Using Autophagy to Heal Your Thyroid

Using autophagy to heal your thyroid

I had trouble sleeping one night and turned on the TV. Naomi Whittel was on the QVC shopping channel talking about how she used the Nobel Prize winning science of Autophagy to heal her autoimmune disease and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Written by Naomi Whittel

According to the American Thyroid Association Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (also known as autoimmune thyroiditis or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis) is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists calls it the most common thyroid disease affecting approximately 14 million in the United States alone.

While I don’t have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or a thyroid-specific condition, I, too, have an autoimmune condition that has impacted me in likely similar psycho-emotional and physical ways your condition impacts you. Research is building that people with one autoimmune disease are at significantly increased risk for developing additional autoimmune diseases. One study that appeared in The American Journal of Medicine found that patients with a primary diagnosis of auoitummune thyroid disease are at significantly increased risk for additional autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes mellitus, Addison’s disease, systemic lupus erythematous, and pernicious anemia. Since the vast array of autoimmune conditions present differently above ground but have the same biological foundations below, I’d like to share my story and discovery with you today in the hope that it might shed new light on ways you can take control of how you feel, look, and age.

As a little girl, I spent my early childhood on an organic biodynamic farm in Switzerland, where my father as a chemist would teach me about the important elements needed as part of my health-promoting diet. As I got older my grandmother Mutti would send me into the fields to gather herbs for our family’s tinctures. While many of them provided healing for our family’s ailments—I suffered from debilitating eczema for which nothing seemed to work, not even traditional medicine.

Eczema was painful, embarrassing and holding me back.

It is frustrating to try so incredibly hard to get results and constantly come up short. From those I speak to who live with thyroid conditions, it can often feel like regardless of what you do (or don’t do), you’re barely making progress. Many of you have told me that you find it confusing that you still feel crummy even though you eat well and try to do everything right. You may exercise, take supplements and get enough sleep–but somehow, things don’t seem to get better, or, sometimes they even get worse. That’s no way to live, or what I call, “Glow”.

The Nobel Prize

Did you know that the process to aging well already lives inside your body? While we’ve all been told that good nutrition, regular exercise, and a solid self-care routine contributes to maintaining youth, new information has revealed that there is complex science behind our body’s natural aging defense system. The science I’ll share with you is so significant that researcher Yoshinori Ohsumi’s work on it won him the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. It’s called Autophagy.

using autophagy to heal autoimmune thyroid disease

Healing from around the world

I grew up with debilitating eczema, a condition that many people with Hashimoto’s also experience. And even though my parents raised me on a biodynamic farm where we ate “clean” food from the earth, I still suffered deeply for years until I learned about the importance of proper detoxification. As someone with hypothyroidism, I’m sure you may also have tried (or, at least have researched) a whole slew of methods out there designed to optimize your detoxification as well.

I, too, have always been curious about the diverse healing pathways from all corners of the globe. My autoimmune struggles as a young girl, then teenager, ignited my insatiable passion to travel to the source of genuine healing from the inside, out. I knew that other cultures around the world had trusted in rituals that contributed to their status as some of the healthiest peoples of our world. And so, I took off on my quest to the ends of the globe to immerse myself in the sources of wellness. My travels took me on many adventures to different continents: from the vineyards in the South of France, to the wet markets of Beijing and spice markets of India, to the huts of Coastal Panama to the shores of Alaska and the bergamot orchards of Calabria, Italy and beyond. While I thought I was doing everything right, each of my travels revealed simple and small ways to greatly shift my thinking as well as my lifestyle and diet. What I learned is that with a making small changes could have a world of impact on my health, youth and energy.  

One trip changed everything for me. When I was visiting Calabria to learn about the high flavanoid levels of citrus bergamot (a fruit most commonly found in Earl Grey tea that has powerful polyphenol properties traditionally used to treat high cholesterol), I was seated next to my friend Dr. Elzbieta Janda — in my opinion, one of the sharpest minds in modern science. Dr. Janda, a molecular biologist at the University Magna Graecia, explained to me that bergamot has a high concentration of flavonoids specifically found in the bitter rind that expand the capacity for anti-aging in humans. This unique characteristic, she said, activates a function in our bodies that I had never heard of before: Autophagy. It’s pronounced, “aw-TOFF-uh-gee.”

What is Autophagy?

