The Mysteries of the Thyroid
When Alejandro Junger, M.D. first introduced us to Anthony William—author of the fascinating read, Medical Medium Thyroid Healing—we were immediately taken by his readings: He can scan the body from afar, and with the help of “Spirit,” explain what ails or does not, whether it’s a benign growth near the liver, an over-taxed adrenal system, or a rare blood disorder that might become a nuisance. What’s even more compelling is that his explanations for what’s actually going on are rooted in common sense, and he proposes simple, nature-rooted remedies, like prebiotic blueberries (according to William, unwashed, wild-crafted fruit and berries will become a well-known concept), spirulina, and iodine. The iodine is particularly interesting, because William works with a lot of clients who are struggling with auto-immune disease, i.e., a class of mystery illnesses with no known root cause and a lot of devastating symptoms. For many, the implication that your body is confused and attacking itself feels like the most unholy instances of sabotage. And according to William, it is simply not true: Your body does not attack itself, it is attacking pathogens that have burrowed deep into your organs, i.e., a long-lasting virus with systemic and far-reaching implications. And, as he explains below, there are many things to do about it.
The Truth about Hashimoto’s, the Autoimmune Confusion, and How to Reclaim Your Thyroid
Millions of people deal with mysterious weight gain, hair loss, fatigue, brain fog, hot flashes, cold hands and feet, brittle nails, dry skin, restless legs, insomnia, impaired memory, depression, eye floaters, muscle weakness, perimenopause and menopause symptoms, anxiety, dizziness, tingles and numbness, ringing or buzzing in the ears, and aches and pains. Are you one of them? If so, you may be living with a thyroid condition.
Thyroid disease is still widely misunderstood. Even if you’ve been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, hypothyroidism, or another thyroid issue, chances are extremely high that you’re not getting the most effective treatment—because without true insight into what causes thyroid illness, medical communities aren’t yet able to offer remedies that heal the underlying problem. And if you’ve been tested for thyroid issues and the results have come back normal, you could still be suffering with an under- or overactive thyroid gland and not know it—because thyroid testing is not yet entirely accurate.
In two or three decades, medical communities will have the tests and the answers to offer you true relief. If you’re suffering right now, though, I doubt you feel you have twenty or thirty years to wait. You’ve already waited long enough. You’ve struggled long enough. You’ve been patient long enough. The time has finally come to arm yourself with the truth, to learn the answers about what’s been holding you back—it’s the first great stage of healing.
To begin with, we have to be aware of what thyroid disease isn’t, and that means clearing up the autoimmune confusion. When it comes to medical understanding of chronic illness—particularly autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s—we must keep in mind that one day, we’ll look back at the present as a moment in history. Science’s hallmark is that its study develops over time to allow for a deeper, richer, truer understanding of our world. New experiments improve upon old ones; clear insights replace mistaken hypotheses. So what may seem like the forefront of rational thought today could one day be considered out-of-date as new facts come to light. This is the perspective we have to bring to analyzing modern-day medical theories: some will stand the test of time; others won’t.
Currently, the autoimmune theory proposes that in certain conditions, a person’s immune system becomes confused and starts attacking part of the body. In the case of Hashimoto’s, patients are told that the immune system mysteriously produces antibodies that target and damage the thyroid gland as though it were a foreign presence. This hypothesis will not hold up over time. Why? Because it’s not the real answer.
“Once medical science finally taps into the underlying truth about autoimmunity—that it’s not the body attacking itself—the study and treatment of thyroid disease and other chronic illnesses will be able to advance in leaps and bounds.”
What medical research has not yet uncovered is that the body never attacks itself; it only goes after pathogens. Antibodies are signs that there’s a virus (or sometimes bacterium) in the body that the immune system is putting all its energy into fighting off. This process of a pathogen invading cells and the body working to fight off that pathogen creates inflammation. However, the pathogens that cause this physical response are usually undetectable to doctors—by the time a virus has started to cause chronic illness in a patient, it has usually burrowed so deep into that person’s organs that the virus doesn’t show up on blood tests—so it appears to be a bodily malfunction and gets labeled as autoimmune.
You’ll hear from some sources that autoimmune responses happen when your body is defending itself against a trigger (such as a pathogen or gluten) and becomes confused in the process, unable to tell the difference between a foreign presence and your own body tissue. This is not how triggers work. Any antibody activity is because those antibodies are going after the virus, not your own body.
