Ashley James And Dr. Alan Christianson
- Wolff-Chaikoff effect
- Iodine vs. iodide
- Myth-busting halogens
- Three broad categories of thyroid disease
In this episode, Dr. Alan Christianson is back to talk about his new book, The Thyroid Reset Diet. He busts some medical myths about halogens and thyroid diseases. He also shares that it’s not about consuming more or less iodine, but it’s more about how much we need and how much we can tolerate.
Hello, true health seeker, and welcome to another exciting episode of the Learn True Health podcast. Today we have back on the show Dr. Alan Christianson who was in episode 307 and in episode 324. I highly recommend you go back and check out those episodes. You can learn more about him, his story, and the work that he does as a Naturopathic endocrinologist.
I had him on the show previously talking about thyroid, and that was before he had published his book, which we’re discussing today, The Thyroid Reset Diet. He goes into so much more detail in this episode so I’m really excited. And we also had him on the show in episode 307 talking about The Metabolism Reset Diet.
Since his expertise lies in both holistic medicine and in endocrinology, I think it’s fascinating to learn from him. He really does love to bring in the science, bring in the studies, and the proof, the evidence, and the research to dispel the myths. There are so many myths when it comes to medicine, right? There’s so much dogma and so many beliefs that are not associated with actual science, are not grounded in science. So he likes to dispel that, and instead of following assumptions, beliefs, or hypotheses, he sticks with what is true, what’s proven, and then uses holistic medicine as much as possible to support your body’s ability to heal itself so that you can get so healthy you don’t need to be on medication anymore.
I just want that for you so badly. I want everyone to be able to get so healthy that they can reduce their meds and even get to the point where they can safely and healthily get off of medication because they no longer need it. Of course, there’s always the exception to the rule like a type 1 diabetic, but I have even seen type 1 and type 1 diabetics significantly reduce their amount of insulin needed, which is so exciting because they were able to optimize their body’s ability to use insulin in a healthy way instead of having developed insulin resistance. So, with that, there’s so much you’re going to learn from Dr. Alan Christianson today.
And there’s one thing I wanted to touch on. Since this week, I’m really focusing on how supportive using specific infrared therapy is for your health. I used it to detoxify heavy metals, it had such a powerful impact on my life. But there’s actually a lot of evidence to show that if you have thyroid problems, using regular sauna therapy, what that looks like is spending about 20 to 30 minutes every day or every other day in a sauna and specifically the Sunlighten Sauna because they are extremely low toxic.
Most saunas out there, a lot of toxicity, unfortunately. They’re extremely low EMF, which means that even though there are electronics in them, they’re not emitting an electromagnetic field that is dangerous to you. And the Sunlighten Sauna uses the full spectrum, it’s like sunlight. It uses the full spectrum of mid, near, and far.
And the reason why that is better than any other sauna, and I’ve had entire interviews on this. You can search Sunlighten or search sauna when you go to learntruehealth.com. What’s really interesting about the near and the mid-infrared is that it speeds up wound healing, it decreases chronic pain very quickly, and it decreases inflammation. So someone can come into a sauna with pain and walk out with significantly less pain, sometimes it helps pain go away completely depending on the cause of the pain, and decreases inflammation.
Not only does it help with detoxification, which I’ve talked about before, weight loss, and improvement in metabolism, but it also improves collagen production. So there’s that vein inside of us. We’re like, I’d like to avoid wrinkles or I’d like to have firmer skin, have more tone, have healthier-looking skin, and just healthier skin in general, and healthier tissue. That is something that is achieved with sauna therapy because the near and mid-infrared spectrum helps to improve skin health. And so, some women and some men use their sauna, the Sunlighten System specifically, for vanity sake, and why not? But really, my focus has always been on the health aspect.
And so what we’re getting is we’re seeing that through improving the metabolism, decreasing inflammation, improving cardiovascular function, and improving body temperature, you are also supporting the thyroid function. There are studies out there that show it, which is really exciting.
The general benefits of infrared sauna—relaxation, stress relief, which is great, in and of itself, especially if you’re combating a health issue like thyroid problems. Oftentimes, those with stress and especially medical stress, will go to food like sugar, alcohol, or cigarettes as a form of stress relief. The unfortunate part of that is that’s obviously hurting the body. Where we could use sauna therapy every day to improve stress levels because you can actually decrease stress levels in the body by using sauna therapy.
Detoxification, cellular health, and wound healing is improved. Cardiovascular function is improved. Blood pressure is regulated, so if you have high blood pressure or low-pressure blood pressure it actually helps to balance it. Anti-aging and the cleansing of the skin, weight loss, which we already talked about. You burn about 500 calories per sauna session. Circulation improves greatly, and then the pain relief, which we talked about. But there’s even more, there’s so much, and it’s great.
If you want to just internet search thyroid health and sauna therapy or infrared sauna and thyroid health, you’ll see lots of articles, lots of studies. It’s fun to look at. There’s even a study where it increased the thyroid-stimulating hormone. So if you know you have low thyroid-stimulating hormone, it was for a specific cohort of people that had low thyroid-stimulating hormone. So just very interesting how we can utilize nutrition—which we’re going to talk about today—and we can utilize lifestyle changes such as using the Sunlighten Sauna System in order to support overall health. So the whole body, holistic health, emotional health, as well as physical health, and also thyroid health.
Now, Sunlighten does offer my listeners a great discount, so if you do decide to call them, check them out, and ask them questions because they have systems that are big enough for two or three people, and then they have the personal size ones—much, much smaller, especially if you live in a very small space like I do now, then you would be interested in their Solo System. They even have a small sauna that is a wooden sauna, but it’s kind of like a TARDIS if you know about Doctor Who. It actually fits just into the corner of a room, so it doesn’t take up that much space. Two people can fit in it, or one very comfortably can fit in it. But that used to be in the second bedroom of our house. It would just fit into the corner, kind of the size of two small closets or one large closet basically.
They have many different sizes to fit your needs. And what I do love about their company is they’re so health-focused. Their entire purpose is to support your body’s ability to heal itself, be as healthy, and feel as good as possible. I can’t tell you how amazing I feel when I come out of a Sunlighten Sauna. I absolutely love it. I kind of became addicted to it. I’d rather be addicted to my sauna than addicted to drugs or alcohol for stress relief. So, as addictions go, it’s pretty great when you become addicted to kale and sauna therapy.
Fantastic. Thank you so much for being a listener. Thank you so much for supporting the show by sharing it with those you care about. If you do decide to get a Sunlighten, you know you will get a great discount. I did interview the founder, Connie Zack. You can listen to that episode, and she promised that she would always give a fantastic discount to all the listeners, so make sure you mention Learn True Health with Ashley James when you call Sunlighten. You can just Google them and give them a call, they’re really great there. They’ll answer all your questions.
Right now I know they’re having a special going on in the first part of August or maybe all of August, I’m not sure. But just give them a call and ask the specialist. It’s something like free shipping and a percentage off or a discount off of their models. Just give them a call and let them know Ashley James sent you and that you get that special discount.
And then if you have any more questions, a lot of our listeners are in the Facebook group, the Learn True Health Facebook group, and they also have gotten a Sunlighten Sauna. They’ve shared their experiences so you can start a conversation there. We can all talk about our experiences with the Sunlighten Sauna.
Excellent. Enjoy today’s interview. Please come join the Facebook group, the Learn True Health Facebook group. And please talk about this episode if you have questions or comments, want to talk about what you learned, or maybe something that came up for you that you want to discuss with other listeners and myself, I would absolutely love that. Just search Learn True Health on Facebook or go to learntruehealth.com/group. Have yourself a fantastic rest of your day and enjoy the show.
[00:09:52] Ashley James: Welcome to the Learn True Health podcast. I’m your host, Ashley James. This is episode 465. I am so excited for today’s guests. We have back on the show Dr. Alan Christianson. You can go to drchristianson.com to check out his amazing website. Back when we had you on the show in episode 324, you were sharing with us The Metabolism Reset Diet, which was pretty mind-blowing and you dropped these little nuggets which kind of blew my mind.
One of them was about how most people actually are consuming too much iodine instead of too little, which I just did an interview with a doctor who swears we all need to be taking copious amounts of iodine. So this is going to be one of those things wherein the journey to our health, in our own personal health, we will come across contradictions.
Atkins versus plant-based, right? That’s just one of those big ones. Should I eat more meat or no meat? Should I go all meat or no meat? Should I eat more fat or no fat? There are some people who swear by keto and they’re like, oh, I feel amazing, and some people eat zero fat and they eat a whole food plant-based diet with no added fat and they feel amazing. How is it that complete opposites both can lead to health for certain people?