Autophagy removes and recycles cellular waste. When Autophagy is impaired, cellular waste accumulates. This leads to signs of again and disease like cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease, Alzheimer’s. But you can boost the prices, keeping cells healthy.

I’ve spent the last 7 years working with some of the greatest minds in science to create an autophagy activating plan, making this complex science understandable and relevant.

I want to teach you about our body’s natural, biological process. Autophagy, meaning “self –eating” is the way your body hits the reset button on a cellular level. I refer to it as your “cellular cleanup crew.” When autophagy runs routinely and rhythmically, your body can fight off the very inflammation that leads to hypothyroidism! Additionally, autophagy prevents accelerated aging and even the stubborn weight, wrinkles and low energy you likely experience with an underactive thyroid gland.

Anyone with an autoimmune condition can relate to wanting some control back in how her body functions. Autophagy is a phenomenal tool we have right at our fingertips that gives us a sense of power over our health. I will teach you techniques designed to unlock your autophagy so that you can use nutrition and diet, and make small, critical changes to your lifestyle to control how you feel, look and age. Activating autophagy with the help of simple “good” stressors, is essential for putting thyroid autoimmune disease, and my bet the majority of disease, in remission as well as your ability to remain mentally and physically strong throughout your life.  

My hope is that you’ll connect the dots between what you’re experiencing with your thyroid to what I experienced on my journey to total healing and wellness. And with a few simple switches in your mindset and lifestyle you’ll soon reap the benefits of how I used the Nobel Prize winning research on autophagy to make an extraordinary recovery.

Your Thyroid Struggles, My Solution

  1. Your Thyroid Struggle: Low Energy.

 Regardless if you are hypothyroid or not I think most of us crave more energy. It’s not about artificial energy from sugar or caffeine, but deep cellular energy you’re after.

My Solution: Less Is More.  

Autophagy creates less junk in your cells so they function more efficiently. When there is less toxic waste in your cells from environmental toxins that creep into your body through your food, water, lotions, makeup, or beauty treatments your body will reap more benefits—boosted immunity, protection against disease, increased energy. When you maximize autophagy, less is more. And less is the answer to making cellular switches to restore your youth.

For example, the science behind the exercise program in Glow15 follows this principle of “less is more.” It means you can do shorter workouts but gain better results combining HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and RET (resistance training).  

HIIT is a type of workout where you alternate between short bursts of intense exercise with periods of less intense recovery. Choose whatever cardiovascular activity you like (walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, rowing, running). For beginners:

  • 0 to 5 minutes: Warm up doing your chosen cardiovascular activity (perceived effort of 3 to 4 on a scale of 1 to 10).
  • 6 to 25 minutes: Do 30 seconds of hard effort (7 or 8 on the scale), followed by 30 seconds of lighter effort (4 or 5 on the scale).
  • 26 to 30 minutes: Cool down (3 or 4 on the scale).

Instead of long grueling workouts at the gym which actually deplete your adrenals and increase the same stress that perpetuates thyroid inflammation, these shorter, but smarter exercises will actually protect your current energy reserves while playing a vital role in the metabolic processes that balance hormones. When your thyroid and other related hormones (adrenals, sex hormones, insulin etc.) are working in unison, your body is able to generate natural energy. This quality of energy is much better than the caffeine and sugar mentioned above. It’s not just that it feels better but real energy is a sign that the systems in your body are optimally functioning.

2. Your Thyroid Struggle: Infuriating Weight Gain.

While your thyroid impacts your metabolism, you don’t have to succumb to stubborn weight loss or perplexing weight gain.

My Solution: Metabolic Reset Through Intermittent Fasting Protein Cycling (IFPC) and Fat First, Carbs Last. 

You likely know that refined carbohydrates aren’t good and that healthy fats are for weight management. What you may not be familiar with is that when you eat is as influential on your weight as what you eat.  

In Glow15, you cycle through brief periods of fasting (16 hours max) and periods of normal intake of healthy whole, real, fresh foods. I call these High days (normal intake) and Low days (skipping breakfast to lengthen your overnight fast to 16 hours, for example finishing dinner at 6pm and breaking your fast 16 hours later at 10am the following day). On Low days you’ll also decrease your protein intake to take advantage of the same hormonal benefits as fasting that it provides. Additionally, ou’ll also save carbs for later in the day to further control insulin levels and imitate the fasting mode without fasting.