It’s also important to keep in mind that while science has advanced in its understanding of many aspects of physical function, the thyroid gland remains largely a mystery. There isn’t much more medical insight into the thyroid today than there was 100 years ago, which makes it that much easier for medical communities to label thyroid conditions as autoimmune—because it’s difficult to assess what’s wrong with an organ if the organ itself is a mystery, and “autoimmune” is a convenient tag for “we don’t know what’s wrong with you.” It’s not doctors’ fault that any of this is the case. Doctors and other practitioners are heroes who selflessly devote their lives to helping others. They just haven’t yet been handed the best diagnostic tools or framework to determine what’s truly going on with their patients who suffer from Hashimoto’s, Graves’, and other autoimmune diseases. Once medical science finally taps into the underlying truth about autoimmunity—that it’s not the body attacking itself—the study and treatment of thyroid disease and other chronic illnesses will be able to advance in leaps and bounds. For healthcare professionals and patients who want to move forward now, read on.
What Thyroid Disease Really Is
In most of today’s thyroid disorders, including Hashimoto’s and even thyroid cancer, I see Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) as the cause. (Other thyroid problems come from radiation exposure due to chest X-rays, dental exams, and/or plane travel.) Which is to say, it’s not your own immune system that’s causing hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid), or nodules, cysts, tumors, and tissue damage to the thyroid gland. It’s EBV.
As you can read about in my book excerpt “Epstein-Barr Virus, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Fibromyalgia,” which previously appeared on goop, the virus goes through four stages. In the first stage, EBV lives mostly dormant in the bloodstream, quietly building its numbers. In Stage Two, the EBV springs to life and causes mononucleosis, meanwhile seeking out a home in the infected person’s organs (typically the liver and/or spleen), at which point it may go back into dormancy. Stages One and Two can each last for weeks, months, or years, and a person may be completely unaware that she or he even has the virus; the only symptoms may be a brief and mild scratchy throat with some tiredness.
“This small gland in the neck functions much like a data center for the body, with its own memory system that holds intelligence on how to keep the body in homeostasis.”
Then comes Stage Three of EBV. At this point, the virus becomes highly active—and destructive—and now takes up residence in the thyroid. The virus picks the thyroid because it’s a star of the endocrine system. This small gland in the neck functions much like a data center for the body, with its own memory system that holds intelligence on how to keep the body in homeostasis. It uses this memory of homeostasis to transmit radio-like frequencies (not yet detected or measured by medical science or research) that delegate tasks and responsibilities to multiple body systems and organs. When EBV enters the scene, this ideal functioning gets thrown off, which in turn throws off the entire endocrine system. To compensate and power the body, the adrenal glands pump out excess adrenaline, which is one of EBV’s favorite foods. The virus feasts on the adrenaline in order to get stronger, multiply, and go after its ultimate target: the nervous system.
So in essence, thyroid illness can be a precursor to EBV-caused neurological conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis—which is all the more reason why, if you’re struggling with thyroid issues, you want to stop EBV before it can develop into something worse.
Thyroid Symptoms and Conditions—Explained
While all of this viral activity is happening in the thyroid, you may be highly aware that something is amiss—and even have received a thyroid-related diagnosis—or you may not know that thyroid issues are throwing your life out of balance. That’s because as in Stages One and Two of EBV, the symptoms of Stage Three EBV (when the virus enters the thyroid) can be either subtle or overwhelming. Much of this has to do with which strain of Epstein-Barr you happen to have; there are over 60 varieties of it, some of them slow-moving and mild, others accelerated and aggressive. As you continue to read, I hope you’ll find insight into your individual struggle so you can solve the mystery and move forward.
Hypothyroidism, Mystery Weight Gain, and Mystery Hair Loss
Once in the thyroid, EBV drills actively and deeply into the gland’s tissue over time, scarring it and impeding its function. In this weakened state, the thyroid can become less effective at producing its thyroid hormones. The name for this condition is hypothyroidism, also known as underactive thyroid or low thyroid. It’s a mild, early-stage case of thyroiditis.
Hypothyroidism can cause body temperature fluctuations, a bit of fatigue, and dry skin—that’s it. What about all the other symptoms typically associated with low thyroid hormone levels? They’re symptoms of the EBV that’s infecting the thyroid, not low levels of thyroid hormones. Aches and pains, muscle weakness, memory issues, mood changes, and more: these are viral symptoms, not a result of hypothyroidism.
Mysterious weight gain is a common symptom that leaves many people beyond frustrated. You’re watching what you eat, you’re exercising regularly, and the number on the scale keeps going up. You might have heard that this is a result of a hypothyroid—that you have an underactive thyroid that’s failing to produce enough metabolism-boosting hormones to keep your weight in check. This isn’t how it works.
