Integrative Nutrition for Thyroid and Autoimmune Disease

Could an Integrative Nutritionist Help You?

“You are what you eat," goes the old saying. And more than ever before, scientists, physicians, and healthcare practitioners are echoing the old adage, recognizing the role that food and nutrition plays in health.

Many people with thyroid disease or other chronic diseases are also looking more carefully at the role of nutrition in triggering or reversing health problems and symptoms.

One of them most promising ways to approach the relationship between food and health is integrative nutrition.

What Is Integrative Nutrition?

Integrative nutrition—sometimes referred to as holistic nutrition—is an all-encompassing practice that provides individualized and complete nutritional care and addresses important components of nutrition that are often overlooked. Unlike the traditional role nutritionists, an integrative nutritionist doesn't focus entirely on physical nutrition: diet, food, and exercise. Integrative nutrition includes your physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, and social health. When working with an integrative nutritionist, you work together to create balance in all these areas.

The integrative approach to nutrition acknowledges that food is just one piece of the puzzle, and there are often underlying issues affecting one’s health and wellbeing. For people who require more intervention and support, it is important to have a team of providers working together on a complete, integrative medical plan.

No person is identical to another, and in the same respect, no one diet or lifestyle change will work for everyone. This concept of bio-individuality is important to integrative nutrition.

Integrative Nutrition, Hypothyroidism, and Weight Loss 

Many people with hypothyroidism struggle with excess weight, and difficulty losing that weight, even with low-calorie diets.

The key to the integrative nutritionist's approach is that even among people living with the same diagnosis, such as hypothyroid, is trial and error coupled with and careful examination of what works for each individual. No one diet fits all. While a diet may seem healthy, there may be one or two foods in particular that don’t work with an individual’s body chemistry.

While nutrition must be handled individually, there are some common experiences among people with hypothyroid. For instance, I have found that many of my clients with thyroid issues also have undetected candida overgrowth that they were either unaware of or mismanaging. When that's the case, it is important to work on dietary changes that focus specifically on tackling candida.

Another paradox that is particularly true for thyroid patients is that low-calorie is often not the key! I find more often that it is the absence of healthy fats in the diet that restricts weight loss.

Thyroid Health, Gluten, and Soy

Many people are told that going "gluten-free" can help their health. In my opinion, going "gluten-free," or at the very least eating gluten in substantial moderation, can benefit everyone. Gluten contributes to increased intestinal permeability, also known as “ leaky gut." Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, describes a condition in which there are openings in the intestine that allow undigested proteins to pass through into the bloodstream.

Leaky gut is also a known risk factor for autoimmune diseases, malabsorption of nutrients, and unhealthy gut in general, which predisposes an individual to a variety of diseases and symptoms.

I also believe that everyone with an autoimmune disease should choose a gluten-free diet. In fact, I would recommend taking it a step further by reducing or eliminating most grains—even those that are considered gluten-free, such as rice. Grains, in general, convert into sugar at a fast pace in the body. For some clients, I can recommend several grains that are considered safer in moderation, as they are slower to convert to sugar.

There is also a link between yeast overgrowth and autoimmune disease. Like gluten, candida often contributes to leaky gut, and of going gluten-free can be critical to helping eliminate candida overgrowth in the body.

People living with thyroid disease are also commonly cautioned about soy and goitrogenic (goiter-promoting) foods. As an integrative nutritionist, I am opposed to the consumption of soy in general. It is one of the top allergens, and among the first foods I ask clients to eliminate from their diet when beginning a detox. Soy can block thyroid function and acts as phytoestrogen in both men and women, which contributes to hormone imbalances, autoimmune diseases, and has been linked to infertility and increased risk of cancer. Much of the soy foods available are also genetically modified.

Goitrogenic foods do have nutritional benefits, including many nutrients, alkaline properties, and fiber. Goitrogenic foods can make up a good portion of some people’s diets if they consume a lot of vegetables. But people with thyroid disease often vary in how they tolerate goitrogenic foods. As a result, a common dietary approach is to eliminate goitrogens from the diet and only after the thyroid is managed, trying to reintroduce them in cooked form, or juiced in moderation, and gauge the response. Once again, the approach of bio-individuality comes into play. 

Using Integrative Nutrition for Other Health Concerns

Integrative nutrition can also be a successful approach for other health concerns like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and candidiasis/yeast overgrowth.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS seems to have become an over-diagnosed condition that many conventional doctors currently use as an umbrella label for what often seems to be hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance-related issues. Many women diagnosed with PCOS do not even meet the key PCOS criteria of cysts on the ovaries.

In the face of hormonal imbalances, doctors are quick to diagnose PCOS, and quick to prescribe birth control pills (synthetic hormones). In my experience, synthetic hormones mask the issues, and can actually exacerbate the problem by contributing to yeast overgrowth, and worsening long-term hormone imbalances.

The integrative nutrition approach requires recognizing insulin resistance and treating hormonal imbalance issues by cleaning up the diet. That approach might include focusing on eliminating processed foods, sugar, and soy. while opting for whole foods, increasing intake of greens and vegetables, and eliminating complex carbohydrates and many grains. In true integrative fashion, you must also look beyond the diet. Another important component for women with PCOS can be physical activity—in particular, those activities that increase muscle mass, since this aids in improving insulin resistance.

Candidiasis

The key risk factors for yeast overgrowth include prolonged use of antibiotics, birth control pills, and steroids. Candida problems can present themselves in different ways in each person. People with candida overgrowth or sensitivity often show signs of low immune function and general malaise. The most common symptoms include bloating, sugar cravings, sinus congestion, depression, allergies, chemical sensitivities, eczema, psoriasis, irritable bowel and other digestive issues, trouble losing weight, nausea, and light-headedness. Women are more predisposed to candida overgrowth due to the nature of their fluctuating hormones.

The diagnosis of candidiasis is made with a combination of a thorough analysis of the patient’s history and a comprehensive digestive stool analysis. The level of antibodies to candida can also be measured via a blood test.

For someone struggling with this health challenge, I typically recommend an integrative approach including dietary changes, natural and pharmaceutical anti-yeast agents, and supplements to promote a healthy gut.

Getting Started with an Integrative Nutritionist

The first thing an integrative nutritionist should do with a prospective client is to ake a detailed health history—whether that's in person or through a form. Your responses and the information you provide give the nutritionist a clearer picture of your past and present health, as well as your health and wellness struggles and goals. You should expect Ian initial consultation to go over your needs in detail and learn about the nutritionist's approach. This is the nutritionist's opportunity to learn about you and for you to learn about him or her. You should only begin working with someone if it feels like a good fit.

In my practice, I typically work with clients in a customized six-month program. I’ve found that it can take the body about three months to properly detox and adjust to changes, and then start to fine-tune the program. I also find that providing support, and asking for accountability, is an important part of an integrative nutritional practice.

Life changes and circumstances change, but when my clients move on after completing a program, I am confident that they are empowered with the knowledge and confidence to adjust to challenges and get back on track.

Laurie Borenstein is a Certified Health and Nutrition Coach, with certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. She is the founder of Life Intake, an integrative nutrition practice where she works with clients by telephone to help create and implement an integrative nutritional plan for optimal health. She specializes in integrative nutrition treatments for a variety of health issues and disorders, including hormonal imbalance, thyroid issues, candida, adrenal fatigue, metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, among others. Laurie also provides weight management counseling and wellness coaching in both individual and group settings.

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