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How Do You Naturally Treat an Underactive Thyroid?

May 30, 2014

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Hi, I’m Maria Marlowe, a Certified Health Coach and author of Detox without the Deprivation. This is my weekly “Ask Health Coach Maria” series, in which I answer frequently asked questions that relate to health and wellness. Have a question? Ask me here

Hi Maria,

I was recently diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. How can I help treat it naturally?

- Sandy

I’m seeing thyroid disorders more and more frequently in my practice. An underactive thyroid can be caused by a variety of reasons, from inadequate iodine intake to radiation exposure, but no matter what the cause, you can take a number of steps to naturally support your thyroid health.

So whether you’re like Sandy and currently experiencing a sluggish thyroid, or want a little insurance policy against experiencing a future problem, check out these tips to naturally treat an underactive thyroid.

Drink Clean Water: Tap water is loaded with chemicals and heavy metals, including fluoride and chlorine, both of which have been implicated in causing thyroid problems.

Invest in a high-quality water filter that will remove both fluoride and chlorine. Do some research before deciding on a water filter, as different types filter out different chemicals.

Avoid Fluoride, Chlorine, and Bromine: Aside from your drinking water, there are a few other places these chemicals hide. Here’s how to avoid the most common sources:

  • Use a natural toothpaste without fluoride.
  • Avoid chlorinated swimming pools.
  • Buy a water filter for your shower to remove chlorine.
  • Check the ingredients in your cleaning products; choose chlorine-free bleach.
  • Avoid non-stick cookware.
  • Avoid processed food products with brominated vegetable oil.
  • Avoid black and green tea, which tend to absorb fluoride from soil and air. Studies have found that as little as 2 mg of fluoride a day is enough to inhibit thyroid function. In fact, up until the 1950s, fluoride was prescribed by doctors to patients with an overactive thyroid, in order to slow it down. One cup of black tea contains can contain up to 2.25 mg of fluoride. Green tea contains slightly less. In a healthy person, an occasional cup of green tea may not be problematic as the benefits of the antioxidants may outweigh the negative effects of the fluoride. However, to be on the safe side, you may want to switch to white or herbal teas.

De-Stress: Use yoga, meditation, chamomile tea, and more sleep to de-stress. Stress produces the hormone cortisol, which slows down your thyroid.

Eat Organic: Some research suggests pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) lower triiodothyronine (T3), the active form of thyroid hormone. Low T3 is associated with an underactive thyroid. Organic foods have not been sprayed with pesticides, so choosing organic should help you avoid much of them. PCBs are also found in fish, with higher amounts found in older or larger fish. If seafood is part of your diet, stick with small fish, though you may want to avoid entirely, at least until your thyroid levels are back in check.

Exercise: Regular exercise can help stimulate the production of thyroid hormones. Plus, sweating may help your body remove some of the pesticides and PCB’s from your system.

Get Enough Vitamin D: Vitamin D is crucial for thyroid health. If your levels are inadequate, thyroid hormone will not work. Your doctor can determine your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test.  

Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because our body produces it when our skin is exposed to the sun. Get 15-20 minutes of sunshine (sans sunblock) daily, and if that doesn’t improve your levels, take a D3 supplement. Note that vitamin D is fat soluble, which means you should take it with a meal that includes some healthy fat. Also note that too much supplemental vitamin D can be toxic, so make sure to test your levels with a doctor and take a supplement under a doctor’s care. 

Get Your Nutrients: Selenium, iodine, and vitamins A, C, and E are also important for thyroid hormone production. If your diet is lacking in any of these nutrients, consider adding in more nutrient-dense whole foods, or plant based- supplements. 

Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, eggs, mushrooms, and whole grains, like brown rice or oats. Iodine can be found in iodized salt or sea vegetables, like nori, dulse, or kelp. Doctors recommend 150 micrograms/day for women, which translates to about three sheets of nori, or less than ¼ teaspoon of granulated kelp. 

Vitamin A is typically found in anything orange, like carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato, and cantaloupe. You can also find it in dark leafy greens. Vitamin C is found in oranges, lemons, pineapple, and bell peppers. Vitamin E can be found in avocado, sunflower seeds, and nuts like almonds.

Avoid Gluten: Gluten is hard for many people to digest, and can cause inflammation in the gut, and what is known as leaky gut syndrome. This can only exacerbate an auto-immune thyroid issue. What’s more, if gluten is causing a “leaky gut,” the nutrients you eat may not be absorbed properly. 

Heal Your Gut: Promote proper gut health by encouraging healthy bacteria to flourish. Choose traditionally fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, or take a probiotic supplement. L-glutamine is another beneficial supplement, which can help repair the intestinal lining. 

If you’ve made changes to help naturally treat an underactive thyroid, share them with me in the comments section below!

Maria Marlowe is a Certified Health Coach and regular Wellness Today Contributor. Get your health question answered in her next column by sending her an email at healthcoachmaria@wellnesstoday.com.