Living with Hypothyroidism: A Holistic Approach

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When I was 24 years old, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. At that time, I was utterly uninterested in health, nutrition, and natural living. I was living in Europe, so I walked everywhere I went, but my diet was full of processed convenience foods and sugar. Lots and lots of sugar.

I started taking Synthroid, which is the typical drug that is prescribed to most women who are diagnosed with hypothyroidism. After moving back home to Texas about ten months later, I was still struggling with the same hypothyroid symptoms that had led me to the doctor in the first place. One oh-so-well-meaning doctor told me that I must be depressed and offered to prescribe some anti-depressants. After being abroad for two years, I was smack in the middle of reverse culture shock, but I knew I wasn’t depressed.

That experience led me down a road that has totally changed my life and continues to impact me even now. I began reading, researching, talking to people, seeking out second and third opinions. I began to see that there was a big wide world of non-traditional medical approaches to treating thyroid disease – as well as a slew of non-medical options.

I eventually found a doctor who listened to and treated me holistically, as a whole person, with interconnected parts (imagine!). We started new medicine, new supplements, and – ding! ding! ding! – a new diet. “Diet” – as in, the way I eat as a part of my lifestyle on a regular basis – not a temporary way of eating. The latter doesn’t work. The former can change your life forever.

Photo by Andrey

Diagnosing Hypothyroidism

It’s estimated that there may be as many as 13 million undiagnosed cases of hypothyroidism in the U.S. alone. Just a few of the most common symptoms include: weight gain, hair loss, feeling cold, and sluggishness. See a complete list of symptoms here.

If you suspect you might have low thyroid, find a doctor right away – but choose your doctor carefully. Call first and ask how hypothyroidism is diagnosed in that office. There are a few things to look for:

• Find out which labs they will run.  If they are only going to check your TSH levels, move on. TSH levels alone are often insufficient for diagnosing hypothyroidism, yet many doctors will not go beyond this one test.

• Make sure they are checking levels such as free T-4 and free T-3, thyroid antibodies, and possibly reverse T-3.  You might not know what these things mean, but they do – or they should.  You can start learning all about it here and here.

• Finally, find a doctor that will listen to you: ask you how you feel, how your diet is, how you’re sleeping, how your energy levels are.  I am eternally grateful to that first doctor who sat me down and spent an hour or two with me, doing a full work-up in order to get a complete picture of everything that was going on.  In addition to changing my medicine, he recommended a major overhaul of  – yes, you guessed it – my diet.

Photo by Rolands Lakis

Treating Disease with Healthy Whole Foods

As you may have figured out, the theme this month at Simple Organic is the natural treatment of women’s health issues.  It turns out that there is a theme within a lot of the solutions to these health issues, too, and that theme is nutrition.  It sounds like a no-brainer, but for many people, there actually is a disconnect between the foods that we put into our bodies and the state of our health. Until a problem comes up, many of us don’t see that the two are intimately connected; at least, I know that’s how I used to think.

When I talk to someone who is struggling with any kind of health issue, the first thing that I ask is whether he or she is eating whole, healthy, unprocessed foods. I can usually recommend a couple of good books, and perhaps make a few suggestions for dietary changes, but one of the most exciting resources that I’ve discovered lately is the online Fundamentals eCourse from GNOWFGLINS.

Wardeh Harmon has put together a fabulous course, complete with cooking and food prep videos, audio recordings, PDF info sheets for downloading, and an online member forum for support and advice.  The course is “pay-what-you-can“, so it is within everyone’s financial reach. And truly, everyone could benefit from the concepts in this ecourse; we all have some room for improvement in our diets and health.

Photo by viZZZual.com

Honestly, I so wish this course had been around back when I was first trying to figure out how to cook real, whole, healthy foods.  As it was, I read many books and slowly began changing the way I cooked and ate.  Eliminating refined sugars and grains (including white flour, white rice, and white potatoes) was a huge step for a girl that once started every day off with store-bought chocolate donuts and ate pasta almost every night for dinner. (True confession!)  Adding in plenty of protein, veggies, and healthy fats was key to feeling full, and with these changes I saw miraculous improvements.

My fatigue disappeared, my energy soared, I slept better, and 55 pounds slowly but surely fell off my frame with very little effort.  My thyroid levels came into normal range for the first time in years, although I do still take thyroid hormone everyday.  But I never saw this success on thyroid hormone alone; I had to make a dietary change before I could experience a life change.

Now I’m at a place where I hoped I would never be again; since the birth of my daughter three years ago, I’ve had a hard time sticking with my diet.  I haven’t been able to lose much of the baby weight, I’m tired, my energy lags, and I definitely don’t get enough sleep.  (What mama does?!?)  I need a kick in the pants, basically. But luckily for me, it will be pleasant! The next few months, I will be slowly working my way through the GNOWFGLINS Fundamentals eCourse in order to get back on track with whole, healthy eating.  I know I will learn so much.

Who wants to join me?

Do you or someone you know struggle with thyroid disease? Have you ever experienced healing through nutrition?

