Episode 88 | Dr. Alan Christianson | Reset Your Thyroid
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If you are gaining despite intense efforts, experiencing low energy levels, feeling fatigued and dragged down early in the day, or if your brain is moving more slowly, your thyroid gland could be the blame.
Today’s brand new podcast episode with Dr. Alan Christianson is all about the thyroid… that butterfly shaped gland located in the lower front of the neck.
Your thyroid makes thyroid hormone, which in turn goes into the bloodstream, creating energy and enhancing the activity of every function in your body. It determines your mood, skin and hair health, body temperature, blood sugar levels, hormonal function (especially as they relate to PMS and menopause), and whether you’re more likely to gain or lose weight.
Overproduction or underproduction of hormones in the thyroid can cause a host of problems — including Hashimoto’s syndrome, Grave’s disease, and hypothyroidism.
Age, gender and genetics all play a role in thyroid disease… and yet the truth is that most thyroid issues are driven by simple choices in diet and lifestyle that you can control.
In today’s show, you’ll discover…
• One surprise element that’s essential to life… but can be devastating and disruptive when it comes to your thyroid
• Symptoms signaling that your thyroid may be awry, such as feeling too hot or too cold, hair loss, or a swelling neck
• Thyroid disorder or menopause… how to tell the difference
• When to talk to your doctor and be tested
Dr. Alan Christianson has spent decades helping people deal with thyroid disease, and has seen how absolutely devastating it can be. Indeed, it can get in the way of everything that matters in life. As he discusses in his upcoming book, The Thyroid Reset Diet, thyroid disease is not a permanent condition and most of the time, it can be reversed.
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Follow Along With The Transcript
[KATHY SMITH]: Alan, welcome back to the show.
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: Hey, Kathy. It’s great to be here with you. Thanks for having me.
[KATHY SMITH]: It’s so much fun to have you on the show. We talked about this in our last podcast because we started talking a bit about thyroid and about my issues with Graves’ Disease and with thyroid disease. And so, you gave me a little tip on that last show.
After we turned off the knob and after we went into silent, you said, “Kathy, one thing that you have to start thinking about,” and I’m not going to do the reveal. I did not do it in the intro, and I’m not going to do it now.
So, why don’t you take us back into why did you get into studying thyroid and what is this new research that you’ve come across?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: For the first part, why did I get into studying thyroid? In medical school, in my residency, I saw that there were just so many people in need. I saw that they were struggling, that the conventional world – the alternative world – they each had a few little nuggets in there. But they were also missing the boat in a lot of ways. And it became apparent that this was just going to be my calling.
And then, in terms of this current focus, it’s actually an exciting time. I call this the Thyroid Renaissance of sorts. In 2007, we passed the century mark after Dr. Hakaru Hashimoto defined and explained Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease.
And a lot of researchers said, “What do we have to show for the last 100 years? How far have we come from that?” And they realized that there was a long way we needed to go. So, it caused a lot of redoubling of efforts, re-analysis of old biases, and tons of new insights of incoming from that. And that’s what I decided to share with your audience here.
[KATHY SMITH]: So, it’s interesting because the element that you started talking about in your book and you talked to me about was iodine. What I found interesting when I read the introduction to your book is that it wasn’t that long ago when there were countries around the world – and in the United States – where we were having problems with not enough iodine in our diets. So, there was not enough iodine, which was causing problems.
And at that point, a transition happened. I’d love for you to go through the history of this. Because I was sucked in after the intro and the first chapter because of how amazing the turn-around in a very short period of time– decades. Not centuries but decades.
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: Yeah. The most obvious issue that people have been aware of has been goiter, when someone has a large, swollen neck and you can see it. So, back in about the 1910s/1920s, public health officials were aware of this being a big problem, especially in some parts of the country like those around large bodies of fresh water. So, Michigan was the epicenter of this.
At that time, one-third of the kids who were going to school had visible goiters. And this came to the attention of the government, because in World War I, they had to reject a large number (over one-quarter) of possible military recruits because of goiter. So, they wanted to figure out what they could do about this.
And they started adding iodine to the salt. This was first done in Michigan. And this was a success. The rate of goiter went down tenfold in the coming decade.
But this is the thing. It’s like this exact and narrow range. They got out of the range that would cause goiter. But after that, we started seeing autoimmune disease show up in America.