Well, some doctors swear by iodine and say that no one’s getting enough and we need more, and here you are with an amazing book, The Thyroid Reset Diet. One of the things that just blew my mind was that you share and you back it up with a lot of evidence that we are actually getting too much, which I find really interesting. Now, you’ve also written a book The Adrenal Reset Diet. I’m fascinated about that topic. I’d love to have you on the show again at some point to go over that because so many people suffer from adrenal fatigue, whether they know it or not, and reach for more and more caffeine, sugar, and stimulants to cope with adrenal fatigue. So I’d really love to have you back on the show to teach us about that.
But let’s dive into thyroid. Now, for those who’d like to learn more about Dr. Christianson’s background, you can go to episode 324 because we did cover his bio. You’re a holistic doctor, you’re a Naturopathic physician, and you’re very well researched. I really love your book The Thyroid Reset Diet. In fact, I could hardly hold on to it because every time I was reading it—so I would always read when I went on playdates or took my son to the park, and all the moms would see the cover and be like, I have thyroid problems. Then I’d be like, okay, you can borrow this for three days, but then you have to give it back to me on Thursday when I meet you at gymnastics because I haven’t finished reading this book. I kept lending it.
At one point I just would open it up to the graphs and be like okay, it boils down to this look at this graph, look at this graph, see this, and then they’re like, well, how do I eat? And then I’m like, okay, well, you can eat this way. Go to the back of the book and here’s the diet and here’s the questionnaire. So it was a lot of fun sharing your book in the passion, enthusiasm, of all the women. Actually, one man came to me and he does not look like he has any health problems and he’s like, actually I have a really low thyroid. I lent him the book for a week too.
So, everyone thought it was really interesting and several of my friends ended up just buying a copy for themselves. So, this whole concept first of all of too much iodine is radical because we’re all told in the holistic space that we need more iodine. So I definitely want to jump into that and allow you to teach more about how we can reset our thyroid and support our thyroid in going back to healthy levels. So many people out there have thyroid issues it’s becoming just an increasing problem. First of all, you’ve written all these other books. Did you have an aha moment? What had you want to write an entire book on supporting thyroid health?
[00:14:08] Dr. Alan Christianson: Well, the research drove me to it. I saw this story clearly represented in the medical literature and no one was talking about it. I’ve known forever that the thyroid needs iodine. I’m an endocrinologist and that stuff that we learned pretty early on. Starting in about 2002, there became a big fad in the natural health space of giving massive amounts of it. Treating thyroid disease, I saw the complications from people who were taking too much and how it was worsening or causing thyroid disease for those that didn’t have it.
So I was well aware of the dangers of excess, but in the last four or five years, there’s been this mounting body about how excess might not be all that much, and how there may be an opportunity to reverse disease by controlling it. So it was really just driven by data that needed to be given a voice.
[00:14:58] Ashley James: And you show pretty clearly that different countries around the world, when they added iodine in the form of adding it to their salt for example and they added iodine into the food supply and how thyroid problems mounted pretty heavily. Well, one thing that’s been explained, and I’m sure you know way more about it than I do, is this idea of halogen poisoning. That fluoride, bromine, chloride has been added to our water and our food for the last 15 years or so.
What is going on? We’re being poisoned with these halogens, to which iodine is one of them. And my understanding is that things like fluoride block iodine. And so, when you looked at this information and saw that people were consuming more iodine and thus having increasing thyroid problems, did you also take into account that other halogens were increasing like countries started to add fluoride to the water, bromine to the flour, chlorine in the water as well. Did that come into account?
[00:16:13] Dr. Alan Christianson: For sure. Let’s back up a few steps too. People do talk about needing more or needing less. More and less in my vocabulary are four-letter words. So if you think it through, more to take into its ultimate extreme is basically infinite because more is more. Whatever you’re consuming today you need more, so you consume an infinite amount, you consume nothing but iodine, it’s silly. And then less is none, taken to its extreme. No matter how much you’re consuming, if you need to consume less, you’ll eventually get to none. Those are words I don’t like to use in terms of nutrients or foods or really much of anything.
There are amounts and we know that the thyroid needs iodine, it’s not the enemy. It’s necessary, but it’s necessary in certain amounts. There are two big considerations. Here’s how much we require, and how much we can tolerate. And now, of course, people are different. What we see is that the requirement differences are quite small. There are not big differences overpopulations in iodine requirements. Past predictable standards like body size, age, gender pregnancy status. So once you know some of those things, you can pretty well peg iodine requirements. Even absorption doesn’t vary too much. But tolerance varies tremendously.
A lot of people can tolerate occasional high doses or persistent moderately high doses with no big consequences. But they’re not the ones who are apt to get thyroid disease. So those who are apt to get it are those who cannot tolerate much extra. And it really comes down to just how iodine works as a nutrient and how it works in the thyroid.
So, big picture, it’s the richest source of free radicals of all known elements in the nutritional profile. There’s no other nutritional element that generates free radicals like iodine. That’s why it’s been used forever as an antiseptic in medicine. It’s highly reactive. Like bleach or hydrogen peroxide, it’s a good antiseptic.
Now, in the thyroid, it’s oxidized to its active state called iodine, normally it’s in the state of iodide, and iodine binds up with a protein and makes the thyroid hormone. This actually goes way back to the earliest forms of single cellular life, iodine was used as a transport mechanism for high-energy molecules.
But the drawback is that if there’s too much of that in the thyroid, it harms things. It’s just from the free radicals. They can’t be managed and it damages the cells. So we’ve got a lot of built-in mechanisms to protect us. The main one is called the Wolff–Chaikoff effect. And basically, the thyroid quits working when it’s given too much iodine. But that can’t go on forever, and it doesn’t work flawlessly. So sometimes, too much still gets in, and that can then add on autoimmunity for those who are prone to it. Should I talk about the halogens, or were there some comments you had on those comments?
[00:19:14] Ashley James: I definitely want to talk about halogens. You brought up the Wolff-Chaikoff effect, which I think for layman’s terms, some people call it a thyroid storm, right? Or is that different?
[00:19:27] Dr. Alan Christianson: No, it’s different. I can expand on that.
[00:19:32] Ashley James: Yeah, I would love that. Just to have a clear understanding. Let’s say I took a bunch of iodine because I thought it was really good for me. It’s too much and then my thyroid can’t absorb that much in order to protect itself from absorbing too much. It would then shut down for a time?
[00:19:56] Dr. Alan Christianson: Yeah, so the protein that forms thyroid hormones is called thyroglobulin. Think about it like a passenger van. This capacity for 13 passengers, right? So there are 13 spots that are available for iodine. But if saturation levels of iodine are too high, it can get in the wrong spot. It can be like passengers can pile on top of each other and that can make just chaos. So rather than allow chaos, the gland just locks the doors. It just stops more from coming in.
This has been well understood since about the ‘50s, and you talk about thyroid storm. So that’s that phenomenon of Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism. That’s where there’s this vicious cycle of extra thyroid hormone worsening the autoimmunity that releases extra thyroid hormone. And the amounts in circulation can be life-threatening.
So in situations like that, there’s a lot of medicines that are used to slow the thyroid and we can talk about fluoride too. Before we had current medications, fluoride was used for that purpose and very high doses of it. Yes, they can slow the thyroid, but now there are medications that are used more specifically, but they all take six to eight weeks. So if someone’s in a life or death situation where their heart is about to stop from too much thyroid hormone, the only thing that can stop it at the moment is a massive dose of iodine, and that’s via the Wolff-Chaikoff effect. You can also think of it like just blowing a fuse. If there’s too much current in your wires, you blow a fuse in the fuse box so the house won’t burn down.
[00:21:32] Ashley James: Wow. Yes. So the thyroid, does it take about 24 to 48 hours before it starts to back up again because it has to wait for the kidneys to excrete enough iodine for it to be safe to turn back on?
[00:21:48] Dr. Alan Christianson: Well, the Wolff-Chaikoff effect, once it’s engaged, there is variation in how it plays out. So, the most typical scenario is about two to three weeks later the thyroid comes back online again. But there are variations. For some people, it doesn’t come back on correctly, and for others, it can lapse into hyperthyroidism. That’s just called iodine-induced hyperthyroidism.
[00:22:10] Ashley James: Could someone out there in one of the countries in which, like for example the United States where iodine is regularly put in salt. Could someone, through their diet alone, accidentally consume enough iodine to have the Wolff-Chaikoff effect occur?
[00:22:32] Dr. Alan Christianson: Yeah. And one more thing that I failed to mention that your question brings up is that I described it as like an on or off. We now understand there’s a little more nuance. It can actually be kind of like a parking brake towards not just totally on or off, but there’s a certain number of clicks. So it can be partially engaged, and yeah, it’s very easy to be above one’s personal tolerance and have that be subtly slowing the thyroid on an ongoing basis.
