Low Carb and Thyroid
I'm a 35 year old Finnish woman, living in France for 15 years already! I live in a small medieval village near Chartres (70km from Paris) and am often tempted by the smell of bread from the village's 5 different bakery shops, tough! Anyway, I have always had weight issues, more so during the past 2 years even though I tried dieting and exercising.. Finally I was diagnosed a hypothyroidism with a Hashimoto syndroma meaning my metabolism is really slow and weight loss is difficult. I got a hormonal treatment and started cutting carbs, on my own, 2 months ago.
I just finished reading your book (the one about giving up low-fat diet and losing weight) and was glad to find new reasons to continue my low carb diet, besides the fact that I feel so much better (more energy, not hungry all the time etc.). You discussed thyroid problems in your book, but I'd like to know if there is some data out there about the benefits of low carb diets with regard to thyroid problems? Or, will all my efforts to lose weight be vain no matter what, since my thyroid is so slow?
I would really appreciate your answer, I've tried googleing this but haven't found any strikes.
And thank you so much for your book, it may very well be THE book that changed my life (I'm already thinking about starting a new sport: running!)
Yikes. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on television. However, I am a hypothyroid who eats a low carb diet. What follows, then, is a combination of stuff I've read and my personal experience.
First of all, I should state that I was diagnosed hypothyroid a couple of years after going low carb. You can take what you like from that; I've read one or two people suggesting that a low carb diet causes hypothyroidism. In my case, my mother was a hypothyroid, and I've read a great deal that convinces me that this predisposes me to the problem, and of course millions of people who have never eaten a low carb diet in their lives are hypothyroid.
I have also read that major weight loss in general can trip the "hypothyroid" switch, so to speak; that downregulation of thyroid may be one of the ways the body defends itself against the perceived danger of weight loss. I wish I could find that article; I would link to it, but my google-fu seems to be failing me. If this is true, the question then becomes "Which is more dangerous, the sequelae of obesity/hyperinsulinemia, or the sequelae of hypothyroidism?" Since my thyroid has proven pretty simple to treat, I'm predisposed to the latter, but I am aware that serious ignorance on the part of doctors regarding thyroid treatment abounds. I'm lucky enough to have a great doctor.
(Ah. I did find this: Effect of obesity and starvation on thyroid hormone, growth hormone, and cortisol secretion, a study indicating that low calorie diets cause thyroid trouble.)
Dr. William Davis, of Heart Scan Blog, is a cardiologist who has found that hypothyroidism is rampant among his heart patients, and that correcting it helps dramatically with cardiovascular health. He spoke on the low carb cruise last spring, and stated that he's convinced some unidentified environmental factor is causing an increase in thyroid problems. There is speculation that fluoride can cause hypothyroidism; if this is the case fluoridated water may be doing a great deal of harm.
Anyway, you're already hypothyroid, so let's go from there.
Pay attention to your body! You feel far better, less hungry and more energetic; that should be telling you something. Anything that gives a hypothyroid more energy is to be cherished and encouraged.
Make sure your doctor is testing not only your TSH, but your free T3 and free T4. I don't know how it goes in Europe, but over here many doctors rely solely on TSH, which yields very little information about how much active thyroid hormone -- T3 -- is actually getting to your tissues. I take Armour dessicated thyroid instead of Synthroid, because it contains all of the thyroid hormones, while Synthroid is only T4. That's fine if your body efficiently converts the inactive T4 to T3, the active form, but if it doesn't you'll still have all the symptoms of hypothyroidism, including trouble losing weight (not to mention an increased risk of heart disease), while your TSH tests read stone normal.
It is clear that hypothyroids also tend to be insulin resistant, have high blood fats, and in general have the symptoms of metabolic syndrome. To me, this says that they need to be on a low carbohydrate diet. However, there has been very little research done regarding low carbohydrate diets and hypothyroidism. I can tell you that Dr. Davis very much advocates a low carbohydrate diet, and especially the total elimination of wheat and corn. His adamant speaking and writing about wheat have influenced me; I now rarely eat even low carb tortillas or breads.
Mary Shomon, who has the distinction of sort of being to hypothyroidism what I am to low carb dieting -- a person whose own struggles and experiences with a given health issue led her to learn all she could and start writing about it -- advocates carb restriction for hypothyroids, though she feels caloric restriction may also be in order. Her Thyroid Diet focuses more on glycemic index/load than total carb restriction. I gain weight on such a diet, and don't feel as well as I do on a very low carb diet, no more than, say, 40-50 grams per day.
Interesting personal note: I have recently increased my iodine intake, going from one kelp tablet per day to two. I also added tyrosine (an amino acid) to my daily supplement intake, because it can increase dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, improving mood and lessening appetite. I also got back to taking selenium, which I'd run out of. Within several weeks, I found myself speedy as heck -- irritable, snappish, having trouble sleeping again (I have a sleep disorder, but had it well under control,) and even finding my heart racing. I recognized all of this as possible symptoms of hyperthyroidism, and realized -- dopey me -- that these three things are the main constituents of thyroid hormones. I cut back just a teeny bit on my thyroid dosage (with my doctor's knowledge, of course), and felt much better.
(To be specific: I was on 90 mgs of Armour thyroid, which due to tablet sizes, I got by taking one 30 mg and one 60 mg tablet. I started cutting the 30 mg in half using a pill splitter, dropping my dose to 75 mgs. This actually left me a little tired and light-headed -- hypothyroid symptoms. So I started taking 3/4 of the 30, putting me at a total of 82 mgs per day. Right now this feels right. However, my doctor raises my dose in the autumn; we find it helps my Seasonal Affective Disorder.)
This tells me that some of you can probably improve your own thyroid function by taking these three, but be aware that you're playing with a powerful hormone. If you start getting those speedy symptoms (for me the snappishness -- I was just angry at everything, not a pleasant feeling -- was the most glaring), pay attention. But if you're subclinically hypothyroid, you may find that these three help you lose weight by improving your thyroid function. May make you feel better, too. Dr. Davis writes that he has seen medicated hypothyroids reduce their need for medication simply through iodine supplementation.
One other note: Be aware that soy is notorious for causing thyroid problems, and it's a popular ingredient in low carb specialty products and "health" foods. I don't shun soy entirely, but I do minimize my exposure; I get far less than a serving per week -- usually less than a serving per month.
That's most of what I can tell you, except to be aware that, here in the States at least, it is vital for hypothyroids to become educated and fiercely advocate for their own health. Take a look at Stop The Thyroid Madness and Mary Shomon's About.com pages and also her Thyroid Info site for useful information.