One group that was active with the Mayo clinic in Olmsted County, Minnesota, they were looking at the rates of autoimmune thyroid disease. And before and after iodine fortification, the change of autoimmune thyroid disease amongst women in their 30s and 40s went up 52-fold – not percent, but fold.
[KATHY SMITH]: That’s shocking. That’s crazy when you think about that number. So, we talk about salt – iodized salt. We’re not talking about sea salt or Himalayan salt, but literally salt that’s been iodized. Is that the main culprit or are there other hidden– I know salt is hidden in most of our foods. Hidden or not hidden, it’s in most of our canned products, our packaged foods, our processed foods. So, is this another factor that it’s not just the salt shaker, but it’s all the processed food?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: Yes. That’s a factor. And there’s good news with salt. We will talk more about some of the hidden sources and ways to work around them. But salt is one, there are some very safe options that you can use salt in ways that you would otherwise and completely avoid extraneous amounts of iodine.
Sea salt has some. It’s not fortified with it normally. But the amounts are really erratic. And this is bizarre, Kathy, but when I wrote the book, I wanted to give readers full information about all types of salt. And Himalayan salt is from the land. I thought it would be a lower source of iodine, but the essays that have been done show that it’s actually higher than iodized fortified salt.
[KATHY SMITH]: Really? Oh my gosh. I didn’t realize that. Once again, I did not know. I would think that would be a smart choice.
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: I would have thought so too.
[KATHY SMITH]: Why don’t we just take two steps back for just the audience so we’re all on a level playing field here. Tell us, again, about the thyroid. I talked about it in the introduction, but I guess I can’t overemphasize, especially after reading your book, how important this gland is. But why don’t you kind of explain how it works?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: It’s crazy important. It’s a small thing, and it makes microscopic amounts of hormone. The amounts are so small that if you could put in your hand, you couldn’t even see it. It’s literally fractions of a grain of salt is what it produces. But if that was gone, we couldn’t live more than two weeks.
And the subtlest changes in those thyroid hormone levels can be the total difference between feeling great, having an effortless metabolism, good energy, repairing and not having injuries, or all those things not working. You mentioned some big factors: unexplained fatigue, weight that won’t resolve with exercise, ease of injury, difficulty with menopause, perimenopause. So, it effects quite a bit.
And the chemistry of it is that the gland concentrates iodine and uses that to build hormone. And iodine is this high-energy element that’s very different than all the other elements, like calcium and magnesium, we consume. I almost imagine handling it with thick gloves and tongs, like a smoking cauldron. It’s a volatile thing.
So, if we get just the right amounts of it – not too little, not too much – everything is perfect. But what we’re coming to learn is that many people have a reasonable range in which it could up or down where they’re fine. But about one-third of people are prone to thyroid disease. And the difference amongst them is really that they’ve got a narrower tolerance. They really can’t tolerate the highs or lows the way that other people can.
[KATHY SMITH]: So, you mentioned last time, by the way, that I should avoid seaweed because that is very high in iodine. So, sushi and things like that is something that I should avoid. We’ll jump to that in a second.
What I wanted to get into and just to tell the audience, when I was in my 30s, I had a television show called the Alive & Well Show. I would show up, and I would open the show with exercise, and by the first hour of the show, I literally could hardly move. My energy was dropping. When I would get done with the show, I would have to go home and get in bed. I started to feel slightly moody, not depressed, but just out of sorts. And again, the PMS thing was a major problem.
What I found was that it started affecting my eyes, and I started getting something called Graves’ Disease, which I mentioned to you, Alan. And when I went to all sorts of doctors, nobody could diagnose it. Then, I went to UCLA Medical Center, and they said, “You have Graves’ Disease, and you have a thyroid issue.”
Now, the interesting thing is the way that it was treated, and still is treated most of the time, is they had to do something with my eyes. But then, also, it’s treated with taking thyroid hormone. And by taking that hormone, you go in, you get blood tests every six months, every year, and then, they adjust your thyroid hormone depending on those results.
So, tell me. What am I doing wrong, Alan? Or what is wrong with that scenario?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: Well, nothing’s really wrong with that scenario. Graves’ disease is a little more rare. And there are those to where their intake of iodine can predispose them to it. Once it’s active and it’s really going, there’s nothing you should have done differently.