[00:22:58] Ashley James: This is where it gets interesting because in your book you show that too much iodine can cause almost all the symptoms of too little iodine in the diet.
[00:23:10] Dr. Alan Christianson: Yeah. And also, just a very high level, a lot of concept—iodine, it’s the most researched nutrient on the planet, bar none. We’ve been studying it for well over 150 years. We understood its role before we knew about the role of vitamin C, and we’ve got more data on it. There are about 30,000 studies relating its function to thyroid disease, and there’s a pretty solid body of knowledge. We’ve also tracked iodine fortification efforts all around the globe. And we’ve seen what levels of iodine intake correlate with the best health thyroid disease, higher or lower. So we’ve got all these data points.
Now, in the late ‘90s Just, just a little time after the internet came on like you were talking about earlier, a gentleman made several hypotheses that he bundled together into a series of articles called the Iodine Project. He hypothesized that we really needed more iodine, not less. He argued that halogen compounds were blocking iodine, and he argued that humans needed 400 to 4000 times what’s been considered as the safe upper limit. These ideas have been passed around verbatim ever since then by many other doctors.
They’re things that if you don’t really understand the ways in which iodine can be counterintuitive like you know more is not more. If you don’t get the nuances of how it works in the body. Those ideas are plausible, and a lot of them are internally consistent. They have a lot of explanations, but there’s a whole pile of ideas that are floating around that are just not in alignment with our body of knowledge from iodine from these last 150 years.
[00:24:56] Ashley James: So it’s a medical myth?
[00:25:00] Dr. Alan Christianson: At best, and it’s also harmful though. There are several papers in PubMed about people who have followed these exact guidelines during pregnancy and giving birth to babies with congenital hypothyroidism. And they’ve named these high-dose iodine products by name. They’ve talked about the exact doses used, and these are things that are still written about in guidelines in functional medicine. So it’s harmful, and I’ve seen scores of people that likely otherwise would not have developed thyroid disease, but it came on days after embarking on some of these protocols.
[00:25:30] Ashley James: Oh my gosh. That’s so scary because too little iodine during conception leads to lower IQ. They show that it’s healthy to have healthy levels of iodine during pregnancy to have a healthy IQ for the baby.
[00:25:53] Dr. Alan Christianson: Yeah, and let’s talk about that. That has happened, and the last time was in rural China in 1991. The time before that was in Papua New Guinea in 1962. Currently, there have been many studies on how much iodine is best for pregnant women, and they do need some, and the requirements are a little higher than they are in the nonpregnant state. But the Cochrane Review did a recent analysis of the effects of iodine supplementation during pregnancy, and they showed that women that do supplement with iodine during pregnancy, even the amount found in prenatals, they’re not less apt to have thyroid disease, they’re not apt to have better health overall. They’re actually more apt to have elevated thyroid antibodies, they’re more apt to have morning sickness, and there’s also no improvement to the baby’s health.
So yeah, in modern populations, we need some, but by and large, people are getting enough. There’s not a benefit to going out of your to add more even during pregnancy.
[00:26:49] Ashley James: And what you’re saying in your book is that many people are getting too much iodine.
[00:26:54] Dr. Alan Christianson: Yeah, not all but many are. And again, the tolerance varies. So, if we went back to, again, not that far back, the early ‘90s, we had 112 nations on the earth that were considered severely iodine deficient. But as of 2014, Thankfully that problem was eradicated. But now, we’ve got 52 nations that are considered at risk for thyroid disease due to iodine excess. So many things that we know about other nutrients just don’t apply to iodine. Like vitamin C, we need it, we can get too little. Optimal amounts are probably higher than the bare-bones amount that offset the deficiency. We’re rarely in danger of getting too much from common sources. Yeah, none of that’s true for iodine. It’s so different. Our tolerance, those who are prone to thyroid disease, their tolerance is just ridiculously narrow.
[00:27:45] Ashley James: So, we talked briefly about the iodine storm, you said that’s Graves’ disease.
[00:27:50] Dr. Alan Christianson: Thyroid storm.
[00:27:51] Ashley James: Right. I want to talk a bit more about iodide versus iodine, but you said iodine is very inflammatory for the body and that it causes free radicals. Is that what you said?
[00:28:06] Dr. Alan Christianson: Well, one of the strongest examples of that is if you see old medicine bottles, they had a skull and crossbones on those. One of the more popular means of suicide in the early part of the 1900s was iodine ingestion. So, high enough amounts, it’s fatal. And almost all of what we’re exposed to, to be precise, is in the form of iodide. It’s bound, it’s not in a free radical state. But when the concentrations are high enough, then it does dissociate into iodine.
Now, normally that doesn’t happen in the body with the exception of inside the thyroid follicles. So right there, that’s the job of thyroid peroxidase. It takes iodide and makes it into iodine, but it does it very cautiously, and only in just exacting amounts.
[00:28:52] Ashley James: So iodine is controlled in the body in exacting amounts, but what if someone consumes it in their diet, in the food because it’s added. It’s added to salt and so much salt is in processed food in excess amounts. So we’re getting iodine in processed foods. Is it iodine or iodide?
[00:29:21] Dr. Alan Christianson: It’s iodide.
[00:29:22] Ashley James: Okay. So iodide, which is bound and it’s not considered inflammatory?
[00:29:29] Dr. Alan Christianson: It comes down to quantities. So if iodide is at an excessive level, then it does still end up becoming too much inside the thyroid. So to be really precise, we talk about excessive amounts and then toxicologic amounts. And so the excessive amounts are where there’s too much for the thyroid to function at optimal capacity, and then toxicologic amounts when there’s so much that even outside the thyroid it’s dissociating into iodine, and that’s where you start seeing kidney damage and systemic organ damage from it. That’s not common. That doesn’t really happen from most sources of iodine, with the exception of a few medications or iodine in some contrast media.
[00:30:09] Ashley James: I’m wondering, is it excessive iodide that causes Graves’ disease because iodine is so inflammatory and we know that inflammation of tissue can lead to autoimmune disease?
[00:30:28] Dr. Alan Christianson: Well, so there are links between iodine intake and all types of thyroid disease. The links, it’s not as clear of a smoking gun with Graves’ as it is for a causative factor for Hashimoto’s. There is associated data for excess iodine being also a factor for many types of thyroid cancer, but the strongest clear smoking gun link is for Hashimoto’s. In fact, one group of researchers, they concluded that of all the controllable factors that give rise to autoimmune thyroid disease—and they’re referring to Hashimoto’s in this context—they said that iodine is not the only factor, but it’s more relevant than all the other factors combined.
[00:31:06] Ashley James: And so if we’re helping someone to heal from Hashimoto’s and reset their thyroid so that they no longer have Hashimoto’s and they have a healthy thyroid, you have a diet in your book, and it allows people to control the amount of iodine because you said it’s not about the four-letter words more or less. It’s about the balance that that person needs. And so, if someone has Hashimoto’s, how would they know how much they should control in their diet?
[00:31:38] Dr. Alan Christianson: In a perfect world, we would have a simple blood test or some sense of the way of measuring that. And there are scores of iodine tests that exist, and many of them are useful for evaluating a population’s iodine status. But the problem with individuals, there are two problems. One of which is that none of the existing tests that are used for the nutritional status of iodine, none of them have enough intra-subject consistency. What I mean by that is if you did the test more than once you’d get a different answer. So for urine random iodine, if you tested yourself 10 times in a row, you can be within 80% accuracy. If you want to be within 95% accuracy, it takes over 300 tests.
Now, if you do a 24-hour urine test, then you have to do 200 tests to be within 90% accuracy. But the other question is what is the clinical relevance? So, in some of the studies that showed that regulating iodine could reverse thyroid disease, some of them would test people before embarking upon the reduction of iodine. And the question was, were those whose measured iodine levels high or higher, were they the ones most apt to benefit? And what we’ve learned is that the compartment of iodine within the thyroid doesn’t perfectly correlate with measured iodine in the urine or in the blood. And so, in the studies, many people who were not high in iodine still have benefits to thyroid function through iodine regulation.
[00:33:10] Ashley James: That’s fascinating. So what’s in the urine is not really an accurate representation of what’s going on in the thyroid?
[00:33:19] Dr. Alan Christianson: It’s not an accurate representation of what your averages are, and it’s not an accurate representation of what’s going on inside your thyroid.
[00:33:26] Ashley James: Fascinating. Can you explain how the thyroid uses iodine to make T3, T4? These are the things we’ve heard of. We’ve heard of T3, we’ve heard of T4. You mentioned that there’s a protein. But how does our thyroid—if someone doesn’t know, it’s the gland behind the Adam’s apple in the throat, like a butterfly-shaped gland. Now you say in your book that the thyroid is the only place in the body that has receptors for uptaking iodine, which kind of blew my mind because I thought iodine was used by other tissues in the body too.
