What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a disorder resulting from low levels of thyroid hormone being produced by the thyroid gland. This can be a very serious disorder that requires treatment and regular monitoring.

What causes hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism can be caused by:
  • Insufficient dietary iodine
  • An autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland
  • Surgical removal of the thyroid gland
  • A congenital condition in newborns
  • Pituitary, hypothalamus and adrenal disorders can cause secondary hypothyroidism
  • Emotional and physical stress
  • Genetic enzyme defects
  • Drug therapy interactions

How common is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a very common disorder affecting around 2% of the population. However the disorder is far more common in women than men.

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Thyroid hormones have a very important role in energy metabolism throughout the body. Therefore hypothyroidism results in suboptimal function of many body systems and a multitude of symptoms, including:
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Feeling cold
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Low mood and depression
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Poor tolerance to cold temperatures
  • Raised cholesterol
  • Muscle pain and weakness
  • Constipation
  • Bruising easily

What is the treatment for hypothyroidism?

The main treatment for hypothyroidism is to replace thyroid hormones with a drug called levothyroxine, although a few different thyroid medications are available.

What diet and lifestyle strategies can support hypothyroidism?

Nutrition and lifestyle strategies to support hypothyroidism should focus on promoting a balanced, nutrient rich diet to provide adequate raw materials to optimise hormone production and function, lower dietary stressors and stimulants and provide weight management guidance as required. General dietary and lifestyle strategies include:

Eat a balanced meal: blood sugar level ups and downs may contribute to feeling tired and below par. Eat at regular intervals throughout the day and include a combination of protein, fat, low GI carbohydrate and plenty of vegetables to support blood sugar balance.

Eat wholegrains: wholegrains (oats, whole wheat, buckwheat, millet, rye, brown and wild rice and quinoa) are not only more blood sugar balancing than highly refined and processed grains, they are also a good source of essential vitamins and minerals.

Eat your essential fats: omega-3 fats are an important component of cell receptors to which hormones need to attach at to communicate their messages. Good dietary sources include oily fish (sardines, mackerel, anchovy, salmon, herring and tuna), nuts and seeds.

Avoid sugar and processed foods: these foods contain high calories with poor nutritional value.
Eat sources of dietary iodine: iodine is an essential nutrient for making thyroid hormones. Dietary sources of iodine include fish, seafood, meat, seaweed, milk and other dairy products.

B vitamins: these are essential for energy production. Ensuring an adequate dietary intake or taking a supplement may support tiredness and fatigue, a common symptom of hypothyroidism. Dietary sources include: meat and fish, dairy, egg, wholegrains, nuts and seeds and leafy greens.

Reduce fluoride intake: check with your water company on the levels of fluoride in local drinking water. Studies have shown that areas that add fluoride to drinking water have higher rates of hypothyroidism.

Eat a nutrient rich diet: the nutrients selenium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc are involved in thyroid function, synthesis, enzymes and/or conversion of thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) into the more active form tri-iodothyronine (T3), which carries out the majority of thyroid hormone functions.

Include relaxation exercises: stress stimulates the production of adrenal hormones which can influence thyroid hormone function.

A Nutritional Therapist can help you identify diet and lifestyle factors, which may be contributing to your symptoms.