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What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition that affects up to 5 percent of the U.S. population. In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the hormones called thyroxine and triiodothyronine. The condition can cause weight gain, depression, fatigue, muscle atrophy, and constipation. The large majority of sufferers are women.
Hypothyroidism is found in people who suffer from excessive stress or have had a history of autoimmune disease. It can show up post-partum, but may also show up in people who have had a lot of head or neck x-rays. It may be more common in people over the age of sixty-five.
Typical treatment of hypothyroidism will include medication that replaces the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Drug therapies are effective in treating the symptoms (but not the disease). Such medications are sold under brand names such as Synthroid, Armour Thyroid, and Levothroid. Ignoring the symptoms of hypothyroidism can be dangerous, so medication is often necessary.
Since medications often have uncomfortable side effects such as insomnia, irritability, weight changes, and headache, some seek alternative methods of treating their lazy thyroid. Also, certain medications, such as birth control pills, interact with thyroid medications. For this reason, many sufferers of hypothyroidism seek alternative methods of controlling symptoms.
Alternative Explanations to Thyroid Disease
Some medical professionals are quick to suggest alternative reasons behind a sluggish thyroid. One such doctor offers that thyroid disease is caused by a leaky gut due to high cortisol levels. So if cortisol is really to blame, this could change the treatment approach entirely.
Other medical professionals point to the body’s leptin levels and how they impact the metabolic rate. Leptin is a protein hormone that impacts appetite too. The more leptin in your body, the more fat you store. It is nearly impossible to lose weight when leptin levels are high.
Elevated leptin levels are correlated with hypothyroidism, as well as obesity and weight gain. With the dramatic increase in obese Americans in the past few decades, some medical professionals are happy to attribute this indirectly to evolution and adaptation to the environment. Whereas our ancestors struggled to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, we are now able to regulate temperatures with modern technology. Where our ancestors only ate berries in the summer and winter squash in the winter, we can now get any type of produce year-round. In colder environments, certain foods such as wheat was not available at all. Interestingly, when we introduced wheat to our diets year-round, there was a marked increase in the incidence of certain diseases.
What to Eat?
Some suggest the Paleolithic diet to treat any number of diseases, not the least of which is hypothyroidism. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate fresh, organic food and did not succumb to cancer, diabetes, or hypothyroidism, or so the theory goes. Their food consisted of what they could find within the environment—namely, fresh fish, free-range meat, organic vegetables, nuts, and fruit. They did not have the luxury of pasteurized dairy products, refined sugars, or grains. They were only able to eat what they were able to catch or gather—which means they weren’t grazing all day like we do. Arguably, our bodies have not adapted to the way we are able to eat now.
The Cortisol Connection
Cortisol is the hormone that is pumped into our bodies as a reaction to stress. A sudden onslaught of stress causes a “fight or flight” mode. This in turn causes extreme strain on the body and your body reacts with coping mechanisms like sweating, muscle tension, and a rapid heart rate. Your body then floods with adrenaline. While you are busy trying to cope with your source of stress, whether it’s from your boss yelling at you, or looking at the dearth of funds in your bank account, your immune system temporarily shuts down. In this state, you are vulnerable to all sorts of viruses and more susceptible to illness.
Being in a constant state of stress is bad for you. When cortisol is released in such a steady state, the rest of your body cannot function properly. Your immune system becomes compromised, your endocrine system starts to weaken, and your digestion even starts to fail. The inevitable result could be weight gain or a dysfunctional thyroid.
It is imperative that you find your own methods of managing stress and thereby reduce the level of cortisol in your body. Understandably, some stressful situations are not within your control. Quitting your job, evicting your unruly teenager, or tackling mounting debt are ideal ways of combating stress but may not be possible in your particular situation. Instead, practice using breathing techniques like those found in meditation and yoga. It is also beneficial to eat for optimum health. Fill your diet with foods that help your body function at its best.