[00:34:14] Dr. Alan Christianson: If I did word it that way that wouldn’t have been correct wording. So there’s a compound called NIS or the sodium iodide symporter, and that is found in other tissues. We know that it’s relevant to lactating breast tissue. So, iodine needs to be concentrated to be at physiological useful amounts within the thyroid. And so, the Wolff-Chaikoff effect just stops that concentrator. Now, that’s also true for breast milk. So, the amount of ambient iodine in the blood is not enough for the appropriate iodine concentration in human breast milk, and that’s not true for other nutrients. The amount of magnesium in mom’s blood, that’s about the same concentration that it would be in breast milk. But there needs to be a mechanism to concentrate. So there is this concentrator in breast tissue.
Now, when you really get deep into cellular histology, you will find NIS in many other parts of the body, but the thought is, it’s not biologically active, it’s just linked via embryology. We start off as one cell, two cells, a little blastocyst, right? And many cell types have common ancestors. So a lot of cells that go on to become thyroid cells have ancestors they share with other cell types like those that line the gut, those in salivary tissues, those in the prostate, and some of them might actually concentrate iodine for antimicrobial effects. There are theories about that but they’re not definitive. But as far as we know, the biologically active role for iodine is solely for the formation of thyroid hormone or for the presence of that for the baby’s eventual production of thyroid hormone.
[00:35:54] Ashley James: Oh, that’s fascinating. So then there is a link. I keep saying I’m going to ask you a question then I have another question.
[00:36:04] Dr. Alan Christianson: I’m still waiting on the halogens.
[00:36:06] Ashley James: I know. We’re going to get back to that one too. It’s like, I got a notepad here. I’m going to make sure we get all of it done. See, I’m so glad we have 90 minutes with you today because you’re a wealth of knowledge and your books are actually very easy to read. So I definitely recommend listeners get your books because there’s so much science in your books, but the way in which you present it, I found it to be easy to digest. It wasn’t cumbersome to read your book. You are really a great author as well, but I do appreciate the science and you’re not whitewashing the subject. I really like getting down into the nitty-gritty.
I do definitely want to touch on breasts and breast cancer. But let’s go back to my question that I just asked you, which is how does the thyroid use iodine to make thyroid hormone?
[00:37:02] Dr. Alan Christianson: Well, here’s the two-minute version of that answer. So basically, we get iodide from our diet, from other sources, it gets in the bloodstream. It’s circulating the bloodstream. So we’ve got this pump that’s looking for iodine and waiting to pull it inside the thyroid. That’s the NIS. So the pump pulls it in. There are little clusters of thyroid cells called follicles, kind of like a circle the wagons thing, and inside the follicles that is where all the magic happens.
So, a few other steps bring iodide into that follicle and then thyroid peroxidase, you may have heard about that. That’s an enzyme that people think about having antibodies for. That’s an enzyme that helps to oxidize iodide into iodine. And when it’s oxidized, it becomes single and ready to mingle. It’s ready to bind up with something. So then you’ve got a protein called thyroglobulin. And this is a long, long complex amino acid chain comprised of tyrosine and other compounds, and it has those 13 spots to hold various iodine atoms. So, the iodine atoms get on there, they make monoiodotyrosine. So one iodine with a tyrosine. And they make diiodotyrosine.
And then this molecule bends so the monos and the dis connect, and the dis and the dis connect. And one and a two connecting makes a three, and that’s T3. And then a two and a two connecting and it makes four, that’s T4. The molecule itself is then pushed out of those follicles and the thyroid pulls off the active hormone and releases those into the bloodstream, per the body’s overall regulation.
[00:38:42] Ashley James: Could someone have an underproduction of thyroid hormone because they’re missing other cofactors like tyrosine?
[00:38:50] Dr. Alan Christianson: Well, not really. The reason there is tyrosine is abundant in all dietary sources, and it’s also a non-essential amino acid. So the body can pretty freely convert it out of phenylalanine, which is also readily available. So tyrosine deficiencies have not been documented in humans. There are some very rare genetic tyrosine hydroxylase enzyme genetic defects, but even those don’t impact thyroid function.
[00:39:19] Ashley James: Oh fascinating. So really, at the end of the day, you’re either getting too much or too little iodine for the thyroid?
[00:39:27] Dr. Alan Christianson: You know, other factors can certainly have some relevance, but again, all of the factors we know about combined are less relevant than the ambient iodine exposure.
[00:39:36] Ashley James: And you share this in your book that what we’re seeing is that culturally, we’re not really experiencing iodine deficiency. It’s very uncommon nowadays.
[00:39:53] Dr. Alan Christianson: That’s correct. No nations are considered they are. And I’m not saying it’s not possible. I actually have seen people develop that there if they’re on all raw foods diets and not really using any salt that has appreciable iodine content. That’s rare, but certainly, it can happen. But those who are on a variety of food categories, all foods have some. No foods have none.
[00:40:15] Ashley James: A friend of mine had a baby and he must be in his late 20s or early 30s, so this is close to 30 years ago. And as a small baby, he had a goiter. This is an Alberta in Calgary, and the doctors called in the Canadian version of CPS because they thought the parents had beat the child because the neck looks so odd. They thought that they were abusing the child, oh the poor parents, and they’re so sweet people. And then one of the doctors who is originally from India identified it as goiter and gave the baby appropriate levels of iodine and that went away.
That’s the only case of goiter I have ever heard of in my life to someone that I know, and yet well most of my friends have thyroid problems. So it’s interesting.
[00:41:07] Dr. Alan Christianson: Well, the weird thing about all types of thyroid disease is too little or too much iodine can drive them including goiter. In Denmark, the rates of goiter increased after iodine fortification. They found that some other factors can be relevant to goiter that have nothing to do with iodine, but too much can be a driver for it as well.
[00:41:23] Ashley James: Let’s get on the halogen conversation. What’s been proposed—and I’d love for you to do the medical myth-busting here—is that there are these halogens. Fluoride, which is now added to our water so everyone’s getting fluoride, and I really am of the opinion that sodium fluoride is unhealthy for us. There are many reasons why but it’s being added to the water. Finally, some counties are taking it out. Bromine, which is added into flour so people who are eating the standard American diet are getting plenty of that. Chlorine is in the water, chlorine is in your swimming pool. This concept is that fluoride, bromine, and chloride can block iodine receptors and build up toxic levels in breast tissue and other tissues of the body possibly leading to causing breast cancer. I’d love for you to myth bust that concept.
[00:42:23] Dr. Alan Christianson: Sure. Well, so more depth with that story too is also the idea that these things that any sign, if someone ingests a lot of iodine and anything bad happens, this story has a free pass. And the free pass is that that thing that happened wasn’t from too much iodine, it was from iodine pushing out all these nasty halogens and the halogens caused the harm. Within this belief system, that’s one of the exit strategies they have whenever someone seems to be harmed from too much iodine.
As a lot of things, these are not unanswered questions. These are not data points in which we lack knowledge. They’ve been very well studied. Now, the closest kernel of truth to this is that fluoride, like I mentioned, certainly can have hyperthyroid effects. The threshold seems to be somewhere around 5 to 10 milligrams per day, and the further you get above that the more clear it becomes. So, we do have fluoride in the water, and there are times where it’s fortified. There are some pockets of the world where geologically, there’s just a lot of ambient fluoride in the groundwater.
There are a few pockets of China and also rural Tibet in which that’s been the case, and it has been shown that they’d had more hypothyroidism, not lasting. Once they’re really taken away from the high ambient fluoride in the water, they do better. But municipal fluoride has been thoroughly studied as far as its links to thyroid disease. I don’t have data top of mind for all of their concerns about it, but I’m very aware of the studies about its links to thyroid disease.
And in terms of municipal fluoridation added to water supply, it’s not been shown to affect thyroid function in the amounts that are normally used like one part per million or below those thresholds. And that’s fitting what we know about it having a no observable effect limit of somewhere around 5 to 10 milligrams relative to thyroid function. All bad things have that. They have some point at which we cannot detect their effects.
In terms of chlorine, we do have data on how chlorine acts relative to the sodium iodide symporter. It simply has no effects on that. It doesn’t block it, it doesn’t get taken up by it. The symporter is quite specific to iodine, and there’s also been data on chloride exposure and chlorine exposure relative to thyroid function, and there’s just no known link. If someone is exposed to pools that are densely chlorinated and indoors, especially like indoor pools, that can worsen asthmatic states, but that’s the closest thing I found.