This post is sponsored by the GNOWFGLINS Fundamentals eCourse, an online resource that teaches traditional cooking methods using whole, healthy, nutrient-dense foods. As I mentioned, the course is “pay-what-you-can“, so there’s no reason not to check it out! Watch a sneak peek video here.

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About Katie

Katie loves to learn about natural living, and believes that caring for the earth and caring for yourself don't have to be mutually exclusive. She loves to help other people understand how they can both contribute to and benefit from a switch to a more natural and organic lifestyle. She is a stay-at-home mom and a native Texas girl, happily married to her best friend.

Comments

  1. I must admit, this post rubbed me the wrong way. I am a thyroid cancer survivor and must take Synthroid daily for the rest of my life. While I strive for healthy eating, I am disappointed that the message of this post was promoting an eCourse. No matter how healthily you eat, food cannot replace (real or synthetic) thyroid hormone. Readers should consult a doctor if they have thyroid problems.

    • Sandra, I’m sorry to disappoint you. There is a big difference between thyroid cancer and hypothyroidism, though. I did state that I too take thyroid hormone everyday (in the second-to-last paragraph) and I urged everyone who suspects thyroid problems to consult a doctor in the sixth paragraph. I have just spoken with so, so, so many women over the years who were still struggling while taking Synthroid; on its own, it simply wasn’t sufficient for treating their hypothyroidism.

  2. You definately DID say to find a doctor, AND that you still take a hormone for your thyroid. I agree that the food we eat has a huge impact on our health and can help with a lot of the diseases and dx we face. Thank you for the link, can’t wait to check it out!

  3. I have already started changing my eating habits. It is interesting to open the fridge and see how different it looks with only whole foods inside. Thank you for this post. While you DID say to make sure you seek treatment and that you ARE on a thyroid hormone your message was that the Synthroid was not working for you and you new your weren’t depressed which is the same problem I was having so I choose to change my diet to whole foods as part of the treatment and I feel so much better. I know someone who was treated for Cancer of the Thyroid. She had and still has a terrible diet. She eats lots and lots of sugar. She is still taking all the thyroid meds along with SEVERAL drugs for depression. She is a mess and a zombie most of the time. Most of the time the drugs are not working for her and they are constantly changing the drugs. I think changing to whole foods worked for me and it seems to have worked for you. Thanks again for this post.
    Barbara´s latest post: KHAKI CAMPBELL DUCKLINGS GET A NEW HOME

  4. I have found that eating real foods is a lot more expensive, but it takes a lot less food to fill up! SO it actually balances out well. I also have some sort of thyroid thing going on (it’s hereditary in my family) but with no health insurance, 6 kids and only one income it’s hard for me to go see a doctor and get all the tests done. So I have been researching holistic or natural ways to deal with it. I have not seen this e-course before tho so thank you! I am taking Iodine Plus-2 daily, (from http://www.iodineplus.com) and it has improved my energy, I have lost weight, and my hair is no longer falling out in handfuls. We already eat pretty naturally as my children are sensitive to several artificial ingredients. But the Real Foods thing is pretty new to me, soaking grains, and all that. So I signed up and look forward to learning along with you!

    • Glad you signed up! And great point about needing less real food to be satisfied.

      • Thanks for the supplement idea. I too am a single mom and in the same situation. I also used to eat whole foods and that was the best I had ever felt. Time to change my diet as well.

        Sheryl

  5. I love that you mention no grains or starches as healing for hypothyroidism. I have lowish thyroid levels and find that I am so much more sensitive to carbs than the average person. Even too much fruits wreaks havoc on my blood sugar and energy. Great article!
    Shannon´s latest post: Nourishing Caesar Salad Dressing

  6. I have Hashimoto’s which causes hypothyroidism. I take a Amour for the T3 and T4. Synthyroid didn’t work for me. I also have Celiac Disease, so I have no choice but to cut out a lot of foods. I also have several food allergies. My question is: Would the online ecourse be suitable for someone who has Celiac and food allergies? Are their specific recipes they want you to follow or just general guidelines? I’m five month pregnant and having a hard time getting my thyroid under control… which I hear is totally normal for pregnancy. However, I want to be doing anything I can to help me (and the baby).

  7. Thanks for the push to start investigating more holistic ways to deal with my hypothyroidism. Sometimes I think that the only way is the pharmacy…I appreciate being reminded that I should look beyond! Thank you!
    Mary´s latest post: If You Give a Boy a Boat

  8. I think we do ourselves a great disservice if we don’t look at all aspects of our life – exercise, sleep, food, stress levels, etc – when dealing with chronic illness. my family is notorious for migraines and my grandmother had her thyroid removed due to them in the 50s. I have many symptoms of thyroid issues but my GP just blew me off. I’m moving and hope to find a good job and good insurance and look into it more fully but I do know before my son was born when I was eating no refined sugar and little to no flour or potatoes, I felt much better and weighed much less than I do now.
    Nina´s latest post: gonna be a hectic week

  9. Karla Heaman says:

    Awesome post! I love when I read about people who are rejuvenating their hormone health by lifestyle changes and natural methods. As a side note, many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism are also the same for hypoadrenia or adrenal fatigue. For years I felt like I had hypothyroidism, yet my thyroid levels would always come back normal. I saw another physician who dug a little deeper into my hormone levels (DHEA and pregnenolone) and it became clear that my adrenals not my thyroid was stressed. With some great supplements, glandulars and DIET change (more whole food – less processed), I am feeling better than I’ve felt in several years already. A great book on the topic is written by James Wilson – Adrenal Fatigue: 21st Century Stress Syndrome

    Karla

    • Just curious, Karla – can you share what supplements & glandulars you are taking for adrenals? I didn’t have time or space to address it in this post but I recently found out that in addition to the low thyroid, my adrenals are also zapped. :( Would love to hear how you’re supporting them!