Americans eat too many refined sugars and carbohydrates. These can cause fat storage and can lead to Metabolic Syndrome. Two characteristics of Metabolic Syndrome are belly fat and insulin resistance. The result of Metabolic Syndrome is a heightened risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke, all which can lead to premature death.
Some health professionals recommend eating less than 100 grams of carbohydrates per day for weight loss. This restricts the diet to what Mother Nature intended and our ancestors ate – meat and vegetables. Vegetables with the lowest levels of carbohydrates are best – such as peppers, spinach, legumes or carrots. Potatoes are very high in carbohydrates. Choose a colorful assortment of fruits and vegetables to optimize disease-fighting potential.
Going primal is easier said than done. Parting with all of that packaged and processed food is not easy, but your body will thank you for it. Replace the chips and cookies with raw nuts. Use olive and coconut oils in cooking. Spices such as cumin, pepper, and curry are great ways of adding flavor without adding calories.
Eating the Elements
Your thyroid requires specific elements to create hormones. Iodine is one of them. Iodine is an amino acid that is essential for health and works with selenium to iodize tyrosine. Iodine is simply crucial to hypothyroidism sufferers. Without it, the thyroid doesn’t function. Some of the best sources of iodine are liver, cod, haddock, and prunes.
Selenium is an anti-oxidant deficient in most North American diets. Anti-oxidant rich foods not only fight off the harmful effects of stress, but are required to help produce hormones. Selenium plays several roles in the maintenance of thyroid health. It helps metabolize the thyroid hormone, regulates the amount of hormone in the organs and blood, and preserves the health of the thyroid gland while we are under stress. One of the best sources of selenium is Brazil nuts. Tuna, cod, turkey, sunflower seed kernels, and chicken breast are also good sources.
Losing Weight with an Underactive Thyroid
Unfortunately, your hypothyroidism makes you more susceptible to weight gain. However, there are some ways to counteract it. Try to take in less calories than you burn in a day. Keep in mind that with hypothyroidism, you will burn significantly less calories in a day than the average person. Accept that and move on—focus instead on what you have control over.
Exercise is imperative to weight loss. If you are already exercising daily and not seeing any weight loss, don’t worry. Keep on exercising for optimum health. Add more strength training to your exercise routine. Lean muscle mass burns calories!
A Paleolithic diet matches your biology with your eating habits. This diet will be full of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and food from sources close to the earth. It will be low in carbohydrates. Eat colorful, nutritionally-dense foods such as berries, sprouts, beans, broccoli, avocadoes, and seeds. Meats should be organic, free range, and unprocessed. The carbohydrates you get from this diet will be naturally occurring from the fruits and vegetables you eat.
When you fill up on protein and vegetables, you won’t succumb to constant food cravings. Protein and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables digest slowly and fill you up on far fewer calories than breads and pastas. Eventually you will find that you need less food throughout your day to feel energized. As a result, you will be taking in far fewer calories over time. Fewer calories leads to weight loss.
This is not the last piece of the puzzle though. Stress management is key to keeping hormonal balance. When your cortisol levels become too high, you won’t be functioning at the optimum level for weight loss. Take control of your stress management by having a friend to talk to, practicing meditation, or talking a walk. Working a garden and growing a lot of the vegetables you’re eating is an excellent way to keep stress levels under control! Reducing or dealing with stress levels should be a part of your daily life, as much as eating or sleeping is. Achieving hormonal balance will help you achieve your health goals.
The bottom line is that a healthy body is still attainable despite having an underactive thyroid. A healthy diet coupled with exercise and proper stress management is the key to good health. It is even more important for people with thyroid issues to recognize their challenges with weight loss and adjust their lifestyle and habits accordingly.
As the full force of Obamacare comes into being, as insurance companies being withholding payment on more and more treatments, as our personal financial situations remain stagnant and dying, we must find ways to treat ourselves naturally to combat those diseases and disorders we’re subject to. Eating the harvest of our own gardens and backyard farms is an excellent way to achieve many of our healthcare goals.