What’s really happening is that back when Epstein-Barr was in Stage Two and hiding out in your liver, it weakened the organ and burdened it to the point of creating a sluggish liver. Then, even after the virus moved on to the thyroid, some EBV cells remained in the liver, where they could continue to cause trouble. Plus, EBV’s presence in the body results in the ongoing presence of viral byproducts, dead virus cells, and neurotoxins in the system that give the liver and lymphatic system continuous purifying work to do, so they keep getting strained. All of that and the adrenal glands that are overcompensating for the underactive thyroid flood the liver with excess adrenaline, giving it even more of a toxic load. It’s the resulting overburdened, sluggish liver and lymphatic system that are behind a hypothyroid patient’s tendency to have difficulty losing weight or to gain pounds without control. So both the hypothyroid and the weight gain are caused by the virus; it’s not the hypothyroid itself causing the weight gain.
“It’s the resulting overburdened, sluggish liver and lymphatic system that are behind a hypothyroid patient’s tendency to have difficulty losing weight or to gain pounds without control.”
It’s worth noting that even if haven’t been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, a viral infection of the thyroid and the effects I just described could still be behind your struggles to lose weight. As I mentioned earlier and as we’ll look at in more detail below, thyroid testing isn’t yet what it could be, so a thyroid panel won’t necessarily show if your hormone levels are low. And if you have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, you’re on medication for it, and you’re still struggling with your weight and wondering why, it’s because the medicine isn’t healing the underlying viral infection, thyroid damage, or liver issue. (More on thyroid medication soon.)
Mysterious hair thinning and hair loss are also symptomatic of the EBV’s damaging presence. It’s not low production of thyroid hormones that causes clumps of hair to fall out in your hand—it’s excess adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenal glands are the most important glands in the endocrine system; they are the mediators of the body. So as we just looked at, when the thyroid is struggling, the adrenals jump in to produce extra hormones. Once in a while, this would be fine. When the thyroid is constantly struggling due to viral infection, though, and the adrenals are constantly filling in for them, the repeated floods of stress chemicals are hard on the body and can cause hair to thin.
Hyperthyroidism, Enlarged Thyroid, and Graves’ Disease
In some cases, instead of causing an underproduction of thyroid hormones, EBV prompts the thyroid to overproduce them. This is called hyperthyroidism—and the diagnosis that many people with hyperthyroidism receive is Graves’ disease, an illness tagged as autoimmune that leaves far too many patients feeling that their bodies have let them down. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Graves’ disease is not a result of the immune system becoming confused and attacking the thyroid.
Rather, Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism occur because a particular strain of EBV—one that’s a bit more aggressive and fast-moving than the strains behind hypothyroidism—causes an assault on the thyroid, which prompts the gland to overcompensate by rapidly creating new cells and tissue. This extra thyroid tissue produces extra thyroid hormones, resulting in the symptoms of bulging eyes, enlarged thyroid, swelling in the throat, a bit of fatigue, and temperature fluctuations. As with hypothyroidism, most of the symptoms associated with Graves’ (such as sweating, high blood pressure, and nervousness) are virus-related and not a direct result of an overactive thyroid.
Inflammation and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
When EBV targets the thyroid gland, the immune system reacts in full force, and the result is inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to invasion and/or injury. Have you ever gotten a splinter, and soon the skin around it got red, hot, and puffy? That’s the body responding with inflammation to a foreign object (invasion) that’s causing cell damage (injury). The same goes for the thyroid. If EBV enters your thyroid tissue, your immune system immediately knows that it’s present (invasion) and causing cell damage (injury), so the gland becomes inflamed. This can come with the feeling of a sore throat, pressure in the throat, or a funny feeling in your neck.
If you’ve been diagnosed with thyroiditis, understand that it’s a sign of your immune system working hard for you, doing everything in its power to fight the virus; it’s not a malfunction of your body. The inflammation is not occurring because “autoantibodies” are being produced by your immune system to go after your own cell tissue. The antibodies that show up on thyroid tests are present because there’s a battle going on in your thyroid between EBV cells and your immune system. That is, your immune system is producing the antibodies to seek out and destroy the Epstein-Barr virus that’s causing thyroid damage.
“The antibodies that show up on thyroid tests are present because there’s a battle going on in your thyroid between EBV cells and your immune system.”
Let’s think about the name “Hashimoto’s thyroiditis” for a moment. While it may seem big and frightening and cast a shadow over your life, if you break it down, it will lose some of its power over you. “Thyroiditis,” first of all, means inflammation of the thyroid—that’s it. And “Hashimoto” is nothing more than the name of the doctor who first identified the issue. While this was a landmark discovery at the time, an important realization that gave people who were suffering a name for their struggles, it only identified the symptoms, not the underlying cause—and the discovery took place over a century ago. Now it’s time to take the next step.
