ME & MY THYROID – We’ve Been Battling

DISCLAIMER – I am not a doctor and do not pretend to be.  The post below discusses MY personal health and the course of action decided by my doctors and I.  Please seek consultation with a trusted medical professional regarding any health issues you may be experiencing.  

I thought I would get a little personal today.  I have been on thyroid medication since I was 20 years old which means that I am going on 17 years now.  My hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) was discovered at the same time my endometriosis was.  For years my thyroid had been functioning properly on medication and then as the years went on my medication was slowly and steadily increased as my regular (every 3-6 months) blood tests indicated that I needed more.

For the last three years my thyroid has been indicating that it is absorbing less and less of the medication.  We (my doctor and I) finally reached a point where we did not want to increase my medication any further (thyroid medication can increase bone loss).

It was time to investigate every possible reason why my thyroid might be reacting poorly.  We needed to figure out what we could do to help my all important thyroid function as well as possible.  I have now been following this protocol for the last 3 months and just had my blood re-tested May 7th, so I am very curious to see the results.

The list below is one I compiled from both of my doctor’s recommendations concerning what to AVOID if you are experiencing hypothyroidism.

AVOID

  1. Refined Sugars & Grains – Replace with whole grains and whole foods.
  2. Limit Alcohol - If you must drink (no more than 1 50z. glass per day), red wine is preferred.
  3. Gluten / Dairy – For those with unexplained or auto-immune related thyroid disease, eliminating gluten and dairy is oftentimes met with good results.  According to my doc, “A variety of food antigens could induce antibodies that cross-react with thyroid hormone, particularly during times of stress.”
  4. Millet - UPDATE…I JUST LEARNED ABOUT THIS FROM A COMMENT ON CRAZY SEXY LIFE.  The comment read…  “In listening to a recent podcast with Chris Kresser & Chris Masterjohn, millet was discussed – “the most goitrogenic food in the world is millet, and this could be a problem if people are getting rid of gluten and they start eating a lot of gluten-free bread that’s made from millet, for example. And millet basically inhibits every step of thyroid metabolism, and high iodine intakes cannot overcome the effect of millet.”
  5. Estrogen Containing Medications – i.e. the pill.  These decrease your body’s intake of T-3.  Antihistamines and Sulfa drugs aggravate the problem.
  6. Table Salt  - Use unrefined salt i.e. Centic Salt that has naturally occurring minerals.  Dulse and kelp powder can be used in place of salt (they are rich in iodine which is good for the thyroid).
  7. City Tap Water – Most contains fluoride and chlorine which may reduce thyroid function by competing with iodine and blocking iodine receptor sites in the thyroid gland.  If possible switch to spring water for cooking and drinking.
  8. Iron – If you take thyroid medication, AVOID consuming iron 1 hour before and after taking your medication.
  9. RAW Foods That Prevent the Utilization of Iodine – i.e. turnips, cabbage, mustard, soybean, peanuts, pine nuts, and millet (when cooked these foods are inactivated)
  10. RAW Goitrogenic Foods* –    i.e. soybeans, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower), spinach, kale, peaches, and pears.  THESE FOODS MUST BE COOKED to deactivate the goitrogens.  *Goitrogenic Foods are naturally occurring substances in some foods that inhibit the fundtioning of the thyroid gland.  

Fortunately 1, 2, the dairy portion of 3, 4, and 5 are recommendations I was already following.  However, I have been guilty of occasionally cooking with tap water (due to impatience…it takes FOREVER for the reverse osmosis faucet to fill a big pot) and for the last few years I have been consuming a lot of of RAW spinach, kale, and pears as well as lesser amounts of the other goitrogenic foods…they were in regular rotation too.  I also have to wonder how much my food allergy to oats and occasional consumption of gluten containing foods contributed to my thyroid not absorbing my medication as it should have???

I have read so many conflicting positions with regards to thyroid health and soy.  Some experts say that consumption of soy is fine in any form when you have hypothyroidism and others say that it is fine only when cooked. I have opted to remove soy from my diet for the time being.  I am a person that will do all I can to try and assist my body in it’s effort to heal and this seems like the safer choice for the time being.  Do I think soy is a “bad” food?  No.  If I wasn’t experiencing a problem with my thyroid gland I would be consuming soy.

Now onto the positive list…what you can do / add to your diet to assist your body in its quest to heal your thyroid (These recommendations are for HYPOthyroid).