Now, hypothyroidism can occur randomly by itself. More commonly, it can occur as a consequence of autoimmunity where the immune system attacks the thyroid. So, Kathy, in your case, it’s also autoimmune. But rather than attacking the inner working of the thyroid and making it unable to generate hormone, with Graves’ disease, you’re attacking the outside of the thyroid. And your thyroid thinks it’s being told to work when it’s not.
So, your brain normally tells it how much hormone to make. And with Graves’ disease, the immune cells are like hitting the same doorbell. They’re setting off the doorbell, but there’s no one there.
Then, with Hashimoto’s, those immune cells, they get inside the thyroid, and they break it down so it can’t generate hormone anymore. In those cases, that’s where there’s a well-documented opportunity to reverse the disease by regulating iodine.
[KATHY SMITH]: Okay. So, we have, I think, over 100,000 people now that have joined us at the Fit Over Forty group that I’ve started. And some of the questions that come in are about thyroid. “Do I have something off with my thyroid. I’m having problems losing weight.” Or, “My energy levels are low.” Or, “I have a foggy brain.”
There’s a lot of factors that go into why that could be happening. But are you suggesting that thyroid could be one of the possibilities?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: It sure can. It can cause all of the symptoms you’ve mentioned. And it doesn’t always occur in isolation. For example, men that have thyroid disease also have some levels of anemia. Others might have parathyroid disease. Others might have apnea.
And of course, symptoms like that can occur for other reasons altogether. But for a good chunk of people, that can be present. And either it’s often not diagnosed or it’s late to be diagnosed like it was in your case. And then, even for those to whom it has been diagnosed and treated, a big percent of them haven’t yet had their symptoms resolved.
And many put a lot of energy and effort and wishing into their thyroid to work normally again. So, it’s really exciting to find a way in which they can better resolve their symptoms. And in many cases, they can have their thyroid not need ongoing care.
[KATHY SMITH]: Let’s talk about your book, first of all. And then, also, some of the success, but some of the stories that you wrote about in the book and people reversing thyroid disease in a short period of time.
And I want to also mention that it was shocking to hear– and make sure I have this right– that thyroid cancer is the number one up-and-coming cancer right now. Is that correct?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: It’s not the most common cancer, but you said it correctly. It’s the most rapidly increasing type of cancer especially amongst women in their 30s and 40s. It’s gone up over three-fold in the last couple of decades.
[KATHY SMITH]: Okay. So, why don’t you tell us about the diet, and how can we start to take care of our thyroid, manage it and talk about the 28-day meal plan that you put together in the book.
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: Yeah. Very simple thing. So, people that are prone to thyroid disease, there’s a certain iodine window that will make them not likely to get worse. And there’s lower and a narrower window that gives them a chance to heal up and get better.
So, the 28-day process is how do you get in that reset zone. How do you get to where you’re at a low enough level to where any extra amounts of iodine that are stuck in your thyroid, you can get rid of those and give the gland a chance to heal?
And once you’ve done that, then there’s more leeway. You’ve got more tolerance. You’ve got more options. It’s a funny thing, because people have tried a lot of diets and have seen them work sometimes.
And a common thread amongst very different diets is that they inadvertently lower iodine. So, some have talked about going autoimmune paleo. Some have gone vegan. Some have gone gluten free. And given the biggest sources of iodine in the diet, all of those diets end up being low in iodine. So, the important thread is just getting that to a good range.
Iodine’s not a bad thing. We need some. But if you get that window in which it’s low enough, the gland can fix itself. And that was one of the new findings as well. Before that, because of the immune component, once thyroid disease was up and running, it would just keep on going by its own steam. But now we know that if get your body out of the range, then it fixes itself in many cases.
[KATHY SMITH]: So, let’s get back to some of the hidden sources of iodine.
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: One shocker for me was cosmetics. I was completely unaware of that until I started digging into this book. They’ve pulled iodine out of hand sanitizers. That was just done a couple of years ago. But there were many cases of hospital workers who had use hand sanitizers dozens and dozens and dozens of times throughout the course of the shift. They were getting thyroid disease. They were at unsafe levels of iodine because of that.
And we’ve now learned that it’s been taken out of those sorts of products, but there are many other consumer products that’s not been regulated yet. So, things like conditioner for example. Many conditioners use a compound called PBP. And a large amount of PBP is iodine. And when you leave it on your skin for periods of time, some of that does absorb and does get in your bloodstream.
