Low-Carb Diets and Thyroid Health
For many people with thyroid disorders, the struggle to maintain a healthy weight can be a lifelong battle. For many hypothyroid patients, underactive thyroid glands -- and the resulting slowdown in the endocrine system and metabolism -- can make weight gain nearly inevitable, while simultaneously rendering the prospect of weight loss only a remote possibility. Although hyperthyroid patients have overactive thyroid glands, the resulting metabolic imbalances often result in weight gains as well.
For both hypothyroid and hyperthyroid patients, the challenge of weight loss can feel like an uphill battle. Many with these disorders have found that the traditional approach to diets -- namely, low-fat, low-calorie eating -- simply aren't effective. In fact, recent studies have indicated that very low-calorie diets may even serve to inhibit thyroid function even further.
A New Approach to Weight Loss
The introduction and subsequent popularity of low-carb diets in the late 1990s and early 2000s seemed like a ray of hope for many patients with thyroid disorders. For some, low-carb diet regimens offered one of the only methods of weight loss that had ever proven to be effective. However, soon after they gained popularity, low-carb diets began to face a backlash. Many researchers and diet experts condemned the low-carb lifestyle, claiming that these diets were extreme and ultimately unhealthy.
So, what's the real impact of low-carb diets on thyroid patients? This week, we'll take a look at both sides of this persistent controversy.
The Basic Premise of Low-Carb Diets
The standard low-calorie, low-fat diet adheres to the seemingly common-sense principle that eating fat makes people fat. Proponents of low-calorie, low-fat diets contend that taking in fewer calories results in a calorie deficit. Over time, this calorie deficit is believed to result in the loss of fat.
Supporters of low-carb diets think that lasting weight loss is more likely to occur when sugars and starches, rather than fat and calories, are eliminated from the diet. They base this theory on the physiology we've inherited from our prehistoric ancestors. Millions of years ago, alternating periods of feast and famine were common. When food was scarce, human bodies horded fat. When food was plentiful, bodies released excess fat stores.
Based on this principle, low-calorie, low-fat diets may actually trick our bodies into believing they are stuck in a period of famine. In other words, these regimens may be interpreted by our bodies as being akin to near-starvation.
In contrast, low-carb dieters typically eat foods rich in calories and fats, while eschewing carbohydrate- and sugar-laden meals. This way of eating is geared to signal to our bodies that food is plentiful. When the body is convinced that a famine is not eminent, it begins dipping into its fat stores. In this way, a gradual, lasting process of weight loss is initiated.
How Do Thyroid Patients Fare on Low-Carb Diets?
Little if any research has been conducted focusing on the benefits of low-carb diets for patients with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. In fact, it is only in the last several years that researchers have begun looking seriously at low-carb diets as an approach to weight loss. For decades, many scientists feared that being associated with these "fad" diets would tarnish their professional reputation. It is only very recently that the possibility that low-carb diets could be beneficial for weight loss has begun being taken seriously by some members of the scientific community.
Even though the research literature is mute on this issue, many anecdotal accounts of thyroid patients losing weight successfully on low-carb slimming regimens have been reported. A stroll through any of the most popular low-carb dieting web sites usually reveals entire communities of hypothyroid and hyperthyroid individuals who appear to be fighting -- and winning -- the weight loss battle by limiting their intakes of sugars and starches.
Proponents of low-carb diets for thyroid patients believe that the special metabolic action of low-carb diets is particularly useful for individuals whose endocrine systems don't behave normally. Because low-carb diets are believed by some to be able to boost the body's fat-burning ability and stoke the metabolic fires, this may help put thyroid patients who have struggled with excess pounds on the path to permanent weight loss.
If you're considering a low-carb diet, it's best to clear your eating plan with your physician before starting. Be sure to check back each work for more of the thyroid health news you need.
For Further Reading
Recent Research Identifies Dietary Risks and Benefits for Optimal Thyroid Health
It has long been known that diet and nutrition play a major role in determining thyroid health. Without iodine, a vital mineral, the thyroid cannot function properly. In the days before table salt was supplemented with iodine, deficiencies resulted in widespread cases of goiters. This is still a health risk in many developing nations.
But several studies that have been completed in recent months have identified other nutritional substances that can impact thyroid health, both negatively and positively. This week, we’ll review dietary guidelines to help you make positive food choices to promote healthy thyroid function.
Studies Offer Contradictory Results on Green Tea’s Impact
Over the last several years, green tea has made significant inroads in Western countries such as the United States. Long a dietary staple throughout much of Asia, this mild tea has been linked with a wide variety of health benefits ranging from cancer prevention to immunity enhancement.
Dieters and those looking to maintain a healthy weight have been particularly drawn to green tea. The tea is said to have metabolic benefits, helping to prompt the fat-burning processes that can help speed weight loss. However, for thyroid patients, this benefit could prove to be problematic.
For hyperthyroid patients who suffer from overactive thyroids, green tea consumption in large quantities is often not recommended. This is due to concerns that the metabolism-boosting properties of green tea could prove to increase the rate of the metabolism too much, exacerbating some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
Somewhat surprisingly, studies that have assessed the ability of green tea to boost the metabolisms of hypothyroid patients have been inconclusive. At the current juncture, no conclusive recommendation for green tea consumption by hypothyroid patients has been issued. However, until more definitive findings are achieved, it may be best to limit green tea consumption if you have a history of any kind of thyroid disorder.
Iodine Fortification Policies Questioned
Since the mid-twentieth century, table salt has been fortified with iodine in order to prevent goiters and other thyroid disorders. In the United States, public health experts assert that this policy has prevented millions of illnesses over the course of the last several decades.
Health advocacy organizations have emphasized the importance of ensuring adequate iodine intake in developing nations. However, a 2006 study undertaken in China called this widespread assumption into question. It was found that excessive iodine intake is linked to a host of other thyroid problems.
Most significantly, rates of hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroiditis were elevated among the population of Chinese subjects, and in both cases, excessive consumption of iodine was believed to be the culprit. However, the researchers pointed out that iodine deficiency, rather than overdose, remains the more pressing problem in most part of the world.
Fluoride: Good for Teeth, Bad for the Thyroid Gland?
Like iodine, fluoride is a chemical compound that has been deliberately added to our food supply in the service of a number of public health goals, such as improving the overall quality of dental health and reducing the risk of dental cavities. In many states and municipalities, fluoride is added to the drinking water supply. In addition, most toothpaste also contains added fluoride.
However, in recent years, a number of studies have found a link between fluoride intake and thyroid dysfunction. This is not surprising, considering the fact that fluoride was long used as a leading treatment of under-functioning thyroids in hospitals and clinics throughout Europe. In communities whose water supplies are heavily fluoridated, the daily intake of the compound is roughly equivalent to the doses that were once used by European physicians to inhibit thyroid function in patients with hyperthyroidism.
At the current juncture, no definitive statement recommending that thyroid patients avoid fluoride consumption has been released. However, several leading medical groups have issued statements recommending further investigation of the possible impact of fluoride consumption on not only the thyroid gland, but also the entire endocrine system.
In the interim, it may be best for patients with hyperthyroidism to switch to an all-natural, non-fluoridated toothpaste, and to filter drinking water to eliminate some fluoride. This is a decision that is best made through consultations with your dentist and physician.
Whether your thyroid is underactive or overactive, or whether you are simply trying to maintain optimal thyroid function, it is important to remember that what you consume can affect your health in many different ways. Check back for more research news that will help you make choices that will promote thyroid health.
Note: The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for professional care. This site should not be used in place of professional medical advice. The author is not a physician. For medical emergencies, call 911!
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