When you intermittently fast, cycle through periods of lower protein consumption and save carbs for later in the day you lower your insulin and raise your glucagon levels. Think of glucagon as a signal that turns your autophagy on and insulin signals it off. Since what happens with your insulin impacts your thyroid, keeping your insulin levels healthy is important not only for your autophagy but also for your overall thyroid health. When your insulin levels are low and your inflammatory hormones decrease as a result, it sends a signal to your body that it’s “safe” to release weight. There are more ways to heal insulin resistance if that’s something you struggle with due to hypothyroidism.

The truth of the matter is this: fasting has been used historically for thousands of years for medical, religious, and cultural reasons. Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s eloquently and simply stated: “the best of all medicines are resting and fasting.”

Fasting has been used as a medicinal tool to treat chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders such as obesity for hundreds of years.

Across religions, humans have been fasting for centuries. Jewish people fast once per year for 24 hours on Yom Kippur to focus on prayer, meditation and a cleansing of sins. Fascinating studies have been conducted on Muslim people who undergo fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Their fasting tradition involves a daily fast from sunrise to sunset, and brings with it reduced markers of inflammation and heart disease along with spiritual renewal.

Like many dietary questions, there is no one-size-fits-all-approach to fasting. Part of the answer boils down to your own, unique biochemistry. There are many different ways to achieve success with fasting. Caution is recommended for those with blood sugar imbalances, and a gentler approach may make all the difference. Whatever you choose and wherever your dietary decisions take you, I am confident that as long as you stay open to possibility and maintain a sense of adventure with your health, you will definitely find what works for you!

  1.  Your Thyroid Struggle: Insulin Resistance & Chronic Disease.  

At the root of many chronic diseases is insulin resistance.  When you’re exposed to enough “bad” (what I call Accelerated Agers) over the years, your cells begin to lose a necessary sensitivity to insulin. As this happens, more sugar circulates in your blood, which is highly oxidative to your tissues and organs. With enough wear and tear, your body becomes more at risk for chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, along with neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  

Controlling blood sugar levels through healthy insulin function is not just something to think about because of what it does inside your body but also because of how it makes you look on the outside too. Excess sugar in the blood leads to AGE’s – advanced glycation end products which show up as fine lines, wrinkles, acne, and other inflammatory presentations on the surface of your skin.  My solution for glowing skin and controlling insulin is a one – two punch of greatness: Powerphenols.

My Solution: Powerphenols.  

I coined the word Powerphenol because I’ve found that a high potency of the active nutrient polyphenol is one of the best ways to take years off your age.


ˈpou(ə)r fēˌnôl,-ˌnōl/ (noun) — the ability of an autophagy activating polyphenol in a nutrient dense form to do or act in way to defy aging and improve health.

These are specific, potent antioxidants that not only protect your cells but also activate autophagy to repair them, for the ultimate youth boosting benefits. My four Powerphenols are:

  1.  EGCG from green tea
  2.  Curcumin from turmeric
  3.  Berberine from barberry or goldenseal
  4.  Trans-resveratrol from red wine or raw cacao

Not only do they provide color and flavor to your cooking, but they offer tremendous medicinal value as well – each of my four Powerphenols normalize glucose levels and regulate insulin. But they also activate autophagy (just like IFPC, Fat First, Carbs Last, and Smarter Exercise do as well). The targeted use of specific polyphenols (aka Powerphenols) can amplify your autophagy, reverse insulin resistance, improve your skin, and give you the kind of Glow back that you have been missing.  

Skin health is personal for me and therefore something I take very seriously. If these beauty hacks work for me then I know they can work for you too!

  1. Your Thyroid Struggle: Non-refreshing Sleep.  

A lot of women with thyroid issues complain of non-refreshing sleep. It’s imperative you sleep well to calm the stress hormones aggravating your thyroid.  

Recently, Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre in Leicestershire, England found women need more sleep than men. “Women’s brains are wired differently … so their sleep need will be slightly greater,” says Professor Jim Horne, the director of the Sleep Research Centre.

These new findings corroborate research at Duke University in North Carolina where scientists found that women suffer more than men, both mentally and physically, if they are forced to skimp on their sleep. As well as a higher risk of heart disease, depression and psychological problems, sleep-deprived women have extra clotting factors in their blood, which can lead to a stroke. The conclusion: when we don’t get enough shut eye, our bodies begin to shut down. And not surprisingly, your thyroid is one of the first organs to take a hit.

My Solution:  Customized sleep.  

