Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dietary Thyroid Treatment: Beef, Green Vegetables, Full-Fat Milk & Butter Normalize TSH in Subclinical Hypothyroidism

Image 1: "Nutritional thyroid medication" - Sirloin of beef in smoked butter (thestaffcanteen.com)
"Hypo- what?" This is probably the answer your grandparents would have gotten, if they had told one of their friends that they suspected to be hypothyroid, or, put simply, had an "underactive" thyroid gland. What used to be medicinal rarity, though, has become more and more of a plague in the course of the last decades. And while "full-blown" hypothyrodism, which is (quite ridiculously) defined by TSH values of >10mU/l, is still pretty rare, the number of people with oftentimes undiagnosed "subclinical hypothyrodism" who have elevated TSH levels, but remain below the more or less artificially defined upper cut-off level, or normal TSH levels, but low levels of the thyroid hormones T4 and, more importantly, T3, is on a constant rise.

"Subclinical" hypothyroidism: Not just a thread to your weight, but also to your health

Aside from the universally mourned weight problems, an inappropriate production or conversion of T4 to the active hormone T3 can have profound health consequences. Among other things it can precipitate to
Image 2: Within the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid-adrenal axes (HTPA), the thyroid is involved in almost all  physiological processes in your body (Rhyszard. 2010)
...and many minor health complications. Nevertheless, treatment with levothyroxin (T4; synthyroid) does not consistently resolve all / any of these problems. This is particularly true for the metabolic derangements, such as the persistent hyperlipidemia, of which a recently published review by a reasearcher from the renowned Harvard Medical School states that "trials to date have not consistently shown a beneficial effect of levothyroxine treatment on serum lipid levels in subclinically hypothyroid patients" (Pearce. 2012).

Why would you take medication, when all you need is a whole foods diet?

Against that background the latest results of a case-controlled 3-months small scale (n=54) dietary intervention trial by Marjolein W. J. Kuiper and Ellen J. van der Gaag, the results of which have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences could be of paramount importance (Kuiper. 2012). After all, this is - at least to my knowledge - the first experiment to investigate the (as it turned out) profound effects of a simple dietary intervention, which prescribed the inclusion of
  1. three servings of beef per week,
     
  2. green vegetables on at least 5 days of the week, and a
     
  3. daily portion of full fat milk and butter
into the habitual dietary regimen of 54 children with subclinical hypothyroidism, on the plasma levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), free T4 and BMI.
Figure 1: Vitamin A, iron and iodine content of the foods in the experimental diet and comparable foodstuff; data expressed for 100mg relative to the RDA for children (calculated based on Kuiper. 2012)
In view of the age of the children (1-14 years) the already statistically non-significant changes in BMI, are pretty irrelevant. The restoration of the eleveated TSH levels into the normal range in 74.1% of the patients in the active arm of the study (compared to 25.9% in the patients from the control goup), on the other hand, underlines the role of a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, whole-foods diet that is rich in iron, iodine, vitamin A and the (saturated) fat that facilitates the uptake of the latter.

Eat a whole foods diet now and avoid thyroid problems in the first place

Image 3: If you care about your (thyroid) health you better run, whenever you see this symbol ;-)
And while it is important not to fall for the idea that your diet should consist of nothing else, but the above mentioned foods, the results of this study appear to confirm what many of you probably have long suspected: The current dietary guidelines, according to which red meat must not be consumed more than once a week (better not at all), full-fat milk, cheese and other dairy products should be replaced with their low- to no-fat varieties and those "bad saturated fats" in butter and meats have to be avoided at all costs, could be one of the various dietary and environmental factors which contribute to the initially invoked increase in "subclinical" thyroid disorders within the allegedly "iodine sufficient", iron-toxic and beta-carotene orange (yet retinol deficient) Western world.