It wasn’t until the publication of my first book, Medical Medium: Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal, which includes a chapter on hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s, that the truth finally reached the public about EBV as that underlying cause. It’s time to reclaim your power and understand that Hashimoto’s is a label and not a judgment or life sentence. The reason for your suffering does not come from within. Your immune system is not going haywire or out to get you. It’s this virus—this invader—that’s causing the damage, making you feel miserable, and holding you back in life. Your body just needs the proper support, which I’ll describe soon, to triumph over the virus.
Nodules, Cysts, and Tumors
If you’ve ever been diagnosed with a thyroid nodule or cyst, you’ve probably found the diagnosis a bit unsettling. After all, none of us wants to hear that we have a growth, much less one that appears mysteriously with no answer about how to make it go away. Here’s the truth about these lumps: they are yet another sign of your body working hard against the Epstein-Barr virus.
When the immune system isn’t able to destroy the virus altogether, it goes with its fallback option: attempting to wall off the virus with calcium. That’s what thyroid nodules are: calcium prisons for EBV cells. Unfortunately, this doesn’t get rid of the virus, because (1) most of the EBV cells evade getting walled off, and (2) those EBV cells that do get trapped make themselves at home within the calcium walls, continuing to feed off the thyroid and drain it of energy. If the virus cells prosper too much in the nodule, they can even transform it into a living growth—a cyst—which puts even more strain on the thyroid.
“When the immune system isn’t able to destroy the virus altogether, it goes with its fallback option: attempting to wall off the virus with calcium. That’s what thyroid nodules are: calcium prisons for EBV cells.”
If you’ve experienced larger thyroid tumors that are cancerous, know that these are caused by rare, aggressive forms of EBV. Their formation usually indicates that a person also has toxins such as elevated heavy metals and pesticides in their organs.
Meanwhile, all that calcium walling off the virus has to come from somewhere. If someone with a thyroid nodule or cyst doesn’t have enough calcium in the bloodstream because she or he isn’t eating enough calcium-rich foods, then the immune system will extract calcium from the bones, which can lead to osteopenia and eventually osteoporosis.
Viral Symptoms, Perimenopause, and Menopause
While any of the above is happening with your thyroid, it’s very common to experience other symptoms of EBV, too, including depression, anxiety, dizziness, brittle nails, cold hands and feet, ringing or buzzing in the ears, eye floaters, aches and pains, restless legs, insomnia, tingles, and numbness. Many of these symptoms are frequently mistaken for separate issues, which can leave a person highly discouraged, feeling like she or he has multiple health problems, when in reality, it all has to do with the same underlying viral cause.
Further, the hot flashes, weight gain, hair loss, memory loss, fatigue, and brain fog that result from EBV infection are mistaken for side effects of perimenopause or menopause. A woman may receive that “change of life” diagnosis alongside a thyroid diagnosis or instead of one, either way giving her the sense that her body is rebelling and aging her rapidly. As I described in detail in the Medical Medium chapter “Premenstrual Syndrome and Menopause,” though, menopause is not meant to be a painful, uncomfortable process, and in fact marks the beginning of slowed-down aging.
“It just so happened that historically, the incubation period for EBV was such that it started to infect the thyroid and cause symptoms at the same time a woman’s menstrual periods were stopping, and the coincidence was mistaken for causation.”
The classic “menopause” symptoms I listed above are not actually due to menopause. They’re signs that something else is amiss in the body, often due to radiation or pesticide exposure—or the virus Epstein-Barr. It just so happened that historically, the incubation period for EBV was such that it started to infect the thyroid and cause symptoms at the same time a woman’s menstrual periods were stopping, and the coincidence was mistaken for causation. These days, with more aggressive, faster-developing strains of EBV showcasing themselves, women are coming down with hypothyroidism earlier in life, and now it’s not uncommon for 25-year-olds to receive diagnoses of perimenopause. This is a mistake that leaves so many young women in an identity crisis, feeling like they’re growing old before their time, when in reality, the problem is viral—and manageable.
This is critical information for you to hold close, because current medical explanations of hormonal imbalance and thyroid disease leave countless patients feeling that their bodies aren’t to be trusted. They feel betrayed, faulty, weak—when in fact, it’s just the opposite. Your body fights for you. Your body is on your side. Your body loves you unconditionally. It just happens to be up against a pernicious adversary—one that can be tamed with the right approach.
Connecting to this truth and all of the above knowledge about what thyroid illness really is and how it works is the first step in healing from any thyroid condition. You didn’t cause your illness. Your body’s not letting you down. You’re not to blame. You can move forward. You can heal. It changes everything when you know this.