I’ve discovered that just like there are no two people the same, neither are there sleep guidelines that work for everyone. Sleep is so powerful. Since sleep is so personal, keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits all approach. With that said here are some general tips to soothe even the most exhausted among us to sleep:

Let in light:  Try to get bright sunlight within the first couple hours of waking to set your circadian rhythm.

Set Your Bedtime: Decide what time you want to wake up in the morning. Then subtract about 7 – 8 hours (depending on what your body needs). This is your bedtime.  

Supplement:  Trade in that evening coffee for 2 – 3 bags of chamomile tea. If you tend towards anxiety or a “tired but wired” mindset, try adding some lemon balm to your chamomile tea.

Power Down:  Remove electronics emitting blue light from the bedroom and avoid all screen time starting at least 90 minutes before your bedtime.

Keep It Cool:  The cooler your body, the better you will sleep. Ideal temperature is about 65 degrees. That decrease in core body temperature helps align your body with circadian rhythms, so that the effect is a better and more comfortable sleep.

  1.  Your Thyroid Struggle: Inappropriate Stress Response.  

When your thyroid isn’t functioning well it has an impact on how you respond to stress in both a physical sense (cortisol and adrenaline surges) as well as psycho-emotional. These are what you have long known as “bad” stressors. You know, troubles like work deadlines, family trouble, poor sleep, food sensitivities and of course, an improperly functioning thyroid. When you’re tired and your hormones aren’t cooperating it’s easy to react negatively. And that fight-or-flight impulse and anxiety sets in. This creates a cortisol and adrenaline cycle that keeps you from living at your fullest potential.

The science of Glow15 is founded on a different type of stress I refer to as “good” stress. To heal your thyroid, activate autophagy using good stress. While this sounds strange, when you incorporate good stress tactics into your wellness routine (such as HIIT training and protein cycling), you may notice that you unlock your body’s ability to break that cycle of poor stress response to daily pressures. When you do, you’ll notice a much more pleasant stress response, overall.

My Solution: “Good Stress” and Self-Care (Beauty and Bodywork).

Using self-care to calm your nervous system and stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system is key to reclaiming the hormonal balance necessary for thyroid health. Transform the way you see stress in order to use daily habits to your advantage. Instead of dreading exercise or fearing sleep, changing your mindset around these necessary parts of your day, and empowering yourself with new techniques and rituals can help you feel more in control and more hopeful. This is key to breaking the anxiety-depression cycle that many autoimmune patients battle each day.

Remember: The right kind of exercise can blast fat but the wrong kind can easily add belly fat. The appropriate sleep for your unique body can prevent disease and revamp your energy stores but the wrong kind can make you feel sluggish and depressed. Specific attention to when you eat can trigger a phenomenal cascade of hormonal events throughout your body that directly influence your thyroid.  

Hypothyroidism is not a life sentence. You have many tools right in your own daily lives that you can start using today. Sometimes it just takes making a few quick switches to get big results. Put yourself on your to do list, and take some much-deserved time for self-care.

Using Autophagy to Heal Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

About Naomi Whittel

A premier wellness partner for the QVC, Naomi Whittel has also been recognized as one of the leading innovators in the natural products industry by Whole Foods Magazine in their exclusive “Who’s Who of Manufacturers and Suppliers”. Her story and products have been lauded by The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, ABC News, PBS, InStyle, The View, The Doctors, Dr. Oz, SHAPE, Access Hollywood, Natural Solutions, Good Morning America, Today Show and more. She is a sought-after keynote speaker, including the United Nations and a member of the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Naomi lives in Boca Raton, Florida with her husband and their four children. Naomi Whittel traveled from spice markets in Bangalore, India, to farms in Okinawa, Japan, to vineyards in Bordeaux, France, with access to renowned scientists around the world, she shares the research and advice she’s learned from these experts, who include MDs, dermatologists, sleep doctors, nutritionists, and fitness physiologists. American Neurosurgeon and medical reporter Sanjay Gupta, MD.

Using Autophagy to Heal Your Thyroid

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About Dana Trentini

Dana Trentini founded Hypothyroid Mom October 2012 in memory of the unborn baby she lost to hypothyroidism. This is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consulting your physician regarding medical advice pertaining to your health. Hypothyroid Mom includes affiliate links including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.