Now, bromide is really fascinating. So, there are brominated dough conditioners that are used for commercial baking. Bromide is not added to flour, however, and that’s a little bit different. In the ‘60s, there were questions asked about just that, whether bromide could have some effect upon thyroid function because it’s sharing a column with iodine. It’s a halogen like iodine is. In studies that were done as recently as the last, last decade, humans were given doses of bromide in excess of—it’s actually found in pretty much all foods and varying amounts, and we have some unavoidable exposure to it from natural sources. And so people were supplemented with doses that represented roughly 50 times a range of doses, but the higher ones represented about 50 times the normal ambient exposure. And they were closely tracked for two months for all facets of the thyroid function.
Now, those on the highest doses of bromide had a slight improvement in their T4 output, but there were no other changes anywhere else. And it wasn’t a dose-related response, so it probably wouldn’t be meaningful to say that bromide was helpful. But there was clearly no harm whatsoever to thyroid function, even in all those doses. And a funny thing too that I learned in researching this paper many years ago, bromide is now categorized as an essential element. We know that the body needs it for basement membrane formation in cellular junctions.
[00:46:28] Ashley James: Oh my gosh. I love holistic medicine and I think the biggest frustration for me is how much disinformation there is, but there’s disinformation in every facet of life. Go study theology and you will be absolutely bombarded with contradictions. Go study politics.
[00:46:56] Dr. Alan Christianson: I’ve gone down that same road. I thought I’m just going to throw in the towel. I’m done here. But you’re right, everywhere you look, you just got to do a good look wherever you are.
[00:47:03] Ashley James: Yeah. This is why I also try to focus on mindset when it comes to the idea of holistic health. The reason why I started this podcast five years ago, I was incredibly sick. I share my story in other past episodes. I was incredibly sick for many years. I mean, I never wanted to kill myself because I still find joy in life, but I was miserable. I was suffering. I often just burst into tears from the amount of pain I was in. I really feel like a prisoner of my own body. I really was suffering for so many years, and I’m so grateful that I have my husband who has been my absolute rock and my greatest supporter. We just celebrated our 13th anniversary and he’s phenomenal, such an amazing human being.
So I suffered for so long, and it was actually because of my husband. We found this Naturopath. We found a lecture that he did online and then we started following his work, then we started following one of his mentors’ work, and then he and his mentor became my mentor for 10 years. And I followed this information, cleaned up my diet, took certain supplements, changed parts of my lifestyle, and I no longer have polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility type 2 diabetes, chronic adrenal fatigue, and chronic monthly infections for which I used to be on antibiotics for constantly. And I also had digestive issues. And all this little stuff I was able to resolve with natural medicine and I became so passionate about it that then I was like I have to share this.
I’ve learned so much from interviewing amazing doctors like yourself, and of course, I feel like I’m on a journey with my listeners. So they’re here having their own issues that they’re suffering with, and I want them to know that they can also heal, even if everyone in their life has told them that they’ll always have it, it’s genetic. I can’t tell you how many doctors told me I’d never have children—I’ve conceived naturally, and told me that I’d always have diabetes—my A1C is 4.7. This idea that doctors tell you you’ll always be sick, I mean, please throw that out the window. Don’t ever limit yourself because there is always a contradiction out there.
The frustrating part about the misinformation, which misinformation is everywhere, not just in the holistic space. The idea of medical myths, they tend to live, we tend to let them have a life of their own. And then if we don’t keep our minds open enough, our mindset needs to be that we don’t grab on to dogma. That we don’t say, well, this diet is the one diet and everyone should be on it. This is not religion, right? Science is never settled, it’s always changing. We’re always learning new things.
So if we can keep our minds open enough and be humble enough to challenge our own belief systems, then we can finally allow to be okay with and hold the paradox of the idea of like the last episode was all about that we need more and more and more iodine, and this episode is like whoa, wait a sec. Let’s look at all the research and see that most people are getting too much. And really, we need to find out what our limit is and what our healthy levels are. And through your book, The Thyroid Reset Diet, we can learn how to adjust our diet to actually create the healthiest levels of iodine for us.
With every interview, we’re learning more, but often interviews will contradict each other because myths are everywhere and we have to be open enough to take in the research and then make our own judgments, and also try it out for yourself. You have used your thyroid reset diet with your patients. I’d love for you to share what you see happen? So when you helped patients eat a healthy diet that limited or controlled the amount of iodine coming into their body, what kind of results did you see?
[00:51:27] Dr. Alan Christianson: Well, at the time I was doing a lot of work managing those who were on long-term thyroid medication, and I was seeing more and more people to where they were outgrowing their medicine. It was too much for them and they were getting side effects. So it was a short-term problem, but it was a long-term win. We would keep weaning and adjusting and seeing them need less and less. So that was the main change, and it was a really exciting thing to see happen.
[00:51:53] Ashley James: So through this diet, people have been able to get off of thyroid meds?
[00:51:58] Dr. Alan Christianson: So there’s a pretty big study that was just finished after I completed the manuscript for this book. They took a large group of people, it was about 400, and they gave them very cursory information about avoiding extra iodine like just really, here are some supplements that have it. Here are some foods that are very rich in it, and they then checked the concept of deprescribing. Could they take away their thyroid medications? They were all on third medication.
What they saw is that over 80% of people, it’s actually 84%, who did these most basic things needed less medication. And within that group, 40% needed no medication, and they could retain perfect thyroid function and a symptom-free state without medication. And again, that was really basic one or two steps out of six or seven possible steps.
[00:52:46] Ashley James: I would be so happy if all my listeners, 80% of them could lower their meds and 40% could get off their meds in the next—what did it take? How many months?
[00:52:58] Dr. Alan Christianson: This particular time frame was six months for the study.
[00:53:01] Ashley James: I would love that. I’d love to see all my listeners so healthy that 100% of them didn’t need medication. But realistically, what a win. What a win for all the listeners because I know several women on thyroid meds that are just suffering from the side effects of it. They feel as though it’s a moving target. Oh, my doctor put me on this dose and now I feel miserable. I go back, my doctor does tests, then he puts me on this dose, and then I feel more miserable. It’s like they’re just experimenting on them.
[00:53:36] Dr. Alan Christianson: There’s an untenable belief that thyroid medication levels will stay stable for all people and that they should function as they would if their thyroid was providing those same hormones. And those things we know are just not true.
[00:53:49] Ashley James: That reminds me of a family member who got a pacemaker down in a country in South America. They happened to be traveling there at the time, they didn’t go there for this procedure. They were really miserable for about a year. Their hands and feet were turning blue. They were not looking healthy. We urged them to seek help, but you know with family members, they don’t listen to you, right? They’ll listen to a complete stranger but they won’t listen to you.
One of their caretakers took their blood pressure and took their pulse and said, go to the ER right now, I’m very concerned. What they found out was that in South America, they set pacemakers to 40 beats a minute. Forty beats a minute. Like you mentioned, the way they set a drug, they expect your need for that drug to be constant. Just like they set a pacemaker, your need for heart rate isn’t constant. You walk up a flight of stairs, you want your heart rate to go up to 100 or 120. If your heart rate is always 40, you go up a flight of stairs you’re going to pass out. Your need has increased. Could you explain when someone’s need for thyroid increases? Is it when they’re doing physical activity or when they’re in stress in their life? What happens when we need more thyroid?
[00:55:19] Dr. Alan Christianson: Well, our needs for thyroid don’t vary that much and that quickly, but there are other reasons why medications just don’t replace what we have as consistently. Our needs do fluctuate to some extent as the seasons change—hotter or colder ambient temperatures. Also with age, we probably need a bit less. And as our body size changes, we need to balance proportion to our body size.
[00:55:43] Ashley James: So it’s not as severe as the heart rate, but it is fluctuating.
[00:55:52] Dr. Alan Christianson: So there was a big survey done by the American Thyroid Association in 2018. They surveyed over 12,000 people who are active with conventional technologists, and they asked them, how well have your symptoms been managed? And less than 5% consider themselves very satisfied with their symptom management. And in fact, 30% had seen more than six doctors trying to improve their well-being. So yeah, the medications don’t work as well as your own thyroid hormones do. So the more you can make by yourself the better.
[00:56:23] Ashley James: This reminds me of an interview I did at least a year ago, if not more. It was with a man who had a very severe ADHD and when he got on Ritalin—now most people, when they get on Ritalin, are not comfortable with it. When he got on it he said he was the happiest person in the world. For the first time in his life, he could focus. He had extreme ADHD. He didn’t try changing his diet, supplements, or anything. He just went on medication and he said it was a miracle for him.
But then one day, he couldn’t remember his name, he felt as if he had had a stroke. He was very sluggish, he could hardly talk, he had complete amnesia. His wife took him into the ER and what they finally figured out was one of the possible side effects of that medication that he had been on is extreme hypothyroidism, which one of the symptoms is amnesia like the brain is just not functioning. And so he had to get off of the Ritalin, which he was so depressed about because he was actually finally getting a hold of his life. But then, luckily, he was motivated to look holistically, and now he uses supplements and diet to support his brain health and his thyroid health.
