Did your grandparents have thyroid problems such as hypothyroidism? Mine sure didn't, which is a stark comparison to the millions of Americans suffering from thyroid problems today. So why didn't your grandparents have as many thyroid issues [specifically hypothyroidism] as we do today?
In my opinion, it's really quite obvious...
1. They ate the "whole animal" that included mineral rich bone broth and organ meats to get a balanced intake of amino acids that support proper liver function and detoxification.
Your body (especially the liver) needs the amino acid balance that is achieved when you eat the “whole animal." If your liver is malnourished by not eating enough of the right kind of proteins (read: too much muscle meat, not enough anti-inflammatory proteins and a variety of organ meats), it can have a detrimental effect on thyroid hormone conversion.
2. They got more Thiamine (B1) in their diet
Thiamine deficiency is alive in well causing symptoms such as digestive issues, irritability, low blood pressure, depression, fatigue, and issues digesting carbohydrates.
You see, thiamine is needed to create energy your body and is used up when you process carbohydrates. But, today in our processed-food laden land, the thiamine typically found carbohydrates is stripped out during processing or empty carbohydrate foods didn't have any thiamine to begin with. This creates the perfect storm for thiamine deficiency, as your body quickly uses it up faster than you are taking it in.
Initially, this is why the grains were enriched with b-vitamins, including thiamine decades ago. But the water soluble form used for enrichment doesn't have the best bioavailability and then there's the popularity of grain free diets.
The bottom line here is that thiamine deficiency is common and research shows it can help with thyroid-related fatigue. 
3. They didn't intentionally eat less and exercise like crazy.
When you have a chronic energy deficit (fewer calories coming in than going out), over time your body starts to think food is scarce. To make an analogy, think of your body like a house. If you’re not making enough money to pay your bills, what do you do? You turn down the heat in your house to compensate, turn off the lights when you’re not in the room, and perhaps even fire your cleaning lady.
Your body operates in a similar way. When there are not enough calories coming in, your body saves energy by reducing body temperature (slowing the metabolism), turning down digestive juices (making digestion weaker), reducing the pulse, and slowing thyroid function (resulting in less energy and T3). This is a built-in survival response by the body, to help you go longer on less food as your body chooses short-term survival over long-term health. This is often induced through over-exercising and dieting.
Listen to my full interview on this topic here for more.
4. They ate pro-thyroid saturated fats (like butter), and naturally avoided harmful polyunsaturated fats (omega-6 fatty acids like vegetable oils) that suppress thyroid function.
Everything from mayo to salad dressing, cookies, candies, and processed food is loaded with omega-6 polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) these days. It's completely unavoidable unless you cook at home from scratch most of the time; something your grandparents did much more than you probably do today.
According to Dr. Ray Peat, PhD, "Unsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulatory system, and the response of tissues to the hormone." (source)
Additionally, Dr. Peat adds, "Scattered studies have found that polyunsaturated fats inhibit the proteolytic enzymes involved in the digestion of food, in the removal of clots, in the formation of thyroid hormone, and many other essential physiological processes." (source)
Moreover, the ratio of omega-6:omega-3 fats (seafood, fish oil) used to historically be closer to a ratio of 1:1 during evolutionary times, where as it hovers closer to 20:1 in the Western diet. This unnatural ratio linked to cardiovascular disease, vascular disease, inflammation and obesity, among others. [1, 2]
If that's not enough reason to thyroid-proof your diet with healthy fats for better thyroid health, I'm not sure what is!
5. They didn't subsist on nuts, quinoa, GMO soy, and kale.
When you ate dinner at your grandparents' house, did your meal consist of nuts, quinoa, GMO soy, and kale? I didn't think so. Harder to digest foods like these often both poorly digested and irritate the gut; resulting in an increase of endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide or LPS) that suppresses thyroid function.
“Dysbosis and poor digestion prevent the body from successfully eliminating unnecessary estrogen, and toxic levels of this powerful hormone build………. Excess estrogen binds the thyroid transport proteins so that thyroid hormones cannot get to the cells to do their jobs, causing hypothyroid symptoms.” –Dr. Kharrazian
Get the un-digestable foods out of your diet, and instead focus on easy to digest foods to support thyroid function.
6. They didn't self-induce hypothyroidism with bodily stress from dieting (particularly low-calorie and low carbohydrate diets).
Both low carbohydrate and low-calorie diets are still king in the dieting world, due to their ability to provide fairly quick, but short-term weight loss (read: endless yo-yo dieting). Unfortunately, they also slow the metabolism, directly impacting T3 (active thyroid hormone) levels, which can result in self-induced hypothyroidism. According The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, dietary carbohydrates are an important regulatory factor in T3 production.
Dr. Ray Peat, PhD, agrees: “The liver provides about 70% of our active thyroid hormone, by converting thyroxine to T3, but it can provide this active hormone only when it has adequate glucose.”
Nutrient-rich sources of sugar (read: carbohydrates) should be a mainstay in your diet. If the word “sugar” is scary to you or you've blacklisted it from your diet, you might want read this for some context.
7. They didn't have as much exposure to fluoride from their water supply.
Fluoride was widely used in the water supply by 1960 when fluorinated water reached approximately 50 million Americans to help prevent dental caries. Recent studies however, show fluorinated water can double the risk of hypothyroidism! This risk makes it a great time to invest in a good water filtration system (like this). Read more about all the reasons you want to reduce your exposure to fluoride here.