Thyroid Blood Tests
In order to assess the thyroid’s performance, the most straightforward approach would seem to be the common thyroid blood tests. The accuracy of these tests is, unfortunately, inconsistent. To begin with, thyroid hormone readings can vary widely depending on the time of day and the patient’s stress levels. It’s much like the “white coat syndrome” many people experience when walking into a doctor’s office and getting their blood pressure taken. Just sitting there under observation can get your palms sweaty and raise your blood pressure above normal levels, throwing off the accuracy of the readings.
In the same way, sitting in an exam room about to have your blood drawn can get your adrenals pumping, which completely changes your blood chemistry—because suddenly, adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and cortisol (also known as hydrocortisone), both steroids, flood the bloodstream in preparation for fight-or-flight, disrupting homeostasis in the process. These high adrenaline and cortisol levels can make it look on a blood test like you’re producing more than enough of the thyroid-related steroids T4, T3, and TSH—whether you truly are or not. Or that adrenaline and cortisol may be saturating your brain and putting your pituitary gland, which produces the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), into overdrive—again, throwing off blood test results from what they’d look like normally.
“I’ve seen people get a thyroid blood test one week, go back to get blood taken a week later for another purpose, and have the thyroid profiles on each come back with completely different numbers.”
Even if the sight of a needle doesn’t bother you at all, a disruption of homeostasis could still be affecting your blood chemistry. If you’re someone who experiences chronic stress, then you may live with constant elevated adrenaline and cortisol, or you may even have adrenal fatigue, a condition I explain in-depth in my book. With adrenal fatigue, the adrenal glands can produce adrenaline and cortisol erratically, sometimes flooding the bloodstream and sometimes holding back. In this case, your adrenals may be overactive when you’re getting your blood drawn even if the doctor’s office is your favorite place in the world, and so, again, the results can be inaccurate.
I’ve seen people get a thyroid blood test one week, go back to get blood taken a week later for another purpose, and have the thyroid profiles on each come back with completely different numbers. Assessing the results of just one thyroid test is too limiting; it means that doctors can unknowingly miss if a patient has a thyroid condition. With blood pressure, many doctors and nurse practitioners have learned that the best way to deal with inaccurate blood pressure measurements is to take a few readings over the course of an appointment and average them. A similar approach would help with thyroid testing—although what it would really take is a thyroid test once a day for 30 days, and then an average at the end of the month.
Still, this wouldn’t solve everything, because the tests themselves are antiquated. A few decades from now, they’ll be where they need to be. Until then, healthcare professionals and patients have to deal with thyroid tests that are too broad in range and not attuned to the subtle hormonal shifts that can signal a thyroid condition. Millions of women unknowingly walk around with hypothyroids that wouldn’t register on today’s tests. Sometimes, it takes months or years of living with the condition for it to progress to the point that a lab can detect it. In that meantime, a person has to live with worsening health and no answers.
None of which is to say that you should write off thyroid tests. You just need the background above so you can interpret the results with perspective. If you’re going in for thyroid testing, ask to be tested for TSH, free T4, free T3, and thyroid antibodies. Reverse T3 testing is currently a fad that’s not worth dwelling on. While it does reflect genuine problems, it can pick up on so many at once that it’s hard to know what any result means. It’s fine to have your doctor order the test; it just may not help you pinpoint much. And when looking at the results of any thyroid antibodies tests, remind yourself that if antibodies show up, they’re due to viral activity in your thyroid—not a mistaken response by your body—and if antibodies don’t show up, this doesn’t mean EBV isn’t present in the thyroid. Like the others, it’s a test that’s still in progress.
Some advanced medical professionals have caught on to the limits of thyroid testing. They’ve noticed patients who present with classic hypothyroidism symptoms and whose thyroid panels come back in the normal range. These doctors put the patients on thyroid medication anyway, and sometimes, the patients will start to feel better. Finally being taken seriously and heard like this is progress for thyroid patients. Medication also sometimes gives a little more energy, mental clarity, and improved sleep to those patients whose thyroid panels do indicate hypothyroidism. Many others don’t feel relief on thyroid medication.
What we have to keep in mind is that whether a person feels better, worse, or the same on thyroid medication, it is not prescribed for the thyroid itself—it does not heal the thyroid. Rather, these medications, made from synthetic or desiccated animal thyroid, are offered on the theory that they’ll fill in for the hormones that a patient’s body is having trouble producing or converting. What really happens is that the medications’ mild steroid effects give patients partial relief from their low-grade viral infections, and that’s all.
“What we have to keep in mind is that whether a person feels better, worse, or the same on thyroid medication, it is not prescribed for the thyroid itself—it does not heal the thyroid.”