But that’s so interesting, this idea that someone could be on a medication that ends up messing with their thyroid. You had mentioned that certain medications have halogens in them. Beyond the fact that we should control our diet to know how much iodine is coming in, are there medications that we should be aware of that can really mess with our thyroid?
[00:58:10] Dr. Alan Christianson: There is a fair number. I do delineate those in the book. Some examples, not the most commonly used, but one of the most severe in its effects is one called amiodarone. And it’s pretty shocking the harm from amiodarone can occur even six or nine months after someone has stopped taking it. It can last in the body for that long. It’s a high concentration of iodine used to regulate the heart rhythm. It can cause blindness, kidney damage, death, thyroid disease, almost everything you can think of. And they’ve even tried to see how much of it is the drug by itself and how much of it is the iodine that’s a problem.
There’s a different version called dronedarone, which is quite similar to the absence of iodine, and it has a completely different, much milder side effect profile. That’s one of the more dramatic culprits, but there are many things. If one’s on prescription medications, it’s good to be aware of possible iodine exposure if they have thyroid disease.
[00:59:08] Ashley James: So there’s been talk of breast cancer being caused by bromine excess, for example, and the use of iodine to detox that from the breast tissue or using iodine as a supplement to support the body in fighting cancer. What are your thoughts or what is the research that you’ve seen in terms of iodine and breast cancer?
[00:59:39] Dr. Alan Christianson: So one thing I’d like to do a quick high-level answer first is that I’d really encourage listeners when they face medical controversies, to evaluate the type of data they’re comparing. A lot of data is hypothesis. Women in Japan have less breast cancer, they consume more iodine, therefore iodine must be helpful. So that’s a hypothesis, and that’s based upon a mechanism. Now the other kind of data is like a real-world outcome. Well, what do we see of women in Japan, how does their iodine intake compare to their breast cancer risk? Or what do we see for breast cancer risk for women when we look at their iodine content?
So when we see outcome data, what actually happens to people in the real world, that always is given more weight than a hypothesis. A hypothesis is plausible and it’s worth looking at more closely, but whenever a hypothesis and an outcome contradict, we ignore the hypothesis because we can make hypotheses about anything we want. That’s like looking at clouds in the sky. We can see patterns. Our minds are very good at that.
So now, to answer your question, that’s how that hypothesis came about was Japanese women. And what we now know is that there’s a spectrum of NIS expression in breast tissue. I mentioned earlier that it’s done for lactation to get some iodine in the breast milk. So lactating breast tissue has a bit of NIS expression. Non-lactating breast tissue, the receptor is present but it’s not active, it’s dormant. So the continuum goes from normal to lactating. Then the next step is fibroadenomatosis. It used to be called fibrocystic breast disease. We now know that’s an overexpression of the sodium iodide symporter. The sodium pulls in more fluid, and there’s fluid retention, there’s pain, there’s engorgement.
The highest expression of NIS shows up in breast cancer. And we know that there’s some correlation between the free radical damage of extra iodine in the tissues and the gene damage that gives rise to cancerous growth. Now, we’ve even seen this in Japanese women.
So when you take Japanese women, and you compare those without breast cancer and those with breast cancer, and you look at their iodine status, it turns out that those with breast cancer are the ones that are exposed to the most iodine. And this has been shown in other cultures as well. Some have even argued that you could use some of the iodine urine tests, they’re not good gauges for the nutritional status of iodine and they’re not good markers of thyroid function, but they may be predictors of breast cancer because it’s been shown in other areas that the more iodine women are excreting in their urine, the more they are at risk for breast cancer.
[01:02:18] Ashley James: Can you explain why? Is it because it’s then showing that they’ve been consuming it? I’m not understanding because if they’re excreting it in their urine then it’s not collecting in the breast.
[01:02:32] Dr. Alan Christianson: There’s some relationship between urinary excretion and what’s present in the breast tissue when that NIS protein is pathologically overexpressed. So it seems that part of the mechanism of some types of breast cancer is that that iodine transporter is overexpressed. It’s pulling in too much iodine, it’s causing free radical damage, and that’s part of the gene changes that can be early along in breast cancer formation.
There’s even been some research as to whether or not iodine can be used to tag radiotherapy. So radioactive iodine is used for thyroid disease, but there’s talk about using that for breast cancer as well because the cancerous breast tissue selectively takes up iodine more so than healthy breast tissue does.
[01:03:15] Ashley James: Oh my. But that wouldn’t help though. I mean, okay, now we know where the cancer is. Would that be feeding or stimulating the cancer to grow?
[01:03:28] Dr. Alan Christianson: That’s the hypothesis. If it were just iodine, but if it were radioactive iodine, then as the cancer takes that up it’s like a trojan—worse.
[01:03:36] Ashley James: Got it. Okay, I’m sorry. I thought you meant radioactive in that we’re using it for an MRI or something. Now I get it. Using it to uptake like they do with insulin and glucose. They’ll inject insulin so that people’s blood sugar drops and then they’ll attach the—
[01:03:58] Dr. Alan Christianson: In this case, radioactive iodine is given for ablating or for destroying unwanted thyroid tissue. So if someone has Graves’ disease and you want to get rid of their thyroid, one method is to give iodine that’s radioactive. And so, a lot of that iodine ends up in the thyroid and that radiation stays localized. I’m not endorsing that as the answer to Graves’ disease, please hear me. So the same process is talked about as being a possible treatment for breast cancer because breast cancer cells also selectively take up iodine.
[01:04:28] Ashley James: You mentioned Graves’ disease and not following the conventional allopathic let’s just burn it out with radiation as a recommended approach. What is your recommended holistic approach to resolving thyroid issues? So we have Graves’ disease, we have Hashimoto’s, but you also talk about in your book hyperthyroid and hypothyroid, both being benefited by the same diet.
[01:05:04] Dr. Alan Christianson: We got good data on that. In one of the more dramatic studies, they took a group of people that were pretty severely hypothyroid. I know you know this, a lot of listeners probably haven’t heard this, but one of the ways we gauge thyroid output is by looking at how much the body is asking the thyroid to work, and that’s the TSH. The higher the TSH is the more the body is asking the thyroid to work. It’s not the only thyroid test that matters. I won’t go into that right now, but proportionately, the further the TSH gets above 2 or 2 1/2, the more the thyroid is slowing. If it’s above 4 1/2, it’s blatantly abnormal.
So in this study, these people had TSH scores that averaged 14.1, they were severely hypothyroid. And they had been pretty steady for about four years in that state, so it wasn’t a recent thing. Many in the group had TSH scores between 100 and 200, so it was a big deal. And there was one sole intervention done. They were not given medication. They were not told to eat a healthy diet or anything else that probably might have been useful as well. They were only counseled to regulate their iodine intake now.
Afterward, they followed up with people to see how well they performed, and a certain number didn’t quite understand the instructions, didn’t comply. We’re people, it happens, we’ll come back to that. But some of them did follow things quite well. And what they saw is that the whole group, for starters, ignoring who did what they’re supposed to and who didn’t. The group as a whole, 78.3% of people were at perfectly normal thyroid function. So TSH average score is under 3 in this context. Within two months, they did nothing else but lower iodine, 70.3%. You know those silly infomercials, but wait, it gets better?
[01:06:58] Ashley James: Yeah.
[01:07:00] Dr. Alan Christianson: But wait, it gets better. The remaining people, the 21.7% if I’m right. The 20-ish% that didn’t get better, so one big chunk of them were the ones that didn’t follow the instructions for whatever reason, no judgment. You got to play to win the lottery, and it’s true for a lot of things. They didn’t play, so we’ll put them aside.
Of the other people who did lower their iodine, there were now two remaining groups, and one group were those whose scores were so insanely high going into it that they were actually improving a lot, but they weren’t yet better. So their scores might have gone from 200 down to 20 or something. So they weren’t normal. They didn’t get in that 78% of those who are totally better, but they were sure heading that way.
And now the final group is those who did do everything just right, but their scores failed to improve at all. That was about 3% of the participants. So, 97% of people, again, some of them didn’t follow along so we don’t know, but of those who did, people got better, they got darn close to it 97% of the time.
[01:08:09] Ashley James: I want to take that 3%, have them work with you and figure out what’s going on. What’s going on? That’d be really interesting.
[01:08:18] Dr. Alan Christianson: Well, I’m pretty happy about the 97%
[01:08:20] Ashley James: I’m really happy about the 97%. I mean, ideally that those who get your book have a 97% chance of having a healthy thyroid.
[01:08:31] Dr. Alan Christianson: So those numbers apply to those who are not yet on medication, and the numbers we have for those on medication that were the earlier 84% and 40%. However, those numbers were with very cursory recommendations. I think people could do better with more thorough regulation.
