Did you know that January was thyroid awareness month? In case you missed all the posts about thyroid disease, I want to highlight an important component of thyroid disease treatment that many practitioners do not address.
What Doctors Tell You About Thyroid Disease
I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis which resulted in hypothyroidism. When I was diagnosed, I was told that a medication could help support my thyroid and return the numbers to a normal range. Supplementing with thyroid hormone made a big difference in my overall symptoms. However, it did not completely improve my quality of life. I continued to express concern over my generalized fatigue and symptom burden. The doctors simply shrugged their shoulders and said – your numbers are normal. Can any of you relate to this response? Other tests were conducted and there was no sign of Epstein Barr Virus or other disease cofactors that could have been responsible for these chronic physical ailments.
The Missing Factor in Most Thyroid Disease Treatment Plans
As a dietitian nutritionist, I turned to food and lifestyle to reverse my symptoms and improve my quality of life. At the time, I was only 21 and I couldn’t foresee a life dictated by health fragility. My education taught me to analyze my diet and daily routine. Diet intervention, exercise and a sleep routine helped me reduce my fatigue and other symptoms. Even today when I stray from balanced choices (which we all do, even dietitians), I experience negative side effects. I understand my personal experience is my own and each one of us is unique.
Let’s look at a 2019 study that reviewed diet as treatment to reverse symptoms related to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Before we jump into the study, I want to highlight basic statistics related to thyroid disease. This will help you understand the approach and value of the study.
Thyroid Disease Statistics and Facts
- Approximately 20 million Americans experience thyroid conditions and 60% of those with thyroid disease are unaware of it.
- Thyroid disease includes hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, nodules and thyroid cancer.
- Women are more likely to develop a thyroid condition than men by 5-8 times.
- Carbohydrate restriction may play a role in reducing the level of active thyroid hormone. This is an important note because weight gain is a common side effect of thyroid dysfunction and carbohydrate restriction is often the first dietary intervention made by women to promote weight loss. This dietary restriction does not help the body when thyroid dysfunction is present.
- The most common form of thyroid disease in the United States is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. This particular thyroid disease often impacts the individual before lab results indicate the need for medical intervention.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is common in families.
- 5 out of 100 people over the age of 12 experience hypothyroidism.
- If you’re older than 60, you have an increased risk of developing a thyroid disorder.
Studying Diet and Lifestyle Interventions for Thyroid Disease Treatment
With these facts in mind, Abbot et al (5) set out to determine if a diet and lifestyle intervention would improve quality of life and thyroid function. The study focused on middle-aged women with a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Each participant completed a health-related survey before and after the intervention to assess each person’s progress. The findings showed a significant improvement in quality of life and symptom burden over the course of the study. There was no change in thyroid function. However, inflammatory markers improved with diet and lifestyle intervention. This 10-week program was conducted and led by a multidisciplinary team of health professionals, including nutritionists.
What does this tell us? This study demonstrates that Hashimoto’s thyroiditis does not mean a life burdened with chronic fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, weight gain, irritability, anxiety or depression. You can control your thyroid levels by hormone supplementation and can reduce symptom burden by lifestyle intervention. Your health is in your hands. It’s up to you to make a change and reap the rewards.
My Top Diet and Lifestyle Tips for Those Suffering from Hashimoto’s, Hypothyroidism or other Thyroid Diseases
- Practice gentle regular exercise. Walking, yoga, tai chi, swimming and pilates are all effective exercise routines that will challenge the body without causing excess stress.
- Establish a sleep routine. Consistency is key. Twelve hour sleep cycles are not necessary. However, maintaining a schedule will help your body know when it needs to function and when it will have the opportunity to rest.
- Analyze your current diet. Are you meeting your daily nutrient needs? Have you removed foods that are inflammatory to your body?
- How do I analyze my diet? You can enter your daily food intake into various apps or hire a professional to analyze your nutrient content. This will allow you to modify and improve your diet. Are you consuming the right ratio of carbohydrates, protein and fat? What types of fats do you eat? Are you meeting your recommended intake for vitamins and minerals?
- How do I eliminate inflammatory foods? You can implement the standard anti-inflammatory diet for thyroid disease and monitor your body’s response. A food log is helpful in this process. Another option involves a blood test which analyzes your body’s response to various foods. This is a more personalized approach with less trial and error. As a dietitian, I appreciate specialized testing because it allows the clinician to be more strategic in nutrition intervention. It also improves the patient experience by shortening the treatment time period. I encourage testing with all of my clients because it is a valuable asset in the healing process. Remember to advocate for yourself and ask your medical team if you can complete specialized dietary testing.
If You’re Unsure Where To Go From Here…
The Luxford Method – my thyroid disease treatment focused program – includes a thorough analysis of your body’s function including specialized testing for gastrointestinal function, thyroid status and inflammatory triggers. As part of this three month program, each client’s diet is analyzed and monitored closely. In addition, each client receives dietary recommendations in the form of recipes, meal plans and shopping lists. Clients also have access to quality supplements at a discounted price as needed. Weekly sessions with me provide the necessary follow-up and support to make progress throughout the entire three month period. If you’re interested in learning more, head here. If you want to book a complimentary consultation, go here.
-  Mincer DL, Jialal I. Hashimoto thyroiditis. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; August 10, 2020. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29083758/
- Abbott R D, Sadowski A, Alt A G (April 27, 2019) Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet as Part of a Multi-disciplinary, Supported Lifestyle Intervention for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Cureus 11(4): e4556. doi:10.7759/cureus.4556