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You're always tired, cranky, cold, and gaining weight no matter what you do. Even if you may write it off as changes from aging, did you know your thyroid may be behind these symptoms. Simple changes to your diet and supplements could go a long way.

Picture this, you are a "young, athletic and slightly past-your-prime 40 something year old"  who frequents the local gym occasionally but finds it hard to lose those extra few kilograms married to your abdomen. No matter what routines you follow, you find it hard to sweat it off and gradually become frustrated and maybe even just give up entirely.  I'm sure this applies to a large demographic of our reading audience but were you aware that an underactive thyroid could be the root of your dilemma? Although this is an excuse that only works for 5 percent of the population, it is important to get a blood test to check for thyroid hormones and determine if you are a candidate for a hypothyroid diet [1]. 

Dietary Changes to Consider for Hypothyroidism 

You can start to begin thinking that you may have an underlying thyroid disorder when you start to notice you are easily gaining weight, constipated, having excessive hair loss and being bothered by the cold [2]. Ironically enough, these are also signs of aging so it can be quite hard to differentiate for even clinicians when a patient presents with a few of these complaints. Once you insist on getting that blood test and it is determined you have underactive thyroid, the doctor will simply write you a prescription for Levothyroxine and you will be on your way [3].  Although this is the gold-standard in medicine for treating hypothyroidism, some patients may be less enthusiastic at the prospects of needing to take this medication daily for the rest of their life. What if there was some type of diet that could also help alter your thyroid's performance without needing to "pop any pills." 

Thankfully enough, a lot of investigations in medicine have dove into this question. In one noteworthy study, participants diagnosed with underactive thyroid switched from a "traditional" meat-rich diet to a strict vegetarian diet.

 In cases where it was determined that the etiology of the thyroid deficit was auto-immune in nature, participants showed signs of improved thyroid function. It was determined that participants had up to a 25 percent reduction in the likelihood of worsening their hypothyroidism while a "meat-rich" diet increased your chances by up to 15 percent.  Although it was determined to not be statistically significant, the trends support the fact diet plays a big part in a number of auto-immune diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and hypothyroidism. [4]

Another study was done to see if varying the demand on your thyroid would put patients at a reduced dependence on thyroid medications. Calorie consumption was the focus and it was found that patients who were "forced" to drastically reduce their caloric consumption to 1000 calories a day while enrolling in an exercise program. When building up to these 1000 calories, nutritionists designed diets with either high carbohydrate levels or with low carbohydrate levels. At the conclusion of the study, it was determined that a low caloric diet reduced the severity of hypothyroidism in either case but the thyroid returned to near-normal levels much sooner in patients with a low-carbohydrate diet. [5]

In most cases, those with hypothyroidism are over-weight so a low-caloric, low-carbohydrate diet may be the perfect hypothyroidism diet to follow. 

Herbs and Supplements to Consider for Your Underactive Thyroid 

In most circles, when it comes to herbal therapies for your underactive thyroid, an extract by the name of Ashwagandha comes up repeatedly. This herbal supplement is typically considered to be an alternative therapy to manage your anxiety but some studies show that this hormone not only regulates the cortisol levels that make you anxious, it also works on the thyroid hormones secreted by the pituitary gland. [6] This herbal remedy has a number of side effects and can even cause patients to gain weight so I would not recommend this as a first-line therapy if you are against taking Levothyroxine. 

Since herbal remedies come with a number of side effects, I would recommend that patients consider supplements or dietary changes to improve their thyroid function. When patients are diagnosed with underactive thyroid, there is often a collection of other illnesses the patient may have at the same time. 

B12 deficiency and Celiac disease are two common diseases likely seen in patients with an underactive thyroid [7]. Patients can easily improve their B12 levels by taking over-the-counter medication or improving their diets to increase their levels naturally [8].

Foods that patients can target to boost their B12 levels include[9]:

  • fortified cereals,
  • dark leafy vegetables, 
  • dairy products

Selenium is another supplement that patients may consider beneficial to help with their underactive thyroid. Selenium is linked with lowering inflammatory reactions and patients can utilize it to improve their thyroid function. As an added bonus, increased selenium levels are also associated with improved immune systems and improved cognitive function. [10]

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