  1. People with autoimmune disease may have trouble with detoxification due to the MTHFR gene mutation. The gene mutation is believed to be in around 50% of people, with some experts saying more. I myself have this gene and also Hashimoto’s.
    I am treating it using AIP and my nutritional practitioner to help my body detox better. If one detoxes too fast the toxins are released into the blood stream and flood system with dangerous side effects if the liver can’t properly filter and flush. This leads the body to reabsorb the toxins as the liver’s detox pathway isn’t working right due to MTHFR. Correct the underlying issue of why you’re not detoxing right in the first place. Toxins build up in the body in various places; joints, fat layer, muscles, etc. Research Mthfr and get tested for it and start correcting it via diet and supplementation (through a knowledgeable doctor) before trying any detox protocol to prevent any harm you may cause during a detox/fasting program; or you may create more problems.

  2. Ao what if you are taking levothyroxine already? I believe you said connect the dots, so it made sense that you had an autoimmune disease so I assume you were taking a medicine for it prior to learning much about it, unless you were completely hollistic. But either way what if you have started a medicine for it such as levothyroxine, can you still fast? And will it heal it naturally? Does this mean stop taking levothyroxine, what if you only had low thyroid and not an autoimmune disease and it boosted right back to normal within a month? Is this still possible to fast and boost autophagy? Please let me know.

    • I am so interested in a response to Ari’s questions. I have the same thing, hyperthyroidism taking Levothyroxine. I have been doing 20/4 fasting sometime 23/1, and 48 hour fasts. I’d really like to hear whether I’m doing well or hurting my health, on a positive note, I feel fantastic, with the exception of stressing every once in a while since my dad moved in with my husband and I. Besides that I could use more activity but I’m more active than ever before. Help.

  3. Wait, what? Some of this was a little unclear. I have just started poking around at IF and Hashimotos but didn’t really understand this with the low protein, higher carbs….. What? Could that be explained to me like I’m a regular person and not a nutritionist?

  4. Might want to check the MFS master fast system

  5. This was such a great, informative article! Thank you!!!! My question is how can I safely intermittent fast and reach Autophagy when having HPA Axis dysfunction and hypothyroidism? There seems to be such a fine line with how long I fast and just how bad my body might feel ( ice cold hands, white noise and ringing pressure in my ears and head mostly). If it were not for these symptoms, I would easily do 20/4 or 24hours fasts to ultimately heal my body. My intention is to do just that and I would love any suggestions on how to titrate up in my fasting windows without stressing my body. Thanks for much, for your site, and for listening right now!


  6. Rukhsana Khan says

    Is it safe for someone who has Hashimoto’s and is on thyroid meds to do the water fast for 3-5 days? Do they continue to take their meds during the fast?

  7. Mmm…from what I understand, a 16 hr fast would not be long enough to put your cells into autophagy.

  8. When i got married, i could not give birth, it has been 4 years now we are married no child, i was having marriage crisis as a result of this, my husband was thinking of divorcing me. i was tired and frustrated and i love my husband so much, what should i do was the question on my mind, i came across Fertility Cure Home , who i contacted and great healer prayed for me and help me with a herbal remedy which i apply. after which few months later i conceive my first baby, all my thanks to Fertility Cure Home, the great roots and herbs temple. If you out there need help to get pregnant, you should contact Fertility Cure Home through his email via fertility [email protected]

  9. Wendy Haslam says

    I was wondering why early menopause and prolapse was missing from the list of symptoms

  10. I was wondering what the best natural treatments would be for eliminating parasites?

  11. Winona Gates says


    I have had Hashimoto’s since 2014……. During Hurricane Harvey i was bitten by a tick and now have lyme disease, and co infections….. So this has prompted Docs to test for parasites via stool culture. (parasites and ova, and c&s) which were all negative. I am being treated anyway because testing is not accurate at all……several different types of worms are being eliminated in my stool……. I sent one off to the lab and they still stated it was negative….. HOW? So obvious….. Our common stool testing is flawed for sure…. I definitely believe this is a problem in the US and assist in causing Hashimoto’s….. I hope that you continue to really stress txt for parasites…….. Thanks for sharing your article on the link between parasites/hashimoto’s…….. For i am a PRIME example that this is a reason for my hashimoto’s….. There are other companies doing different testing for parasites…… Also, it’s obvious if you have worms in your stool……. I hope i can recover from lyme disease……….. I am not happy i have it, it is debilitating, however it has been helpful in getting me fully dx and txt………….

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