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When I treat thyroid disorders, I put all my patients on a 28-day program designed to eliminate thyroid triggers, supply critical nutrients, and heal leaky gut syndrome, which commonly afflicts people with thyroid imbalance. You can find the full plan in my book The Thyroid Connection, where I also explain the nitty-gritty of different types of thyroid hormone — like regular and reverse T3 and T4, which are often ignored by conventional practitioners — as well as how to work with your health practitioner to get the testing you need.

If you struggle with thyroid issues, I strongly recommend seeking the support of a functional-medicine practitioner who is willing to see beyond the numbers and work with you to find a solution that makes you feel truly better.

These are the basics of my 28-day plan, which you can try on your own right now.

Focus on Nutrients

Your thyroid can go haywire with a nutrient-poor diet or a lack of dietary diversity. To keep your thyroid signaling system optimal, you need the following:

  • Iodine and protein. Iodine is a key building block of thyroid hormone, and protein helps keep you sated and off the blood-sugar roller coaster; this supports healthy metabolic function. For protein, choose high-quality, pasture-raised meat and wild-caught fish; get iodine from sea vegetables like kelp and dulse, which are easy to add to soup stocks.
  • Iron, selenium, and zinc. These minerals support proper function of the thyroid signaling system: Iron makes iodide (a component of iodine) available to the thyroid, selenium helps regulate excessive immune responses, and zinc supports white blood cell production. Food sources include spinach, grassfed beef, and pork, which contain all three nutrients; Brazil nuts are high in selenium.
  • Omega-3 fats. Without enough healthy fats, your cell walls lose their integrity. Coldwater fish, like salmon, and fish- and flax-oil supplements are good sources.
  • Vitamin A. This is vital to helping T3 enter your cells. Food sources include orange vegetables and fruits, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, mangoes, and apricots.
  • B vitamins and vitamin D. B vitamins are critical to mitochondrial function; vitamin D helps promote T-cell production. Leafy green vegetables and broccoli (cooked to avoid a thyroid-suppressive effect), as well as beets and grassfed meat and liver, have plenty of Bs. Vitamin D comes mainly from sunshine and supplements, though it’s also found in fatty fish and portobello mushrooms.

Avoid Inflammatory Foods

If the attacks on your immune system continue — from food intolerances, simmering infections, environmental toxins, and chronic stress — the attacks from your immune system will keep coming. This is how autoimmunity develops; your beleaguered immune system starts attacking you.

A damaged gut is one of the most common sources of chronic inflammation because up to 80 percent of the immune system is located there. (Most threats to the system come from what we eat and drink.) So, to heal thyroid dysfunction, we need to heal leaky gut syndrome, which is one of the primary triggers for all autoimmune disease, according to the pioneering physician Alessio Fasano, MD.

Leaky gut occurs when stressors damage the small intestine and it begins to leak undigested proteins into the bloodstream. This puts the immune system on constant alert.

To heal the gut, avoid foods that might be damaging it. In addition to cutting out processed and fast foods, sugar, and caffeine — all of which are extremely inflammatory — I suggest eliminating these common food allergens:

  • Gluten. This highly inflammatory protein found in many grains and seeds (including wheat, barley, and rye) also mimics thyroid tissue, setting off autoimmune reactions.
  • Dairy. Like gluten, the casein in dairy can provoke autoimmunity, and the growth hormones farmers give to many dairy animals are thyroid disruptors.
  • Eggs. These are a common allergic trigger and can create low-grade inflammation.
  • Nightshades, nuts and seeds, all grains, legumes, and soy. These foods contain antinutrients, including phytic acid and lectin, which can aggravate autoimmune issues.

I also advise eliminating gluten and dairy permanently, because their proteins are similar to thyroid tissue, and they can double the damage of an autoimmune reaction. (For more on this, see “Molecular Mimicry”, below.)

I believe it’s best to avoid grains and legumes if you have an autoimmune condition. If not, you can gradually add those foods — as well as eggs, nuts, nightshades, and soy — back into your diet when the 28-day plan is done. (You can find guidance for reintroducing and testing foods in my book.)

Tame the Toxins

Food is medicine because everything your body absorbs has a crucial impact on your health. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to that principle: We also take in the industrial chemicals that saturate our air, water, and soil.

Every day, we’re exposed to hundreds of toxins that can disrupt the body’s thyroid function, as well as its immune system, digestion, and overall wellness. Because toxins are everywhere, there’s a limit to what we can do to prevent and recover from them. Still, we can protect our thyroid’s health, both by eliminating toxic exposure when possible and by improving the body’s ability to detoxify. Here’s my toxin-defense plan at a glance.

Prevention: Reduce your exposure to toxins.

  • Clean your air with a HEPA filter.
  • Filter all your water, including for showers and baths.
  • Buy organic and pasture-raised foods whenever possible.
  • Use clean, plant-based body-care products.
  • Have your dentist remove mercury dental amalgams.

Detoxification: Support your body’s ability to shed toxins.

Stress relief: Stress of all types disrupts thyroid and immune function in multiple ways, including by slowing the production of thyroid hormone and making thyroid receptors less sensitive. For my patients, I prescribe some combination of magnesium (which gets excreted during high stress), B-complex vitamins (the adrenals use them to build stress hormones), and vitamin C (a shortage can trigger excess cortisol production) to rebuild depleted physical reserves. I suggest working with a functional-medicine provider to ensure you’re getting the right dosage of each.

I also recommend exercise in appropriate amounts. If you have hypothyroidism and are completely drained, a calm yoga session or a walk with a friend will be far more restorative than a vigorous bike ride. If you have hyperthyroidism, extreme exercise may exhaust you. Stick with movement that builds your energy, rather than depletes it. 

Sleep: Perhaps the most critical thing you can do to support your healing is getting plenty of deep, regular sleep. Insufficient or irregular sleep boosts stress hormones, which can result in even more difficulty with sleeping. Here are my “sleep hygiene” suggestions:

  • Get as much natural light as you can during the day to help reset your circadian rhythms.
  • Go to bed and get up at about the same time each day.
  • After sundown, use amber lightbulbs and avoid screens. If you must look at a screen, use a f.lux filter to shift the color of the device’s light from blue to orange. This makes it less stimulating.
  • Keep your bedroom as dark as possible, and ban all electronics. Wake up with an alarm clock rather than your phone.
  • Give yourself adequate time in the morning to start each day calmly.

These actions alone can make a surprising difference in how you feel day to day. I want you to have the support you need to make your thyroid, gut, and immune system all function at their best, so you can feel energized, glowing, and optimistic.

That’s the optimal health that is your birthright.

This originally appeared in “Listen to Your Thyroid” in the October 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

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