Integrative Medicine Physician Dr. Sushma Hirani is a two-time winner of the Compassionate Doctor Recognition and Patients Choice Award. She shares her top tips for hypothyroidism.
Written by Sushma Hirani MD, Rose Wellness
Hypothyroidism, also known as an underactive thyroid, occurs when the thyroid gland cannot produce enough thyroid hormones. The chemical reactions in your body become upset when you have hypothyroidism. Sufferers of hypothyroidism may not experience any symptoms in the beginning; however, untreated hypothyroidism can cause numerous health conditions, including joint pain, changes in your menstrual cycle, hair loss, weight gain, carpal tunnel syndrome, digestive troubles, infertility and even heart disease. Additionally, because the thyroid is constantly stimulated to produce more thyroid hormones, it can become enlarged.
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland, is located below your Adam’s apple. The thyroid produces triiodothyronine, known as T3, and thyroxine, known as T4. Hypothyroidism occurs when the body cannot produce enough of these two hormones. The decrease in the production of these two hormones can be caused by a number of reasons including:
- Autoimmune Diseases – The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Autoimmune disorders cause the body to produce antibodies which attack the body’s own tissues, including the thyroid gland. Other autoimmune disorders that can limit the amount of hormones the thyroid produces include type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Thyroid Surgery – Another cause of hypothyroidism is thyroid surgery that removes all or a large part of your thyroid gland. Thyroid surgery may be recommended if a patient has thyroid cancer, non-cancerous thyroid nodules, an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter) or an overactive thyroid.
- Radiation Therapy – Radiation is a treatment for cancer. When a patient has a cancer of the head or the neck, the radioactive iodine therapy can damage the thyroid and cause hypothyroidism.
Risk Factors Associated with Hypothyroidism
There are several factors that increase the risk of developing hypothyroidism, including:
- Age – Although hypothyroidism can occur at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in middle age.
- Heredity – Patients who have a close family member with thyroid diseases and other autoimmune disorders are at an increased risk of developing hypothyroidism.
- Sex – Women are more likely to develop hypothyroidism than men are.
5 Tips For Dealing With Hypothyroidism
There are several tips to help you deal with hypothyroidism. Determine if you have gluten intolerance, avoid genetically modified soy products, determine if you have an iodine deficiency, get tested for an autoimmune thyroid disorder and have your vitamin D levels checked. These five things can help your body better deal with hypothyroidism and decrease the effects of this disorder on the body.
- Gluten Intolerance
Research has shown [1,2] those suffering from autoimmune thyroid disorders are at an increased risk of having a gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Because celiac disease and hypothyroidism are both autoimmune disorders, patients are more likely to suffer from both diseases. In fact, evidence has shown that those suffering from celiac disease may be at an increased risk of developing other autoimmune disorders.
The US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health published an article in October of 2007 that stated there is ample evidence linking celiac disease to a number of autoimmune disorders, including thyroid disorders. They recommend that thyroid functions be assessed in every patient suffering from celiac disease. Additionally, early diagnosis and gluten avoidance can reduce complications in patients, including malabsorption of medications, vitamins and minerals.
If you suffer from hypothyroidism, you should have your doctor determine if you have gluten intolerance as it can cause a plethora of medical problems, including digestive disturbances such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation, weight loss, fatigue, vomiting and weakness. Other symptoms include a blistering skin rash, concentration difficulties, depression and irritability.
- Avoid Genetically Modified Soy Products
Authority Nutrition reports that more than 90 percent of the soy grown in the United States is genetically modified and sprayed with herbicides . Both of which can cause adverse effects on your health. The isoflavones found in soy can interfere with thyroid production. In fact, one study in Japan showed that eating one ounce of soybeans for three months can raise the amount of thyroid stimulating hormone in the body.
According to the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, isoflavones can interfere with the absorption of thyroid medications . Studies have shown that patients who are taking synthetic thyroid hormone medications may need to take more medication if they consume soy regularly. Finally, those with compromised thyroid functions and iodine deficiencies may be at an increased risk of developing hypothyroidism.
Those suffering from hypothyroidism should avoid eating GMO soy products. Almost all soy grown in America has been genetically modified and treated with herbicides. The isoflavones in soy can disrupt thyroid production and can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb thyroid medications.
- Evaluate for Iodine Deficiency
Iodine is a mineral that the body needs when producing thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism. Although most people consume enough iodine from their diets, it’s important to get tested. Iodine deficiencies still occur in 40 percent of the world’s population. Iodine is not produced in the body. Therefore, the populace must get the necessary iodine from the foods they eat and multivitamins.
A physician can easily diagnose an iodine deficiency using a urine test. If you are suffering from an iodine deficiency, your doctor may recommend adding more iodine rich foods to your diet or taking a multivitamin that contains iodine.
- Determine If You Have an Autoimmune Thyroid Disorder
There are several tests that can help determine the cause of your hypothyroidism including an autoimmune thyroid disorder. These blood tests measure the levels of thyroid stimulating hormone, thyroid hormones in your blood and the presence of thyroid antibodies.
Your doctor will evaluate the results of each of these blood tests to determine how well your thyroid is functioning and whether your hypothyroidism is caused by an autoimmune thyroid disorder. These tests can be performed any time of the day since fasting is not required.
- Have Your Vitamin D Levels Checked
The US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health report that vitamin D deficiencies are a worldwide health problem and that vitamin D plays a significant role in reducing the risk of developing autoimmune disease, including thyroid disease. 
To help reduce the risk of developing hypothyroidism or another autoimmune disorder, you should maintain vitamin D levels between 50 and 80 nanograms per deciliter according to the Vitamin D Council. Adults should seek to get 5,000 IU daily through vitamin D supplementation to protect against disease. It is important to supplement with Vitamin D3 in an oil base for improved absorption from good quality companies such as Ortho Molecular Products, Metagenics, and NOW.
When your thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones, it can cause a plethora of medical problems. There are a few things you can do to help you deal with your hypothyroidism. Once you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, it’s important to have your vitamin D levels and iodine levels checked. A vitamin D deficiency or low levels of iodine can affect how well your thyroid medicine works. In addition to these tests, your doctor should determine whether or not you have gluten intolerance or if your hypothyroidism is an autoimmune thyroid disorder. Gluten intolerance and hypothyroidism caused by an autoimmune disorder often go hand in hand. Finally, after a hypothyroidism diagnosis, you should avoid consuming genetically modified soy as the isoflavones in soy can interfere with the body’s ability to produce thyroid hormones.
To get a complete look at your overall thyroid health, comprehensive blood testing is recommended including TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, Thyroid Antibodies, Vitamin D, and Iodine levels. You can speak to your doctor about ordering these tests. However, be aware that you have the flexibility to order the tests yourself from good quality online lab testing companies such as True Health Labs. They offer an Extended Hashimoto’s Thyroid Panel that includes TSH, Free T4, Free T3, and thyroid antibodies (Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies & Thyroglobulin Antibodies). They also offer individual lab tests for Reverse T3, Vitamin D, and Iodine. True Health Labs also offers thyroid lab testing in Europe.
About Sushma Hirani, MD
Sushma Hirani, MD is the Medical Director of Rose Wellness Center for Integrative Medicine in Northern Virginia. She specializes in holistic and integrative care to treat a variety of illnesses including hypothyroidism, hormonal imbalances, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue. Sushma believes in combining the best of conventional and alternative medicine for prevention and management of various health conditions.