Many patients are not aware of this. They think that because they went to the doctor and received a prescription to treat their thyroid symptoms, the prescription is treating the problem itself. Meanwhile, the EBV can continue to damage the thyroid (and cause other worsening symptoms), and the thyroid disease can continue to progress. If you take medication for a hypothyroid, you’ll still have a hypothyroid, and you’ll still have EBV, unless you take the express measures we’ll look at below to get rid of the virus and care for your thyroid. This explains why you can still be gaining weight, losing hair, feeling fatigued, and generally suffering even after you’ve gone on medication for thyroid issues. It’s a common experience for millions of people: They’re diligently taking their medication every day, and even though that medication is causing thyroid test results to indicate normal hormone levels, all the while, these people’s thyroids are getting worse over the years, because no one knew to look for the underlying issue and address the real cause.
If You Don’t Have a Thyroid Anymore
If you’ve had all or part of your thyroid surgically removed, or if you’ve undergone a radioactive iodine treatment to destroy the gland, there’s a critical detail you need to know: Your body still believes you have your entire thyroid. You must consciously connect to this truth, because it’s your body’s way of helping you survive, adapt, and heal; it means that the rest of your endocrine system works as it’s meant to, in a state of homeostasis, and continues to support the thyroid.
Why would you want your body to continue to support the thyroid gland when it’s not there anymore? Because even if you heard that your surgery removed the gland entirely or your radioactive iodine treatment killed it off completely, the overwhelming probability is that you still have functional thyroid tissue left—and even if you have as little as one percent of your thyroid tissue, it can still produce a small amount of thyroid hormones, which is beneficial to your healing, as well as send out the radio-like frequencies that promote homeostasis. With the proper care, that tissue can regenerate just enough so that your thyroid function improves over time. So as you read the next section on thyroid health, don’t feel left out. Get in the mindset that you have a thyroid that’s there and working hard for you, one that you want to protect and nurture, and you’ll be on your way to healing.
Addressing Thyroid Conditions
If your thyroid is in need of help, you’ve come to the right place. Below are foods, herbs, and supplements that can help restore a damaged thyroid, strengthen the other glands of the endocrine system, and lower the viral load specifically within the thyroid—as well as insight into iodine and a warning about a food trend that’s derailing many who suffer with thyroid issues.
Given that thyroid testing isn’t definitive, you may still be unsure if you’re living with a thyroid condition. The good news is that it doesn’t hurt to help protect your thyroid. Whether it turns out that Epstein-Barr is targeting your gland and causing your symptoms, or there’s another reason you’re suffering, supporting your thyroid is not only great for your endocrine system, it’s also very beneficial for your overall health.
Either way, I recommend that you consult with your doctor about this information to come up with the best individual plan for your health. You may also find it helpful to read Medical Medium, where I offer more insights on healing from EBV, thyroid issues, and dozens of chronic illnesses.
Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, and more have gotten a bad name lately. So have other completely innocent foods such as peaches, pears, strawberries, and spinach. Don’t believe the hype that these foods that contain so-called goitrogens are harmful to the thyroid.
The concept of goitrogens—that is, goiter-causing compounds—has been blown way out of proportion. In the first place, none of these foods contain enough goitrogens to be a health concern. Secondly, the goitrogens present in these foods are bonded to phytochemicals and amino acids that stop the goitrogens from doing harm. Even if you ate 100 pounds of broccoli in a day (which is impossible), the goitrogens still wouldn’t be a concern.
Your thyroid actually relies on these foods; they contain some of the nutrients that the gland needs the most. So don’t pay this goitrogenic food fad any mind! Otherwise, you’ll be missing out on a major opportunity for health.
Concerns About Iodine
Many people are concerned about iodine in relation to hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. To understand whether iodine is beneficial or detrimental for someone with an underactive and/or inflamed thyroid, we have to think about it in the context of what’s causing the thyroid problem in the first place: the virus Epstein-Barr.
Iodine is a disinfectant, effective at killing both viruses and bacteria. You’ve probably used it or heard of it being used as an antiseptic to clean wounds and prevent infection. When it’s in someone’s system, either through diet or supplementation, iodine applies this same germ-fighting ability. This also means that someone with an iodine deficiency is more vulnerable to bacterial and viral infections. So if you have a thyroid infection of EBV that’s causing hypothyroidism and/or Hashimoto’s, you don’t want to be iodine deficient, because it can translate to greater EBV susceptibility.
“The popular concern is that the iodine causes an overproduction of thyroid hormones that the body sees as foreign invaders, which prompts the immune system to attack the thyroid. This theory is incorrect.”