      • Karla Heaman says:

        The author of the book I mentioned…James Wilson has a supplement company called Future Formulations and he has come up with a line specifically to support the adrenals. He recommends magnesium, vitamin C with bioflavonoids, and several B vitamins to name a few. His glandulars contain several different “glands”. I don’t try to push supplements as at some point in my life I would like to rely on a wholesome diet and nutrition to maintain my health, but when you are as depleted as I was, I really liked the fact that he had researched the adrenals so thoroughly and his supplements were meant to target them. You can find him online if you google him or even Future Formulations. Email me if you need more support. kheaman@cablespeed.com

  10. I have adrenal fatigue, which as Karla mentioned above, has similar symptoms to thyroid disease (I was tested for that a year before the adrenal fatigue was diagnosed). I’m taking vitamin and herb supplements as my doctor has prescribed, no meds yet, but the biggest difference is definitely made by what I do or don’t eat. It took a few weeks, but when I got off sugar (and flour and pasta and potatoes) COMPLETELY, and ate more vegetables instead, I felt SO much better. The tiniest amount of simple carbs back in my diet…. and I’m starting from scratch again. :P

    Thank you for the encouragement! Sometimes I feel like a freak because I have no choice but to eat healthy in a very specific way. But we all suffer one thing or another from inadequate nutrition.
    Amanda´s latest post: What did we do all week

    • Yes! It’s hard to explain to other people when you have eating restrictions like this… I understand completely. Good luck!

    • Karla Heaman says:

      Very good point Amanda – from what I’ve read, food allergies also contribute to adrenal stress. When cortisol (an adrenal hormone) which is a big anti-inflammatory hormone isn’t being produced we begin to notice more and more allergies. It’s a vicious cycle. Once we can determine foods that we allergic to, eliminate them, rest and recover the adrenals, then many times one can overcome those allergies and go on to feel rejuvenated after eating instead of washed out.

  11. I too have hypothyroidism and have been on replacements since I was 5. Two years ago I was diagnosed with Acute Adrenal Fatigue and now take the Future Formulations supplements along with Armor thyroid. Recently I began eating gluten free and while I do not think I have celiac disease I do believe I am gluten intolerant. I found once I went GF, after several weeks I had to reduce my thyroid and adrenal support doses. It really surprised me to find that my body was able to process and produce what I needed more efficiently once I had cleansed the gluten from my diet. It is all very intimidating but oh so worth it in the end. I haven’t tackled the sugar free business yet but I hope to soon.

  12. I just recently found out that I have a low thyroid. I’m just barely out of the “good” range, and surprise, surprise when I told my mom about it she said that my dad was recently diagnosed as well (and that it runs in my paternal side of the family). I’m pretty stressed about it because I don’t want to be put on medication unless I have to. Luckily, I remembered this post and have 6 months until my next blood test when we check my thyroid again. I’m hoping that I can successfully implement changes to my diet and get it under control, so that I do not need to become medicated. Thank you so much for this resource.

  13. Every disease have some natural remedies to resort to. The question really is, are they credible. Hypothyroidism is not one of them though as there are a number of natural thyroid treatments that are effective. Just thankful for this.
    Connie Myers´s latest post: Homeopathic Thyroid Treatment Deserves Your Consideration

  14. Dear Katie et el…I am a 57 year old woman who has completely changed my diet and life style by eating a vegitarian all whole foods diet, including getting off all dairy, gluten and soy as well as caffeine. I choose to go off the Levothyroxine when I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism thinking my diet with an iodine supplement and eating lots of seaweed. I was shocked with my recent TSH: 13.60 and T4: 4.85 out of range blood test recently and my traditional doctor is warning me to go back on Levothyroxine or Synthroid. I also heard about Armour Thyroid supplement. Please give me your feedback as to what is the most “holalistic” road to take, since my sister who has taken Levothyroxine for years was just diagosed with osteoporosis–which she was told was from the hormones depleting her bones! Please advise…Thanks, Nancy

  15. Hey, I know you! Wow, small world! I just started taking medication for hypothyroidism this week. I actuall didn’t have noticeable symptoms but I dont produce breastmilk. I’m expecting again and my OB was concerned because have 3 sisters on synthroid. I’m so glad she checked! Anyway we need to talk! I’m a little overwhelmed with everything I’ve read so far.

  16. Hi ! It is always necessary to have right level of thyroid hormone in the blood to function the system properly.

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