[01:08:47] Ashley James: I’m a health coach. I’m not a Naturopathic physician. I always refer my clients to become patients of good Naturopaths like yourself who are really well researched and in a very caring way help people to balance their diet and supplement intake. But when I work with clients to support them in achieving their health goals, oftentimes they’re on medication because I believe it’s over 70% of the adult population in the United States is on at least one medication, which blows my mind. When you see the world through my eyes and you see what I’ve seen, true health is not having any symptoms. True health is your body being in a beautiful state that you don’t need meds.
There’s always a caveat like someone with type 1 diabetes. My grandmother was one of the first in the world to receive insulin. She was in Toronto, she was dying, she was in the hospital 11 years old or something. She was young and she was one of the first children to receive it, and she lived to be 77 years old, only having amputated a thumb from gangrene. Back then, it was very hard to regulate the body. They had very rudimentary testing for blood sugar, and she showed me how she ate, which is really cool because, to this day, people are finally rediscovering how to eat healthy.
She ate pounds of vegetables and steamed them, and then she would eat the vegetables. She would let the water cool and she’d drink the water because she didn’t want to lose one drop of minerals or nutrients. Anyway, I just watched her and saw how healthy she was in the face of type 1 diabetes.
So, there is always an exception to the rule where we would want someone with type 1 diabetes to be on medication. But for those who are so sick that they get on medication, medication isn’t healing the body. We want to get to the point we’re so healthy we don’t need it for chronic illness. That’s why something like The Thyroid Reset Diet Book is such a good resource because we want to support someone to get off meds.
So when I’m working with a client, let’s say for blood sugar, and I say to them, you’re going to want to go back to your doctor. Go to a doctor, go to a Naturopath, and get tested because if they’re on a bunch of meds like metformin, insulin, and everything, they start eating the way that helps create insulin sensitivity and balances blood sugar. Now all these drugs are going to drive them down too low.
Same with blood pressure. I’ve had clients who stand up and they’re passing out because two weeks into eating a super healthy diet, and now their blood pressure meds are actually pushing them too low. I say you’re going to have to go back to either your prescribing doctor. Go to a doctor that actually believes that you can get so healthy you don’t need meds, let’s start with that. You’re really going to want to make sure that you and them are on top of watching yourself through this diet. You get so healthy that they lower or take you off of meds.
If your doctor is skeptical about taking you off of meds or lowering meds, I really suggest you find one that has the mindset that you can get so healthy, you don’t need medication. Because it’s that kind of doctor that actually looks at research, instead of the medical dogma that they’ve been taught through medical school.
So your book, The Thyroid Reset Diet, and through all of your research, when people who are on medication either for hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto’s, or Graves’. Let’s say the first three months of them being on your diet, what steps should they take? Should they go to their doctor right away and say, hey, by the way, I’m doing this diet? What should they do? What tests should they take? What should they be looking for? When should they go to a doctor and say, I need to lower my meds. I’m correcting myself and I’m afraid these medications are going to now push me too far in the wrong direction.
[01:13:11] Dr. Alan Christianson: They’ll need a good relationship with a doctor who supports them in that journey. I see many blogs that talk about all the thyroid tests to ask for and other things to do. But ultimately, someone’s going to have to help interpret those tests and modify the medications. You need a doctor not just as a rubber stamp to provide those things, but to give some guidance and input. So yeah, you need a trusted partner. And in a perfect world, yeah you could let them know before you even start. But at a minimum, at least the first month into it, you should retest.
The doctors will always have their own tests. They’ll run at least a TSH and their free hormones, but you should retest and see if your needs change. Sometimes, you’ll see that obviously by symptoms even sooner, but you won’t always see it by symptoms of too much. In many cases, the blood levels can show up before the symptoms do, and that’s great. Then you can make adjustments that are early and give your thyroid the best chance to recover. The drawback is that if you do need less and you’re not aware of it, the extra is harmful, but also, it makes your thyroid less able to heal and recover.
[01:14:21 ] Ashley James: Can you elaborate on that?
[01:14:23] Dr. Alan Christianson: For sure. The feedback that tells the thyroid to work is that thyroid-stimulating hormone. And if your medications are more than you need, your body doesn’t know where the extra is coming from and it assumes that it’s its own fault, so your body stops stimulating your thyroid and you lower the TSH. Now below some threshold, there may not be enough TSH just to sustain your thyroid. So you need some TSH to keep your thyroid working and give it a chance to grow and recover. So if your thyroid starts to get stronger but your medications are not adjusted, it bumps up against the ceiling to where the TSH goes down. And even though your thyroid could work better, it won’t because your body won’t allow it to.
[01:15:08] Ashley James: It’s so important to work with a doctor that would lower the medication. Now, what is worse, being on slightly too much, or being on slightly too little? Is it safer to be on a lower dose?
[01:15:24] Dr. Alan Christianson: Well, this is one of those things whether it’s worse to get slapped or punched. So, neither one is good. The too much has more short-term medical complications. But it doesn’t always cause symptoms. Some people are more prone to symptoms than others, and some get them at an earlier stage, but the complications are still there. Too little can be rife with symptoms for sure, but there are fewer medical complications in the short term. There are many longer-term medical complications of too little. So yeah, so both are not too good, both may or may not make you feel well. Too much have a greater short-term risk for harm than too little can.
[01:16:09] Ashley James: Are there other minerals that are supportive of the thyroid like selenium that we should make sure that we incorporate in our diet?
[01:16:16] Dr. Alan Christianson: Yeah, and big picture concept, it’s not so much that—back to more again—more is better. It’s more so that none is bound. So your body has a certain amount of buffering that it can do for iodine. We never get the perfect amount of anything. We’ve got all these ways that we buffer our body chemistry from moment to moment. And so too with iodine. Again, our upper limit can vary, so how much we tolerate can be different. Now, if someone’s low in selenium, whatever their iodine ranges will be just incrementally narrower and will have that much harder of a time buffering the fluctuations of iodine.
[01:16:57] Ashley James: Yeah, and that’s something that really fascinated me when we talked about in our last interview that the selenium, making sure that there’s an adequate amount. Selenium is that protector. If you have too much or too little iodine, the thyroid doesn’t overreact. So it does create that buffer, especially while you’re doing something like The Thyroid Reset Diet and really becoming more conscious of how much iodine is in your diet so that you can get to those healthy levels. Again, not saying we’re eating less iodine, but we’re eating the right range, right? So looking at the diet to get ourselves into the right range to support thyroid health.
That something like selenium would then support the thyroid in not fluctuating, jumping too high or too low. That’s something we don’t want. We don’t want the thyroid to get overstimulated or understimulated. We want it to be in a nice healthy range. Are there any other foods or nutrients that are really good specifically for the thyroid? I mean I can think of antioxidants that are super awesome because they decrease inflammation. But is there anything specific to the thyroid that we should definitely make sure we’re consuming?
[01:18:16] Dr. Alan Christianson: You know, really, all nutrients have some play in things, and I think about it more as a matter of not so much that adding above some threshold is helpful, but a lack is bad. So you don’t want to be lacking any key nutrients. Some of the big ones that come up are going to zinc, iron, or vitamin A. But any nutrient you talk about, our body’s chemistry is so connected that it can all come back and have some relevance. So I do encourage iodine-free multivitamins for people at reasonable quantities. I do encourage a broad range of healthy foods from as many food categories as possible.
[01:18:52] Ashley James: You had mentioned TSH, for example, the thyroid-stimulating hormone and just these examples of when it’s too high or too low. What about going back to looking at the hypothalamus or pituitary? Is that ever a concern supporting the hypothalamus and pituitary in terms of thyroid health, or really, the biggest thing we can do is control iodine intake?
[01:19:23] Dr. Alan Christianson: The biggest thing we can do is control iodine. So we talk about three broad categories of thyroid disease: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary means the thyroid is not working because it’s not working. Secondary means the thyroid is not working because the pituitary is not telling it to work. And then tertiary means the thyroid is not working because the hypothalamus is not telling the pituitary to tell the thyroid to work. So, secondary disease happens a few times per 100,000. That’s pituitary disease, but it’s not limited to thyroid function, and it’s rarely subtle.
I see many examples where people are told they have pituitary problems, but they really don’t. I’m sorry. They can occur, but it’s a common thing to be told in natural medicine that it’s a problem when it probably isn’t. And then tertiary disease or the hypothalamus is failing, that happens a few times per year across the globe so it’s extremely rare. So by and large, the main thing is primary disease, and the main controllable factor is Iodine intake.
[01:20:23] Ashley James: Very interesting. Now you haven’t mentioned free T3 and free T4, and that’s something that a lot of Naturopathic physicians like to test as well. Could you touch on that?