The reason there’s confusion in this area is that when iodine reaches the thyroid, it kills off virus cells at an accelerated rate, which can in turn temporarily elevate inflammation. Those patients for whom EBV is only causing a mild hypothyroid can often do well on iodine, which is beneficial, because it can help tame the virus before it advances to the point of causing Hashimoto’s. On the other hand, too much iodine at once for someone with a high level of thyroiditis (EBV infection of the thyroid) can be overwhelming, because it starts killing off so many virus cells so quickly that the inflammatory response can be quite high and uncomfortable.
This inflammation is often mistaken for an autoimmune response. The popular concern is that the iodine causes an overproduction of thyroid hormones that the body sees as foreign invaders, which prompts the immune system to attack the thyroid. This theory is incorrect; it leaves out the most important factor of all—that Hashimoto’s is the result of a viral infection.
One of the keys for people with hypothyroidism is to avoid being completely deficient in iodine. (Avoiding iodine deficiency can also help prevent breast cancer.) This doesn’t have to mean iodine supplementation; the iodine in sea vegetables such as dulse, kelp, and bladderwrack can be very helpful for combating a thyroid infection. If you’re wondering if iodine supplementation is right for you, talk to your doctor.
Healing Foods and What to Avoid While Getting Better
Among the most healing foods for thyroid conditions are Atlantic dulse, wild blueberries, celery, sprouts, cilantro, garlic, asparagus, radishes, kale, parsley, butter leaf lettuce, spinach, hemp seeds, coconut oil, Brazil nuts, kelp, and cranberries. Variously, they can kill EBV cells, provide micronutrients, repair thyroid tissue, reduce nodule growth, flush toxic heavy metals (which feed EBV) and viral waste, and boost production of thyroid hormones. For maximum benefits, consume at least one cup each of wild blueberries, celery, cilantro, and asparagus daily.
No matter what food belief system you subscribe to, whether paleo, vegetarian, or the like, it’s a good idea to remove eggs, dairy products, pork, canola oil, soy, corn, and gluten from your diet while you’re dealing with a thyroid issue. It’s not that these foods cause inflammation, which is the theory you might have heard. Rather, these foods feed EBV, and then the EBV creates inflammation. With these foods in your diet, the virus can continue to grow and prosper, which means that your thyroid and viral symptoms can continue to stick around.
Healing Herbs & Supplements
Zinc: Kills EBV cells, strengthens the thyroid, and helps protect the endocrine system.
Vitamin B12 (as adenosylcobalamin with methylcobalamin): repairs and strengthens the areas of the nervous and endocrine systems that have been damaged by EBV.
Ester-C: Strengthens the immune system and flushes EBV toxins from the liver.
Spirulina (preferably from Hawaii): Provides critical micronutrients for the thyroid.
Cat’s claw: Helps reduce EBV cells.
Bladderwrack: Provides easily assimilated iodine and trace minerals for the thyroid.
L-tyrosine: Helps increase the production of thyroid hormones.
Ashwagandha: Bolsters the thyroid and adrenal glands and helps stabilize the endocrine system.
Licorice root: Kills EBV cells in the thyroid and aids the adrenal glands.
Lemon balm: Kills EBV cells in the thyroid and dampens nodule growth.
Manganese: Critical for production of thyroid hormone T3.
Selenium: Stimulates the production of thyroid hormone T4.
EPA & DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid): Fortifies the endocrine system and nervous system. Be sure to buy a plant-based (not fish-based) version.
Case History: Stronger Than Ever
Sarah’s friends lived in awe (and a little jealousy) of her ability to take on the world with energy that never flagged. On weekends, she and her boyfriend, Rob, would head to the mountains to hike, and then she’d still want to go out with her girlfriends when she got home. She could eat whatever she wanted and never gain a pound. Rob, who worked as a trainer, loved to show her off at the gym where he worked.
When Sarah was 36, she noticed that she’d put on an extra seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. She could barely fit into her good jeans. At first it seemed like it might just be bloating from her menstrual cycle. But when her period passed, she was still struggling to button her waistband.
She decided she’d go full-throttle at the gym and burn off the extra weight. She also cut out all carbohydrates from her diet.
Sarah’s girlfriend Jessica told her she was happy to see her weight go up a little. “You look much healthier,” she said. Still, Sarah had been more comfortable at her lower weight and knew it wasn’t normal to get heavier out of nowhere. She also knew that Jessica had other reasons for being happy to see Sarah fill out—namely, a history of envy.
In the second week of Sarah’s extra workout and no-carb regimen, she noticed that the number on the scale hadn’t gone down, but her energy had dropped. Rob, who’d never had a problem keeping weight off, told Sarah she just wasn’t applying herself enough at the gym. He also put her on protein shakes to try and build her muscle mass.
Yet Sarah’s weight was going up at a rate of a pound every two weeks, and her energy just kept dropping. She’d once been 115 pounds. The day the scale hit 130, she called her doctor.