8. They weren't overly reliant on "medicine" to fix things that should be fixed with common sense.
Imagine for a minute you are Jane Doe. You feel tired, fatigued, and have no energy–all the time. You go to your doctor and he discovers that you have low thyroid function, and he puts you on Cytomel (T3) or some combination of T4 and T3. Initially you feel better, because T3 is the body’s form of energy — so in a sense you are taking an “easy button” to get more energy. With this increase in energy, you start working out, doing more around the house, and all those things you were unable to do previously. You feel a lot better at first, but then you start feeling worse... Because you didn’t change your diet and lifestyle habits and you did not back up that energy production with a nutrient dense diet. You then make the decision to go back to your doctor and he ups your dose…
What is the problem here? If you take thyroid medication without addressing the root cause behind it, which is most often a nutrient and cellular energy deficiency, then you are essentially purchasing that “increased energy” with a credit card! If your body doesn’t have the nutritional stores to pay for that energy, that thyroid medication could be digging you into deeper and deeper nutritional debt.
9. They didn't overload on calcium or vitamin D3.
The average American today gets far too much calcium relative to potassium. Typically, one isn't taking in too much calcium from food sources per say (although one could over-do it), but instead from calcium supplements, calcium fortified food, and/or they have increased calcium absorption from taking high dose vitamin D3. Part of vitamin D's job is to tell your body to absorb more calcium from your food, pushing calcium levels even higher in the body, and pushing potassium levels lower.
Pair that with a chronically low intake of potassium from fruits and vegetables, and you have yourself some powerful nutritional forces messing with your thyroid hormones ability to do its job. This often manifests with symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, low body temperature, blood sugar issues (hypoglycemia), and sluggish digestion.
In hair analysis we look at the calcium-to-potassium ratio to assess how well your thyroid hormone function is supported from a mineral perspective. If you have a high ratio it represents lower function, expressing as low thyroid symptoms, or making existing symptoms worse. If your potassium levels are lower (often due to low carb dieting, dieting in general, or stress) this would deepen the impact.
Here's a little example of what I'm taking about. Below you'll see we're looking at the calcium (Ca) and potassium (K) levels to assess thyroid health from the hair tissue mineral perspective:
If you're curious if your vitamin D supplementation has your thyroid function in hot water, you'll want to read this and consider getting a hair analysis, to see how your calcium and potassium levels are affected.
10. They didn't overdose on vitamin A
I know what some of you are thinking, “but vitamin A is important for hormonal balance, thyroid health, and fertility.” But let me show you how easy it can be to get too much, especially considering once “seasonal foods” high vitamin A foods are often now available on demand year-round. Here’s an example of some commonly eaten “health foods” that are high in vitamin A:
- Liver 338% DV in 100grams
- Sweet potatoes 769% DV in 1 cup
- Carrot 44% DV in 1 medium
- Kale 206% DV in 1 cup, chopped
- Salmon 25% DV in 100grams
- Butter 11% DV in 1 tablespoon
- Cheddar Cheese 12% in 2 ounces
- Eggs 24% DV in 3 hard-boiled eggs
Do you see how one could easily get the daily value of vitamin A through eggs, a few tablespoons of butter, and a carrot or two? Then layer on a multivitamin and possibly other supplementation containing vitamin A that doubles or triples what they are already getting from food? Then they also might have a history of using the birth control pill (which increases vitamin A), use of vitamin A containing prescription drugs (think acne drugs in particular), sunscreens with added vitamin A and beauty creams that puts their intake way over the top. You'll definitely want to read all about the signs of vitamin A toxicity here.
It's not a life sentence, it's your habits
Thyroid problems (specifically hypothyroidism) are often a consequence of your diet and lifestyle. Adopt a nutrition plan that gives you enough food and calories to support your body’s cellular metabolism and energy production before jumping on the prescription solution bandwagon for your hypothyroidism.
P.S. If you want more practical tips (just like these), you'll want to get your hands on my eBook Creating Wealth: The cure to nutritional debt or enroll in the Thyroid Reset Bootcamp. Read more about it here so support your thyroid health with food!
What do you think — did your hypothyroidism occur after heavy bodily stress like childbirth, excessive exercise, or weight loss efforts? Please share in the comments!
- Loucks, Anne B., and Edward M. Heath. "Induction of low-T~ 3 syndrome in exercising women occurs at a threshold of energy availability." American Journal of Physiology 266 (1994): R817-R817.
- Peat, Raymond, PhD. Unsaturated Vegetable Oils: Toxic. Retrieved from http://www.raypeat.com/articles/articles/unsaturated-oils.shtml
- Spaulding, Stephen W., et al. "Effect of caloric restriction and dietary composition on serum T3 and reverse T3 in man." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 42.1 (1976): 197-200.
- Spaulding SW, Chopra IJ, Sherwin RS, Lyall SS. "Effect of caloric restriction and dietary composition of serum T3 and reverse T3 in man." J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1976 Jan;42(1):197-200.
- S Peckham, D Lowery, and S Spencer. Are fluoride levels in drinking water associated with hypothyroidism prevalence in England? A large observational study of GP practice data and fluoride levels in drinking water. J Epidemiol Community Health doi:10.1136/jech-2014-204971
- Prof. Dr. Andro. Thyroid Issues? Low Energy Intake Triggers Low T3 / High rT3 Syndrome in Exercising Women >19kcal/kg LBM Avail. Energy Required. Low Carbing Worsens the Impact of ED. Retrieved from http://suppversity.blogspot.com/2014/10/thyroid-issues-low-energy-intake.html
- Wikipedia.com. History of water fluoridation. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_water_fluoridation
- Photo Credit: By Bryson Jack, Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Photo Credit: Depositphotos.com/LiliGraphie