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DIM is moving into the spotlight as a possible treatment option for certain hormone-related conditions. This compound is naturally produced in the body when we digest certain foods. Part of its effects may help stabilize hormones and potentially suppress cancer cells from growing. And, from what recent research suggests, DIM supplements may also enhance thyroid function in people with hypothyroidism.
Diindolylmethane (DIM) is a compound made in our digestive tract from the breakdown of cruciferous vegetables. When we eat leafy greens like broccoli or sprouts, stomach acid breaks down indole-3-carbinol to make DIM.
Observational studies show that eating a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables may help balance estrogen levels and reduce your risk for certain cancers, including breast and prostate. While this relationship is still needing further scientific exploration, current research suggests that indole-3-carbinol (and subsequently DIM) is what may be behind these findings.
A person must consume many cruciferous vegetables to likely get the positive effects of DIM. While these veggies have many health-promoting benefits, they can also cause problems for the gut, such as bloating. Cruciferous veggies may also have a goitrogenic effect on the thyroid gland, meaning they may cause the thyroid gland to enlarge (or become a goiter). Goitrogens are naturally occurring plant-based compounds that can interfere with normal thyroid functioning.
Common cruciferous vegetables include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Bok choy
Several factors influence the amount of DIM produced, including the type of cruciferous vegetable consumed, its age, and how it is stored and prepared. However, at this point, we do not know how these factors affect DIM concentrations. For this reason, (and because eating too many cruciferous vegetables can adversely affect your GI tract and thyroid), DIM supplements are preferable to eating too many cruciferous vegetables daily.
Current research suggests that DIM affects estrogen levels by stimulating the production of 2-hydroxyestrone, a beneficial form of this hormone. It may also diminish the effects of a more potent estrogen (16 alpha -hydroxyestrone), associated with certain cancers, including breast and uterine cancer. When 2-hydroxyestrone is increased and 16 alpha-hydroxyestrone is suppressed, it may have anti-tumor effects in women with breast cancer.
Another potential use for DIM is that it may convert testosterone to estrogen by suppressing the aromatase enzyme. While its role is unclear, some research suggests that DIM may also stop cancer cell growth in the prostate gland.
Other potential uses of DIM include:
- Enhancing weight loss
- Treating acne
- Diminishing PMS symptoms
- Decreasing hot flash severity in menopause
No human studies can confirm its effectiveness for the above issues. Still, there is potential for further research in these subject areas.
So far, research has yet to confirm a relationship between DIM and the thyroid. But one of the more intriguing things about thyroid diseases is that they disproportionally favor women. Indeed, women are five to eight times more likely to have a thyroid problem than men. And what is more, one in eight women will have a thyroid problem in her life.
This suggests that there is potentially an estrogenic component to thyroid problems. We don't fully know why women are more likely to experience thyroid issues, but one explanation lies in autoimmunity.
Women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases compared to men. This is multifactorial, but one of the leading theories is that the X chromosome carries more immune-related genes. Therefore, there is a greater risk of mutations in women (whose chromosomes are XX) than in men (XY). Other possible reasons for more autoimmunity in women include the hormonal shifts that occur throughout a woman's reproductive life, including puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause.
Surprisingly, most thyroid problems in the United States are due to autoimmune diseases--primarily Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Graves' disease. Hashimoto's is the most common, where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing chronic inflammation. Eventually, thyroid cells can no longer make thyroid hormone, and thyroid hormone levels fall, leading to hypothyroidism.
Now, turning the spotlight back onto DIM, this dietary supplement may prove beneficial in reducing the risk of developing certain thyroid diseases, such as goiters and cancer. Through studies on the anti-cancer effects of DIM, researchers found that DIM accumulates in thyroid tissue and modulates thyroid proliferative disease.
Does this mean that DIM may help reduce your risk for thyroid disease? Well, the jury is still out, but there is potential for more research in this area.
Currently, there is little guidance on how to dose DIM for thyroid support (or any other condition, for that matter). There are few human studies to date, but of those studies, the number of study subjects is small, and dosing is related to prostate health. Thus, we know very little about how effective this supplement is for preventing or treating thyroid disease.
Before trying any supplement, talk to your healthcare provider. DIM may reduce some medications' effectiveness and potentially interfere with other health conditions.
If you have a thyroid condition, meet with a trusted thyroid doctor to get the best treatment plan. Our team of thyroid doctors at Paloma Health uses a holistic approach to treating Hashimoto's and hypothyroidism tailored to your specific health profile.