On Your Health

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Dietary Tips for Managing Hypothyroidism

Your thyroid gland is an incredibly important part of your body, but often gets lost among more noticeable organs. This small endocrine gland is located close to the base of your neck and is responsible for making the thyroid hormone.

The level of thyroid hormone present in your body matters more than you might realize. Your brain, heart, muscles and other organs only work properly when supplied with proper amounts of thyroid hormone. Without it, your body doesn’t use energy properly or stay adequately warm.

What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is the most commonly diagnosed thyroid disorder and is diagnosed when your body is creating less of the thyroid hormone than it should.

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disorder called Hashitmoto’s thyroiditis, which occurs when antibodies attack the butterfly-shaped endocrine gland and cause chronic inflammation. Other causes of hypothyroidism are explained through genetic disorders, side-effects of medications or surgery that has removed part of the gland.

No matter the cause, producing too little thyroid hormone slows down your metabolism – meaning your body’s processes begin to slow down. As your body slows, you’ll feel fatigued, notice your skin getting drier, become more forgetful and possibly suffer from depression.

Hypothyroidism diagnosis and treatment

If you notice changes in the way you feel, such as constantly feeling tired, using significantly more lotion to keep your skin moisturized or find yourself more forgetful or depressed, let your doctor know right away.

In addition, if you have a family history of thyroid disorders, have ever had a medical procedure done involving your thyroid gland or are taking medications like lithium, interferon alpha or interleukin-2, talk to your doctor about your thyroid concerns.

Your doctor will perform a physical exam, looking for symptoms and changes in the appearance of your neck. There are two blood tests to help diagnose thyroid disorders as well.

The TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test is the most sensitive test for hypothyroidism. It determines how much of the thyroid hormone (called thyroxine) the endocrine gland is producing. If you have an abnormally high TSH reading, you’ll most likely be diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

There is also the T4 test, which measures the amount of “unbound” thyroid hormone there is in your bloodstream. Any thyroid hormone which is “bound” cannot enter cells to help the body function properly. This test determines how much free thyroxine is available to your cells.

Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may treat you or refer you to an endocrinologist (a specialist in hormone-producing glands).

Since there is no cure for hypothyroidism, it is treated by replacing the amount of hormone your body is missing with a synthetic thyroxine pill. The synthetic hormone is exactly like the one naturally produced and will bring your levels into alignment once the correct dosage is administered, allowing your hypothyroidism to be controlled.

Dietary tips

When added to your diet, certain foods can help alleviate some of the symptoms of your hypothyroidism. To stop suffering from fatigue and constipation, as well as other symptoms, try adding some of the following foods to your shopping list.

  • Fish: Untreated hypothyroidism increases the risk for heart disease. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish will help repair damage as well as decrease inflammation. Try wild salmon, trout or tuna for lunch or dinner.
  • Whole Grains: Constipation is another common symptom of hypothyroidism, and whole grains add substantial amounts of fiber into your diet. Grains like brown rice, oatmeal and quinoa will aid with bowel movements but can interfere with synthetic thyroxine. If you choose to eat whole grains, remember to take your medication several hours before eating your grains.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Since one of the early symptoms of hypothyroidism is added weight, eating fresh vegetables and fruits can help you maintain a healthy weight. Try foods like sweet potatoes, green peppers, blueberries and cherries, which are rich in antioxidants and help prevent heart disease. Avoid substantial amounts of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, which block the body’s absorption of iodine.
  • Seaweed: Iodine is essential for proper thyroid functionality. Sushi, salads and soups are rich in iodine and a great way to add seaweed into your diet. You’ll find seaweed packaged as nori, wakame and dulse.
  • Beans: These magical foods can help boost your health with protein, antioxidants and fiber. Be sure to keep within recommended servings because too much fiber can interfere with your hypothyroidism treatment.

Getting the proper amount of iodine, selenium and zinc helps to keep you healthy if you’re diagnosed with hypothyroidism. However, you may want to avoid Goitrogens, which may interfere with the functions of your thyroid. Watch out for soy-heavy foods, starchy plants, millet and certain types of nuts, like pine nuts.

Moving forward

When diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you must continue treatment for your entire life. However, managing it doesn’t have to be difficult. Simply take the medication prescribed by your physician, eat a thyroid-friendly diet and continue to have your thyroid hormone levels tested regularly.

If you have concerns about your thyroid, contact an INTEGRIS physician to discuss your chances of developing hypothyroidism. 

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