[01:20:37] Dr. Alan Christianson: I sure can. So, we look at the amount of hormone the thyroid secretes, and that’s the two that are measurable, and they’re essential, the body needs them. They’re a little different and they’re often misinterpreted because they’re regulated after they’re released. So what we see in the bloodstream is not so much with the thyroid made, it’s more so what the body adjusted. So many look at that and think, oh, the person has too much, too little, and they won’t look at the TSH. So the TSH does reflect what the body is asking the thyroid to do.
The T3 and the T4, they only reflect that when you’re at the most extreme highs or deficiencies. In most cases, when you’re reading them, you’re really reading how the body adjusted those after they were already released. So some talk about how they should be on the high side of normal, that’s not what we see in healthy people. There’s actually a lot of data for T3 saying that those who are consistently high normal are more apt to be obese and diabetic. So yeah, they’re relevant, but they take a bit more depth of understanding as well.
[01:21:42] Ashley James: So when someone is going to an endocrinologist or a holistic physician, they want them to test TSH, but also test T3 and T4, especially if they have an understanding of what the body needs versus what it’s using?
[01:22:00] Dr. Alan Christianson: Correct.
[01:22:02] Ashley James: And in terms of the drugs, there’s this idea that there are healthier thyroid drugs and other thyroid drugs that are less healthy or less effective, or that there are these natural versions where you can get basically a thyroid from a pig. What’s your take on that? Is there a thyroid drug that you would say no one should be on because this has the most side effects, that there’s a better version? What’s the best drug to be on if someone had to be on a drug?
[01:22:38] Dr. Alan Christianson: Yeah, real quick. So we’ve got synthetic versions of T3 and T4, we’ve got natural desiccated thyroid, which is the pig thyroid you alluded to, and then there’s nonprescription cow thyroid. Now the last one I don’t recommend for a lot of safety reasons and stability reasons, so just not good across the board. The synthetics T4 only therapy, the synthetic type, it’s actually the same as what the body makes, and a lot of folks do well on that. It does work for many. For many, they don’t respond as well. They don’t get full control of their symptoms. So, that can work, but it often does not.
T3 only is not recommended because the body also needs T4. And then natural thyroid, that big survey that I mentioned, it did show that of those who are taking natural thyroid, a higher percent did experience better management of symptoms than those on just the synthetics. So yeah, natural thyroid can be a viable option.
And there really is a groundswell of support that’s burgeoning in the conventional community to give people more options. It’s starting to happen and there are more doctors being aware of that. But yeah, people should have multiple options, and sometimes, it is just a matter of adjusting the medication to help. But again, I think at the higher level of if the body can work by itself again, that’s the best outcome.
[01:23:58] Ashley James: That’s what we want. We want everyone listening to get so healthy they don’t need medication anymore, and always find a doctor who also wants to support you in that. I really recommend your book, Thyroid Reset Diet for anyone who has thyroid issues, especially those on thyroid medications. Now, obviously, if someone has had their thyroid removed that’s a different conversation. They would need to be on medication, right? And hopefully, they work with a really good endocrinologist or more holistic-minded doctor to balance that.
But those who are having thyroid problems, what I like about your book is you have quizzes in it, you give a diet that’s really very comprehensive, and an easy way for people to figure out exactly what ranges they need to adjust for their diet. Listeners can go to drchristianson.com, and of course, everything that Dr. Christianson does is going to be the show notes for today’s podcast including the link to his book at learntruehealth.com.
It has been such a pleasure having you on the show today. Thank you so much for coming in and diving into this topic, which is riddled with controversy. So many medical myths.
[01:25:10] Dr. Alan Christianson: It’s been a blast, Ashley. I always enjoy talking with you. You’re crazy smart. We get to go into greater detail about things, and you’re doing a huge service for your listeners. So yeah, I’m really honored to spend time with you again.
[01:25:19] Ashley James: Thank you and thank you so much for coming on the show, and please, come back and let’s talk about your Adrenal Reset Diet because that’s another really fascinating book that I’m sure anyone who has had adrenal issues or has energy—if you’re getting up in the morning and you need coffee throughout the day or you need sugar throughout the day, then you probably need The Adrenal Reset Diet. So I’d love to have you back and we could talk about that. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
[01:25:44] Dr. Alan Christianson: That’d be a blast. Thanks again, Ashley.
[01:25:47] Ashley James: Wasn’t that an amazing interview with Dr. Alan Christianson? You know, I could have had him on the show for another hour and we could have dived into even more information about the diet, but unfortunately, he was crammed just back to back with interviews and he had to go. But he was so generous with his time and I really enjoyed having him on the show. I definitely recommend getting the book. Of course, you can go to the show notes of today’s podcast at learntruehealth.com or the show notes within whatever podcast app you’re listening from and click the links there to be able to get to past episodes with Dr. Alan Christianson that I’ve done with him, and also to the book to get The Thyroid Reset Diet.
Just like I shared with my experience with his book, you’ll get one copy and then you’ll start reading it and everyone that sees it—just go read it in public. People will be like, hey, I have thyroid problems, what’s that all about? Tell me about it. Can I borrow your book? It’s really funny. And it’s also a great gift to give to a loved one who you know has been struggling with thyroid issues because the book is so easy to read, so down to earth, and provides just fantastic science in a way that’s easy to comprehend. So I hope you enjoy the book.
And please, join the Facebook group, Learn True Health Facebook group and share your experiences with his diet, with his recommendations. I’d love to start a conversation around that for us to all learn from each other.
Now, if you have been thinking about getting a Sunlighten Sauna, now’s a really great time because they have a fantastic discount going on right now. Make sure you mention the Learn True Health podcast with Ashley James so that you get the discount that they give us. And if you do have a Sunlighten and you have been enjoying it, come to the Facebook group and share your experience. I just absolutely love it and I know that I know that so many of our listeners, and actually several of my clients, share that they absolutely love their sauna.
One of my dear, dear friends has used infrared sauna therapy to heal her. She had Epstein Barr Virus for many, many years. She incorporated so much holistic medicine, but she noticed that was one of the things that really moved the needle for her in terms of boosting her immune system and making it so that she felt amazing throughout the day. Anytime she feels like she’s dragging, she’ll jump in the sauna, and then a half an hour later, she’ll just feel like a million bucks.
That’s been my experience with the sauna is that whenever I feel down or depressed or I feel sluggish, getting in that sauna, half an hour later, I feel absolutely amazing, the endorphins are going. It’s a good addiction. It’s a really good feeling, so trade in the drugs and alcohol for a sauna, that’s all I have to say.
And check out Sunlighten because they are, in my opinion, the best sauna company on the market. They offer the full spectrum, the near and far infrared, very, very, very non-toxic and low EMF, which is ideal for what we want. Plus the company is in the United States, and they have fantastic customer service.
I had an issue with one part. I stepped on the sauna, I broke a piece, and they immediately, without question, they’re like hey what piece broke? Because I stepped on a corner really hard. And they’re like, okay, and then they sent it off right away and they replaced it immediately. I thought that was really cool.
And then another time I had a problem updating that tablet, I called them, and they helped me right away. I’ve been really, really happy with the customer service there. And that’s why I feel comfortable sharing Sunlighten Sauna with you because you are looking to gain the best health possible. You’re learning about how you can achieve true health, and I know that sauna therapy is a proven way that you can add something to your life every day or every other day to see better results. So there are lifestyle things that we can change. There’s diet, there’s supplements, and there’s lifestyle, and this would fall under the lifestyle category. Why not use the latest technology to support your body’s ability to heal itself? It makes so much sense.
You can also listen to my past in interviews with experts. I have cardiologists on the show swearing that Sunlighten is amazing as well as other doctors. So yeah, you can search sauna or you can search Sunlighten by going to learntruehealth.com and listening to those doctors talk about their love of not only sauna therapy but specifically the Sunlighten Company. And make sure you mention Learn True Health with Ashley James so that you get the greatest discount. I want to make sure that you get that special treatment and the discount when they know that I’m the one telling you guys to go check them out because Connie Zack was on the show. She’s the founder, and I really think she’s awesome.
And if any of my listeners have any problems with Sunlighten, please make sure that you give me a message. You can just message me, email me at [email protected], or you can go to the Learn True Health Group and just let me know if you’ve any problems at all. I will personally contact the owner and the managers there and make sure that it’s all smoothed out.
But I’ve had hundreds of listeners buy saunas from them after our interview, and I’ve only had one out of hundreds that had a miscommunication with one of their staff. I jumped in and then it was immediately resolved right away. It was just a misunderstanding, miscommunication. It was totally resolved. So I’m really happy that they have maintained such high standards. That’s how I want it for all of you guys.
Awesome. Well, I’m so glad you enjoyed today’s interview. Please share this with those who care about, especially those you know who have thyroid problems, and have a fantastic rest of your day.