DO - 

  1. Exercise - It stimulates the thyroid.
  2. Supplement with Tyrosine (500-1,000 mg/day) – Tyrosine stimulates the thyroid gland by facilitating the production of Norepinephrine.  Tyrosine can also alleviate dry skin and hair loss when caused by hypothyroidism.  To be taken on an empty stomach.
  3. Eat Iodine & Tyrosine Rich Foods -  Avocados (not too much, they are high fat), sesame seeds, almonds, apricots, molasses, oats (I’m allergic), sea vegetables, and cranberries.
  4. Foods Rich in Vitamin E, Zinc & B12 - Vegan Vitamin E foods – whole grains, nuts and seeds, turnip greens, tomatoes, pine nuts, peanut butter, wheat germ (I’m avoiding gluten), avocado.  Vegan foods high in zinc – toasted wheat germ, sesame seeds & tahini, roasted pumpkin & squash seeds, dried watermelon seeds, dark chocolate & cocoa powder, & peanuts (must be cooked…see above AVOID section).  B12 supplementation needed when vegan.
  5. Eat Carotenoid Rich Foods – Winter squash, carrots, mangoes, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.
  6. Eat Vitamin-A Rich Foods & Adequate Omega-3s – Vitamin-A foods are paprika, red pepper, cayenne, chili powder, sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy vegetables, butternut squash, dried herbs, lettuce, dried apricots, cantaloupe.  There are vegan Omega-3 supplements available.
  7. Eat Olives – Olives have shown an enhancing effect on the thyroid.  Eat 5-10 olives a day.  I have been eating 5/day.
  8. Eat Organically Grown Unprocessed Fresh Food – Enough said.
  9. Supplement with Selenium – Conversion of T4 to T3 is dependent upon many nutritional agents, most notably selenium, as well as an overall balanced endocrine system.  Vegan Food Sources – Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, bran (wheat, rice & oat)

This is the protocol I have been following.  I am very curious to see how my body has reacted and what my blood tests reveal.  I have always felt strongly that it is our responsibility to take care of the body we were gifted with.

While doctors can give us advice, they can’t make the changes for us.  I feel very fortunate to have forward thinking doctors that involve me in my health care.  I so appreciate that my doctor did not just UP my thyroid medication.  She realizes that there are possible changes that can be made and that we should make those changes and follow-up to see the results.  She also knows that I am a patient that WILL do EVERYTHING in her power to help my body heal.

Fingers crossed xxxxx

Click HERE to view the post where I updated my progress.

Image courtesy of Flickr‘s The Commons

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30 Comments

Filed under Education, Vegan, Vegetarian

30 responses to “ME & MY THYROID – We’ve Been Battling

  1. Kim

    Very interesting! I am referring this to some friends who have thyroid issues. Although I am not vegan or gluten free or dairy free, I have learned so much from your posts. I have made little changes that are making big changes in how I feel! So glad to meet you and your blog!? Thanks Gret!

  2. Lee Ann Bollinger

    Good luck with those results! Fingers crossed-

  3. Good luck with your results. I’m curious, though–I’m on thyroid replacement hormone due to thyroid cancer and removal of the gland. I know you’re not a doctor, but do those recommendations work if you don’t have any thyroid gland at all?

    • Hmmm…that’s a really good question, unfortunately I don’t know the answer. I would definitely suggest asking your doctor. If you have a chance to find out, please do come back and comment so that other people in your situation will know.

  4. Gretchen-
    I so appreciate this post and please do provide updates. I am having similar issues and going to the dr next week. Will use this to refer to depending on my outcome. Thank you again! ~Deirdre

  5. Jen

    Thank you for this post! I’ve been experiencing some hormone imbalances ever since I got off the pill and have been more seriously considering this could be thyroid-related. I plan to have some blood tests soon to confirm. However, I’ve been discouraged to read that many of the treatments point to medication and I’m not a huge fan of pill-popping. I’d much rather treat things naturally with food, exercise and supplements. Thanks for the list of do’s and don’ts – so helpful!

    • I am glad that that post is helpful. Definitely go in for the blood tests though. Best of luck!

      • jen

        Well, it turns out I have hypothyroid too. I’m seeing a nutritionist and he’s not a fan of synthetic drugs, so he put me on a supplement called GTA. Starting out slow so I’m only taking one capsule every other day. Totally bummed that it’s a porcine (pig) product being that I’m vegan, but I’m sort of at my wits end with these symptoms. I’m going to incorporate your nutritional plan above (mostly do that anyway – minus all of the goitogenic foods) and we’ll see if this helps. I’m just happy to have identified the issue…now it’s time to figure out how to manage it – naturally.

