alternative or complementary medicine and always keep the lines of communication open if your doctor doesn’t approve of these practices. Your well-being is the priority, and a few inappropriate options, could interfere with your treatment.
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By Dr. Alex Jimenez
Additional Topics: Wellness
Overall health and wellness are essential towards maintaining the proper mental and physical balance in the body. From eating a balanced nutrition as well as exercising and participating in physical activities, to sleeping a healthy amount of time on a regular basis, following the best health and wellness tips can ultimately help maintain overall well-being. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can go a long way towards helping people become healthy.
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