If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you are not alone. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with this condition (it is estimated that millions more go undiagnosed). It is most likely that your doctor has prescribed you the drug levothyroxine (common brand names include Synthroid and Levoxyl), which is a synthetic version of the thyroid hormone known as T4.
The first question you should ask is whether T4 alone is the best therapy for your particular condition. There are other hormones at work in healthy thyroid function, the most notable of which is T3. A healthy thyroid produces some T3, but the rest of this necessary hormone is converted from T4. It is believed that many hypothyroid sufferers have difficulty with this conversion, which means that supplementary T3 might be beneficial. There are synthetic T4/T3 blends available, but it is worth looking at the natural alternative – drugs made from porcine (pig) thyroid glands (a common brand name is Armour Thyroid). These natural drugs contain both T4 and T3, as well as T2 and T1, which are little understood at this point, but may have an important function as well. Many patients feel considerably better with this natural alternative, so it is definitely worth considering if your symptoms are not relieved with synthetic T4 therapy alone. (Bear in mind that even this natural thyroid hormone is still considered a drug, and must be prescribed by a physician.)
As mentioned above, many hypothyroid patients find that some of their symptoms continue, even after treatment and after lab test results return to a normal range. There are several natural supplements, exercises, and dietary changes which can help:
Vitamins: A high-quality multivitamin is a good place to start (drug store vitamins are generally not potent enough for the needs of someone suffering from hypothyroidism, it is best to visit a health food store to find the quality you need). Your multivitamin should include (or be supplemented with) the following: Vitamins C (250-1000 mg), A, B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B6, B12, D (helps in T4/T3 conversion), and E (200-800 IU).
Minerals: Selenium is one of the most important minerals for the hypothyroid sufferer, it is an important part of the T4/T3 conversion process. Up to 200 mcg per day is recommended, so if it is not included in your multivitamin you’ll want extra supplementation. (It is important to note that too much selenium can be quite harmful, so don’t overdo it.) Calcium and magnesium are important, as are zinc and copper. (Calcium must be taken at least four hours apart from your thyroid medication, otherwise it could interfere with absorption.)
Amino Acids: L-tyrosine is actually a component of your T4 and T3 thyroid hormones. Any deficiency in this amino acid can interfere with the healthy function of your thyroid.
Herbs: Many different herbs may be helpful in supporting thyroid function. They include, but are not limited to: Bayberry, black cohosh, goldenseal, Siberian ginseng, astragalus, saw palmetto berry, triphala, lungwort, ashwagandha, guggul, skullcap, and maca. It is advised that when considering herbal treatments, you consult with an experienced herbalist.
Coconut Oil: There is new evidence which suggests that supplementing your diet with coconut oil can help thyroid function. It is possible that it can also boost your metabolism, which can help with the weight problems so many hypothyroid patients encounter. The oil can be used in cooking, or taken by the spoonful as a supplement. An organic, extra-virgin oil is recommended.
Diet: The diet which seems to help alleviate symptoms for hypothyroid patients is high in protein, high in complex carbs, low in sugars and simple carbs. This means staying away from sugary, starchy foods like desserts, pasta, rice, white bread, and sodas, and increasing your intake of non-starchy vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and low fat proteins. “Good” fats (Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids) should be included in your diet. Sources include cold water fish, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, oysters, shrimp, leafy greens, sea vegetables, walnuts, and soybeans. (Supplements can also be purchased at health food stores.) Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided, as should all artificial sweeteners (try “stevia” as a sweetener – it is a natural plant-based sweetener and can be found in health food stores). Drink plenty of pure, non-flouridated water (at least 64 ounces per day), and include lots of fiber – use a fiber supplement if necessary.
Foods to avoid: Certain foods can interfere with thyroid function. These should be eaten in moderation, and include: soy (soy milk, tofu, etc.), cauliflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli, turnips, rutabaga, radishes, spinach, Brussels sprouts, peanuts, strawberries, mustard greens, and carrots. (Cooking may reduce or eliminate any problems.) There is no need to eliminate these foods completely, eating them in moderation should be sufficient (although soy, in particular, should be eaten at least four hours apart from the time you take your thyroid medication).
Exercise: Everyone feels better when they exercise, and this is no different for those with thyroid problems. At the bare minimum, a daily half hour walk is recommended. There is evidence that exercise such as yoga and Pilates can be especially beneficial for the thyroid. One yoga pose in particular is said to support thyroid function, it is known as a “shoulder stand”. You lie on your back, with your legs together. Slowly raise your legs until they are perpendicular to the floor, rolling all the way up to support your hips with your hands. Your chin should be tucked into your chest, and the weight of your body should be on your shoulders. Start with shorter time spans, but try to work your way up to two minutes per day in this position. Consider joining a local yoga or Pilates class in your community, or try out some of the available videos and DVDs.
Small changes such as those mentioned above can make a big difference in how well your thyroid functions, and in how well you feel. Everyone is different, and some things work better than others for different people, but it is worth experimenting a little to find the optimum health plan for yourself. It is advised that you work with a naturopath or holistic physician (and possibly a nutritionist) while you make these changes, and it is important to monitor your thyroid levels frequently to see if your medication dosage needs to change. Who knows – with the right combination of natural therapies, you may be able to eliminate your medication altogether!