[KATHY SMITH]: So, you’re talking about skin and hair? Skin products, hair products, all sorts of cosmetics, but are we thinking makeups also? Like bronzers?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: I’ve thought this through, and there are some things that the volume that we use are small enough to where it’s probably not relevant. So, for example, mascaras. There’s a fair amount of iodine ingredients in mascara. But the actual mass that you would put on your body, it’s on your eyelashes. It’s not that much, so I don’t think that’s really relevant. The things we put on in larger quantities and leave on for a while, like conditioner on the scalp, face creams, body lotions, those are things that the amounts are relevant. And the volume you use is relevant. And the duration of application is relevant.
[KATHY SMITH]: So, it seems like salt is in just about everything. So, should we be looking for no-salt beans or soups or chips or things like that? Do we want to start buying and purchasing items that have no salt when possible? Or is that going to extreme?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: Well, during the time of the reset process – the 28-day process – it is better to avoid process salts. And you mentioned some exact, good ways to go about doing that. There are many salts that are perfectly safe and are devoid of iodine. Kosher salts are one of the better examples. There’s Diamond brand and Morton brand and other kosher salts on the market.
Most chefs, when you look at their salt preferences, they will argue that iodized salt imparts a bitter flavor. So, for culinary purposes, it’s also nice to use the Kosher salt like the top chefs do. It’s an easy thing to work around.
Now, processed foods, they’re often made with non-iodized salt but not always. So, during that 28-day window, you do want to avoid things that list out salt as an ingredient unless you’re using your own salt. During the maintenance stage is probably less critical.
[KATHY SMITH]: What about supplements. I know you talked about having supplements and that a lot of times, that iodine is such a volatile element that even when it’s being measures, when it’s being put in products, that the amount changes because it is volatile. Is that correct?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: That’s exactly correct. There is one big study in which they took a list of 120 of the most popular commonly used multivitamins, and they randomly selected half of them. And they analyzed them. They just went and bought them at a store like you or I would, and then they analyzed them for their iodine content. And they contrasted that against the labeled iodine content, and there wasn’t once where a single product was even within 5% of its targeted iodine content. And many products have three or four times more than they were supposed to. So, yeah, if someone’s wanting to regulate their iodine, one of the easiest things is just don’t go out of your way to take it in pills.
[KATHY SMITH]: Okay. So, let’s just say that you’re starting somebody on the thyroid reset diet. Is it going to be super restrictive with calories and types of foods? Or is it more just focusing on the iodine?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: The biggest factor by far is the iodine. I encourage a healthy diet for a million reasons. It’s important for so many reasons. But in terms of the goal of just getting your thyroid back to reset. That’s the one thing that has the biggest impact by far. And what’s exciting is that I’ve always been concerned about diets that get too restrictive long term when you cut out lots and lots of food categories.
So, this doesn’t have to be like that. In each food category, there are examples of foods that have too much iodine, but there are plenty of examples of foods that do not. So, it’s a cool thing. You focus on healthy foods for a lot of reasons. But yet, there’s no big categories that need to be cut out long term.
[KATHY SMITH]: I think that’s smart that you still give people lots of choices. Because the restrictive diets, as we know, work for a couple of weeks but aren’t sensible for long term. They’re hard to stick to.
We talked about iodine, and I know we’re limited on time here. But what else impacts the thyroid? What are the other things we should be thinking about when we think about our thyroid gland?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: The second most relevant factor is going to be selenium by far. I talked about those windows we’ve got where some have a broader iodine window and some have a narrower window. Well, to some extent, that is hard wired and we cannot change it completely. But the biggest single factor that does change that is whether or not we’re low in selenium. That’s a super useful mineral for most parts of your body. But pretty much everything your thyroid does depends upon the right amount of selenium as well.
The easiest thing to work into the diet to be assured about is a couple of Brazil nuts per day. They’re this ridiculously dense source of selenium. It’s in a lot of supplements, but I don’t encourage extreme amounts in supplementation. You wouldn’t want to go above about 200 micrograms per day in supplements. It gets to be counterproductive.
But adding some to the diet by two to four Brazil nuts per day is super helpful. And not only thyroid function but many cancer risks, many markers of liver function, blood sugar regulation. So, selenium is a powerfully helpful nutrient.