      • Hi Jen! I haven’t heard of GTA before. I hope your thyroid responds to the changes you are making…Mine responded to the nutrition changes which is very exciting! Let me know how it goes.

  6. Best of luck. Sounds like you are on the right track.

  7. Donna

    Thank you for sharing this with us! I have been considering, for some time now, going to the doctor and getting my thryroid checked. But I tend to avoid all medications AND doctor visits, and like to work with my body in the healing process. So, just making the appointment has been too overwhelming. I look forward to your updates!

    • Thanks Donna! I am very curious to see what my blood tests say. I too try to avoid medications at all costs, but when they are needed, they are truly amazing. Based on my family history with thyroid issues and the fact that I have had to take the medication for so long, in all reality I don’t believe I will ever be able to stop taking thyroid medication in some form, but I do hope to minimize the amount I need to take.

  8. Petunia

    Gretchen: your story sounds so similar to mine- after many years of autoimmune related issues and declining health- I was finally diagnosed at age 48 with Celiac Disease, another autoimmune disease. They tend to cluster. I was vegetarian since age 24 and vegan as often as possible. (travelled to a lot of odd places for work and sometimes it was easier to give in to the dairy) It wasn’t until I went REALLY gluten free that I started to get better. We no longer have gluten in any form in our home (except for my mother’s ancient cat who eats in her room and sad to say both the cat and his food probably won’t be around much longer). I replaced all porous cooking utensils, storage, pots, and pans, cleaned out all health and beauty supplies, etc. etc.
    Here’s a few hints for anyone who thinks they might be gluten intolerant or have Celiac Disease:
    How’s your skin? Weird rashes? Get bumps in the sun? This is how I was finally diagnosed thru skin tests that I insisted on re-doing. I was covered in itchy painful bumps that went nuts with any sun exposure. I went to the dermatologist several times and the results were always non-specific. You have to do the tests the “right” way or the results will come back inconclusive. Don’t biopsy just the bump- biopsy the skin next to the bump.
    Have your blood checked- are you low on vitamins D, B-12, and iron. How are your adrenals? Cholesterol? Digestive enzymes? Celiacs tend to have low or nonexistent levels of vitamins, low adrenal function, high cholesterol, and need digestive enzymes. Check out the forums on celiac.com. If you get a celiac blood test, it will probably be negative if you have stopped eating gluten. Doesn’t mean you don’t have Celiac Disease, just means the testing is sub par. My blood test was negative, but by the time they did one, all I was eating was oatmeal and bananas.
    Good luck with your new protocol. Diet really is the key to health.

    • Hi Petunia,

      I am so inspired by your commitment to your health and your persistence! It sounds like you have been able to drastically and dramatically alter your health through your own hard work.

      I never thought to replace the porous cooking utensils in our home, but will most definitely do so now.

      Great points…I am sure fellow readers will learn a lot from your comments. Thank you for taking the time to leave such an informative comment.

  9. Glad you are investigating the cause rather than just treating the symptom. I learned my lesson the hard way. I had a situation regarding my thyroid that taught me to find out the CAUSE before taking ANY medicine. Had test results come back low thyroid (first time ever). Dr. put my on the lowest dose of Synthroid and long story short, I went to the emergency room because my heart rate went up very fast. Scared me. Turns out that I had a systemic yeast infection that was depressing my thyroid and I had taken Diflucan to clean up a skin rash that I thought was yeast based. I started feeling the best I had felt in years. I took the Synthroid and it put my thyroid in hyper drive because once the yeast were gone, my thyroid went back to normal and then I took something that increased it and it caused my heart rate to go up. I am still prone to systemic yeast infections, but I have learned to recognize the symptoms and when my thyroid is being depressed. I just take two Grapefruit Seed Extracts (GFSE) and a Whole Enzyme and I am back to normal in as little as 30 minutes. I also changed my diet dramatically – No processed foods. I have found that I don’t need to take the GFSE as often when I don’t eat processed foods. Sometimes I need to take it if I have had too much fruit that converts to sugar fast. Yeast LOVE Sugar. It may be worth it to see how much yeast is in your blood and if that is causing your thyroid to be low. As vegetarians and vegans, we tend to replace the meat with pasta and rice. Both are high carbs and convert to sugar quickly in the body. We also use more flours in our cooking, again high carbs and fast sugar converters. Good luck on your search for the cause. Keep us posted!

    • Wow…thanks for sharing your story. I bet it was super scary when your heart rate went up!!! I will definitely keep the yeast angle in mind.