After a full workup, Dr. Kiernan explained that Sarah’s thyroid hormone level tests showed that her thyroid levels were elevated, indicating hypothyroidism. Sarah asked what was making that happen. She’d always been healthy, she said, she ate a healthy diet, and she exercised all the time. Dr. Kiernan answered that it was just something that could happen as people aged.
This didn’t compute for Sarah. “Aging” wasn’t part of her vocabulary. She was still in her 30s, she wasn’t even married yet, she didn’t have children—and already she was getting the ailments of an older person?
Still, she took the thyroid medication that Dr. Kiernan prescribed, continued her frequent workouts, and kept avoiding carbs. Yet her weight continued to increase by two pounds every month. When she reached 140 pounds, she called her mother to vent about how disappointed Rob was in her weight gain. He no longer liked to be seen at the gym with her, because he said her body reflected poorly on his skills as a trainer. Rob had stopped inviting her out with his friends and colleagues. The one time she’d been out with them in recent weeks, he’d said a defensive, “Don’t worry about Sarah. She’s just been eating too many carbs,” at the beginning of the evening.
Her mom groaned over Rob’s behavior and said to Sarah, “I know I’ve told you about Anthony before and you haven’t called him. I really think now’s the time.”
In the initial scan, Spirit helped me confirm that Sarah did have a thyroid problem—she was just on the edge of early hypothyroidism. She wasn’t yet at the point of full inflammation of the thyroid, but she was headed there. I hurried to explain that the condition wasn’t a symptom of getting older. A virus—specifically Epstein-Barr—was causing Sarah’s problem.
Right away, we altered Sarah’s diet. We took out hormone-disrupting foods such as eggs and dairy, and minimized her animal protein to once daily. We also increased her consumption of antiviral fruits and vegetables, including papayas, berries, apples, mâche, mangoes, spinach, kale, sprouts, Atlantic dulse, cilantro, and garlic. For supplements, we concentrated on lemon balm, chromium, zinc, and bladderwrack. With this protocol, we were able to reduce the viral load on Sarah’s thyroid, and it returned to producing its normal level of hormones.
At the beginning, Rob was suspicious of this new diet. He thought fruit smoothies with spirulina powder for breakfast, a spinach salad with orange and avocado for lunch, salmon with vegetables for dinner, and fruit for snacks in between was too much sugar and not enough protein.
Within the first two weeks, though, Sarah had lost four pounds. And within the first month, a total of eight pounds. The second month, the weight loss was more gradual, but her energy was increasing. As an added benefit, she felt like she was building muscles she’d never even felt before.
After three and a half months, she was back to 115 pounds—with more muscle than the last time she’d been that weight.
Meanwhile, Sarah told Dr. Kiernan she wanted to wean off the thyroid medication. Though it went against what he’d been taught, Dr. Kiernan couldn’t deny that Sarah’s thyroid was restoring its normal function, and Sarah was coming back to life before his eyes. Soon, Sarah was off the medication entirely.
Now when Rob had gym clients who were having trouble losing weight, he told them all about his girlfriend’s weight-loss story (implying he’d been the one to help her), and put those clients on cleanse diets like Sarah’s.
Rob apologized to Sarah for his past behavior and hinted that he might be popping the question soon. Sarah told me that while Rob is easy on the eyes, she’s not so quick to commit to him after seeing the way he treated her when times got hard. They remain unmarried.
If you’ve struggled with your health, I understand what you might have suffered. I can only imagine what you’ve gone through. It’s not your fault; you didn’t deserve any of it. You didn’t create your illness or imagine it. You’re not a bad person. You can heal and move forward.
From the simple act of reading this far, you’ve started yourself on the path to healing. The power you lost when you thought your body was letting you down is now back in your hands. Trust in your body’s ability to get better and support you has already begun to flow back to you.
Know that I stand behind you, that I believe in you, that as you take care of your health, you’ll be a beacon of light to others on the healing path. I can’t wait for you to experience what’s next. I wish you every blessing.
For over twenty-five years, Anthony William has devoted his life to helping people overcome and prevent illness—and discover the lives they were meant to live. What he does is several decades ahead of scientific discovery. His compassionate approach has time and again given relief and results to those who seek him out. He is the host of the weekly radio show “Medical Medium” and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Medical Medium Thyroid Healing: The Truth behind Hashimoto’s, Graves’, Insomnia, Hypothyroidism, Thyroid Nodules & Epstein Barr; Medical Medium Life-Changing Foods: Save Yourself and the Ones You Love with the Hidden Healing Powers of Fruits & Vegetables; and Medical Medium: Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal.
The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
Related: Female Hormones