[KATHY SMITH]: I started the Brazil nuts. The only thing you have to warn people about is that they’re also a very dense food. I like how you say two to four, because it’s not like your cashews. It’s like 15 Brazil nuts, there’s 580 calories in one handful. Yeah. They’re very dense food.
But I remember hearing about Brazil nuts and saying, “I’m going to try this.” I remember my mom used to eat tons of Brazil nuts. I don’t know why. Oh! I do know why. Not in this case, but we lived in São Paulo, Brazil when we were younger. I’m not saying that’s why, because I don’t even know if Brazil nuts come from Brazil.
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: They do.
[KATHY SMITH]: They do? All right. I learned something. Besides iodine, I learned about Brazil nuts.
Let’s just jump into stress, because I think that’s what triggered my whole thyroid issue. Stress seems to impact everything in our bodies. And so, is that a factor with thyroid disease?
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: Yeah. That’s been studied. And, Kathy, you’re right. There’s a lot of data around Graves’ disease especially. Anyone at any point and time could say, “Here’s something that I feel stressed about.” But there are ways you can quantify that. Some events we go through are bigger than others, and someone can do questionnaires and ask about in the last 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, have you experienced things like bereavement – loss of a loved one? Bankruptcy – maybe you have financial stress or loss of a job.
[KATHY SMITH]: Or a pandemic.
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: Yeah. A pandemic for sure. That’s going to hit a lot those. But yeah, for sure, especially with Graves’, there’s been some mixed data about Hashimoto’s disease. But it probably is a factor as well when it comes on. And certainly, it doesn’t do the body any favors.
[KATHY SMITH]: Let’s just wrap up by saying, okay, they haven’t bought your book yet. But they’re listening to the podcast. They’re watching you and saying, “What can I start tomorrow? What would be the four things I should start tomorrow just to make sure that I have my iodine, have my selenium?”
I’m already starting going back to the four Brazil nuts. But what else would you start tomorrow? Four!
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: First off would be getting some good screening, having a relationship with someone to help evaluate your thyroid. If it is a factor, you want some guidance in the process. Many are already on medication. And if they go on an iodine-regulated diet, their medication will no longer suit them. They’ll need less. So, it does take some help to adjust it and walk them off as your body needs less. So, I would put that as number one.
Brazil nuts are awesome. I would put those as number two.
The third one, which is just an easy one is just avoid sea vegetables if you’re prone to thyroid disease. There are things that we don’t often have in our American diets, but if we do, we get so much from them.
Then, probably number four is just doing safer versions of salt. You have Kosher salts or easy things are always available.
The other thing you can find in pretty much all supermarkets are salts that are made for pickling or for canning. And they’re often just called non-iodized table salt or they’re called pickling salt or they’re called canning salt. But those or Kosher salts are fine to use at home. They have the exact same flavor and no problems with them.
[KATHY SMITH]: Okay. I’m switching out my salt today. I can’t believe that I thought that my was the good one – the Himalayan salt. That’s interesting.
Well, we learn. And that’s how we grow. Right? That’s great.
Well, Alan, it’s always a pleasure. It’s always fun seeing you. So, I’ll say my goodbyes. I can’t wait to have you on the show again. You’re a regular now.
[ALAN CHRISTIANSON]: It’s an honor. It’s always great to see you, Kathy. Thanks so much.
[KATHY SMITH]: Yeah. Big kiss and hug.
It’s always a pleasure having Alan on the show. The book is the first time this information has been made available to the public in the form of a healthy diet that does not restrict food and calories. And these changes are so much easier to make than you can even imagine.
So, if you’re among the millions of people with an unsafe iodine intake and experiencing fatigue, stubborn weight gain, brain fog, or hair loss, it could be that it has something to do with your thyroid.
So, check out the Thyroid Reset Diet and that could just be the answer and one of these things that could be trial and error. There’s nothing harmful in trying it. I know that when I have jumped into certain programs, it really, a lot of times, just gets you to look at the food that you’re eating right now, and analyze it. The book can show you not only how to reset your thyroid, but it can also do it in a short period of time.
He’s got studies in there that people, within a few months, can reset it. And with the right guidance, you can get back on track with the thyroid and maybe get off medication. I’m not saying that’s the case or not. But he’s got lots of studies over and over in the book and lots of examples where people do get off their thyroid medications.
On that note, it’s been a pleasure. I love being with you. So, until next time, here’s to your health.