      • It was scary. I called EMS and when they got there, they took my blood pressure and it was 140/86. They said I was within normal range and asked me what I wanted to do. I said I want to go to the hospital. I knew I was not within normal range for ME. I am 120/80 or below. If I am above that I know something is wrong. Looking back, I wish they would have asked me what MY normal range was. I think if they would look at people as individuals vs groups, it would more helpful with diagnoses. Also you need to know your body and your normal ranges and make sure that the medical professionals hear you when you tell them. They have been trained to treat the symptoms, but not to find out the cause and treat the cause. Once you treat the cause, the symptoms go away.

    • Player

      Hi..I was wondering how you were diagnosis with the systemic yeast infection? I have been dealing with autoimmune stuff for about 2 years. A lot of specialists including two different Rheumatologists. All point to Lupus. They say my thyroid is normal. I battle vaginal yeast infections and have taken Diflucan ( 1 or 2 pills only) for them, and take probotics every day. I think yeast is causing a lot of problems for me. I try and cut out sugar, limit alcohol and drink tons of water. I know when it flares, not only down there, but my skin is dry, stomach bloated, sinus issues, uncontrollable sugar cravings…they are all connected with yeast!

      • Hi there! I was told I had a candida issue about 17 years ago (I unfortunately don’t recall how I was diagnosed…It may have been through a comprehensive questionnaire), and I followed an anti-candida diet and took Nystatin, but I haven’t had a problem with candida since then.

  10. Thanks for sharing your story and the great tips. I have hypothyroidism and am currently on Synthroid and Cytomel (for about 6 months). Symptoms are improving although I know that this will be an ongoing adventure. I am learning that it is so important to stay on top of things as much as possible, as I am sure you have found after dealing with this for 17 years.

    When I was initially diagnosed (finally), I was eating a minimal raw vegan diet with excessive goitrogenic foods. I have now moved back to a balanced vegan diet and am focusing on nourishing myself with plenty of fats and protein which I wasn’t doing before. I essentially was starving myself of the nutrition my body needed. I try to eat 5 small meals a day – all allergen-free. Your blog has helped so much with recipes and ideas!

    Sending you wishes for healthy test results and vibrant health :)

    • Thanks for the good wishes and kind words :-)

      While I do still eat a lot of raw foods, I have been so careful to avoid the raw goitrogenic foods and spinach, etc. I was eating SO MUCH of those in smoothies, etc.

      I feel like I am constantly learning, which I love. The human body fascinates me.

  11. Jill

    Hi There! I found your post on hypothyroid very interesting….I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer 4 years ago (when I was 35) and had to have my thyroid completely removed as well as go through radiation to kill of any remaining cells. I have been given the clean bill of health by my Endocrinologist and I am currently on 200mcg of Levoxyl for the rest of my life…..with that being said, I am always tired. I don’t complain about it b/c I refuse to succomb to the fatigue. I have two little boys (one with special needs) and I work full time which involves a ton of travel. Since my diagnosis, I did a ton of reading and research on the vegan diet which I did full force for 2 years. With all of my travel for work, i had to deal with tiny bits of dairy and I decided to add small amounts of wild seafood back into my diet b/c it was near impossible with my schedule to eat a healthy vegan diet. I still struggle with fatigue and I cannot lose weight (despite diet and exercise) to save my life! My doctors tell me I am over replaced with thyroid hormone but b/c it is not my own body producing the hormone, it just isn’t the same. My question to you is are you familiar with a website I can go to to find a physician or nutritionist that is as forward thinking as yours? I keep thinking there has to be another answer….
    Thank you!

    • Hi Jill,

      I am so sorry to hear about all that you have been going through and so glad to hear that you have been given a clean bill of health.

      However, it is darn hard to walk through life tired all the time!!!

      I have a few books that list INTEGRATIVE/FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE doctors around the country and would be happy to look in them to see if there is one in your area. Where do you live?

      Alternatively you can look on the web for doctors in your area that practice “Integrative/Functional Medicine.”

      I am more than happy to help.

      Peace and health,
      Gretchen

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  16. Jóhanna

    Hi what kind of thyrosine supplemenrs do you recommend? I have been fighting hypothyroid for 5 years and fund it difficult to shed the weight. Should I Skip glutein and milk products?

    • I do not have a specific brand I recommend. Thyroid issues can definitely be tricky. Whether you decide to forgo dairy and gluten is such a personal decision. Definitely consult with your doctor and if you get the go-ahead, feel free to try doing so and see how you feel…If you feel better that will definitely be a clue for you. Best of luck!

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