A Thyroid Pharmacist’s Take on Food as Medicine
Average reading time: 4 minutes
Q&A with Izabella Wentz
Author of Hashimoto’s Food Pharmacology
Dr. Izabella Wentz, PharmD, FASCP is known far and wide in the thyroid world as ‘The Thyroid Pharmacist.’ Through her own struggle with Hashimoto’s, she became an ardent champion of diet and lifestyle interventions for thyroid health. By acting as her own guinea pig, as well as collecting data from her clientele, she discovered that simple diet and lifestyle changes often help patients reduce symptoms more than medication.
She outlined this in her first, groundbreaking book, ‘Hashimoto’s Thyroidtis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause.’ She helped patients put those theories into practice with her next book, ‘Hashimoto’s Protocol: A 90-day Plan for Reversing Thyroid Symptoms and Getting Your Life Back.’ Now, Izabella provides the menu to complement her expert recommendations in her latest book, ‘Hashimoto’s Food Pharmacology: Nutrition Protocols and Healing Recipes to Take Charge of Your Thyroid Health.’
We chatted with Dr. Wentz about the incredible healing power of food on Thyroid Refresh TV (click here to check it out!). The pharmacist in her is fascinated by the impact of substances on the human body, bringing a unique and clinical perspective to the ‘Food as Medicine’ conversation. Our dialogue continues in this Q & A interview, as we deep-dive into Food Pharmacology—what it means, why it works, and how it can help us as thyroid patients.
What inspired you to write a cookbook for thyroid patients?
Thanks to my training in pharmacology, I realized that tiny substances can send profound messages to our bodies. I was fascinated with how milligrams of one pill could drop the blood pressure in the entire body of a 200-pound man, and how micrograms of another substance could make the same man hallucinate. Once I started to unravel my own Hashimoto’s symptoms, I realized that food can have a profound impact on our healing as well.
Like the substances found in medications, tiny amounts of substances in the foods we eat have an immense effect on the body. Food molecules send thousands of messages that are either positive and allow us to heal, or negative and continue the cycle of illness.
This is the idea that inspired my new book, Hashimoto’s Food Pharmacology. It’s a cookbook, but it’s also a step-by-step guide for utilizing healthy habits and delicious food to help revitalize the immune system. The book features recipes and meal plans, as well as habits, tools, and strategies to stay on track. I’ve included so many of my favorite family recipes in Hashimoto’s Food Pharmacology. I truly share a part of my heart in this cookbook.
Tell us a little bit about your own journey with thyroid issues.
I experienced almost a decade of mystery symptoms such as chronic fatigue, panic attacks, irritable bowel syndrome, cold intolerance, hair loss, brain fog, acid reflux, and carpal tunnel syndrome. When I consulted doctors about my symptoms, I was often told, “You’re just getting older”—at the ripe old age of 25!
It took a lot of doctor-hopping and almost 10 years to get an accurate diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. At that point, I was excited to start on medication, but also wanted to know what I could do to be the healthiest person with Hashimoto’s. I started to do my own research and to experiment with various interventions. That’s how I became a Hashimoto’s expert and my own human guinea pig.
Lo and behold, with a few dietary changes, I was able to eliminate symptoms of acid reflux and IBS, which had plagued me for many years. And the relief came in just a few days! Further modifications helped me eliminate every single symptom. I used to sleep for 12 hours and wake up exhausted, and suddenly I could get seven to eight hours of sleep and wake up filled with energy. Eventually, I was able to put my antibodies in the “remission” range. Most days, I feel happy, healthy, calm and fit.
Wow, so even as a pharmacist, it took 10 years to get an accurate diagnosis. Why do you think this is such a common problem?
Most doctors don’t test for thyroid antibodies, and patients are told their thyroid glands are “normal” while the problem progresses. Antibodies continue to develop and lead to the destruction of the thyroid gland. Most people are diagnosed when they’ve had the condition for five, 10, sometimes 15 years!
A diagnosis is typically made in the later stage of the condition when a doctor orders a thyroid blood test and notices an elevated TSH and low levels of T4 and T3, which occur as a result of long-standing damage to the thyroid. Currently, thyroid antibodies are only ordered if there is an elevation in TSH. However, this is backward, as the TSH elevation occurs after the antibodies have been present for quite some time. This is why I advocate for checking thyroid antibodies from the start.
Let’s talk food. What are the ground rules for thyroid-healthy eating?
First, it’s important to limit reactive and processed foods like gluten, dairy, soy, caffeine, and sugar. The goal is to fill your plate with 75 percent vegetables, and 25 percent clean animal protein. I include fermented foods to support gut healing and mood.
I also encourage eating a variety of foods and rotating them often. If you have a leaky gut, eating the same food over and over again, no matter how healthy it is, can lead to a sensitivity to that food. Rotating foods is an excellent way to prevent new food reactions and to improve nutrient sufficiency.
Put the focus on nutrient density. Eat plenty of organic meat and veggies, green smoothies, green juices, bone broth, liver, fermented foods, and gelatins—all foods that are packed with healing and beneficial nutrients.
Finally, it’s important to be aware of where foods are on the glycemic index. This is important because blood sugar and adrenal issues are often implicated in those with Hashimoto’s. Following a low-GI diet can help with energy and mood swings and can also reduce the autoimmune attack on the thyroid. A diet rich in good fats can support not only hair and skin but also balanced blood sugar levels.
Can you highlight some of the foods that are especially beneficial to those of us with Hashimoto’s?
Smoothies are a really great way to increase our intake of nutritious food with less digestive stress. Because the ingredients in smoothies are chopped up, the food is easier to digest and the nutrients are easier to absorb. I love to drink green smoothies for breakfasts and snacks.
I also love bone broth, which provides healing collagen and nutrients to support our gut lining and skin. My research has found bone broth to be helpful to 70 percent of people with Hashimoto’s. Specifically, 62 percent of those who drank bone broth saw an increase in energy, 57 percent saw an improvement in mood, and 32 percent saw an improvement in skin. Bone broth is also so convenient; it travels well and can be sipped on throughout the day.
What are the most important foods to avoid?
Gluten, dairy, and soy are the top three food sensitivities in those with Hashimoto’s. I suggest reading labels to ensure these ingredients are not hiding in your food. For this reason, I always recommend preparing meals with whole foods and avoiding pre-packaged goods.
Depending on your food sensitivities, you may have many alternative options to replace gluten, like rice or buckwheat. If you’re avoiding grains, flours made of coconut, almonds, cassava/tapioca, and tigernut are great options.
Almond milk and coconut milk are wonderful dairy and soy milk alternatives. Both of them can also be made into yogurts, and cashews can be made into a spread that tastes like cream cheese.
Coconut aminos make a great soy sauce substitute. Once you find delicious gluten, dairy and soy free recipes (like the ones in my new cookbook :-)), you’ll stop missing these foods!
In addition to food, your book also talks about what we drink, especially the importance of non-fluoridated, filtered water. Can you elaborate?
Yes. Fluoride can suppress your thyroid and can be found in unfiltered water, as it is added to the drinking water supplies of many countries around the world. One way to reduce your exposure to fluoride from your drinking water is to invest in a reverse osmosis water filter, as most other filters do not remove fluoride. I have an AquaTru filter at home that I love. If this is not an option for you, I recommend looking for bottled water brands that offer low fluoride levels, or less than 0.1 parts per million of fluoride in them.
Making these changes can feel overwhelming. Can you give us some advice for implementing them successfully?
Changing our eating habits can be difficult, but ultimately, everyone has to decide if he or she wants to make a change and get better. It is a process that takes time and patience.
There are various degrees one can implement in terms of diet, and it’s important to meet yourself where you are. If you try to implement too many changes at once, it can backfire. So it’s important to keep tuning in, and working towards finding which foods work for you and which don’t.
I recommend a step-up or step-down approach. If you’re not seeing improvement, step up to a more focused healing diet. If you’re overwhelmed and ready to quit, step down to a level that’s more feasible for you. Whether you’re using one of my Root Cause dietary protocols or implementing a template diet like Paleo or AIP, each strategy has its pros and cons. You have to decide what’s best for you at this time in your journey.
We’d love to know what you eat! What does a typical day look like for you in terms of meals and snacks?
I like to start my day with a green smoothie for breakfast. For lunch, I love putting together healthy salads with protein, such as my Greek Salad, Cobb Salad, or Salmon, Avocado and Mango Salad. I like to vary up my salads and use a very clean and simple dressing like olive oil, lemon juice, and basil. For dinner, protein and vegetables are my go-to foods. And I always have a batch of bone broth cooking so I can enjoy a steamy cup when I want to give my immune system an extra boost.