The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland, located at the base of the neck, which forms part of the endocrine system. The thyroid’s job is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then transported throughout the body. All of the cells in the body have receptors for thyroid hormone, and compromised thyroid function affects a wide range of body systems. Thyroid hormones are essential for growth and metabolism. They are important for maintaining the body’s metabolic function, body temperature regulation and they impact digestive and brain function.
While there is a genetic predisposition to thyroid disease, there is also an environmental and lifestyle component or trigger.
Thyroid disorders can be difficult to diagnose. The type of symptoms one may experience when the thyroid is not functioning optimally is very individual. Approximately 10% of people have thyroid disease. Additionally, other thyroid disorders or dysfunction (that is, conditions and symptoms not severe enough to be labelled a “disease”, but that still impact health and quality of life) affect approximately 1 in 3. Irregular thyroid function can have wide-ranging, seemingly unrelated symptoms, which is why thyroid issues are often undiagnosed and/or untreated
Common thyroid disorders can include
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland is not making the required thyroid hormone to remain active.
The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism are:
- Weight gain
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Muscle aches
- Reduced exercise tolerance
- Irregular or heavy menstrual cycles
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition that is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It is estimated that 90% of all hypothyroidism is actually Hashimoto’s.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is overactive and produces excess thyroid hormone. The most common form of hyperthyroidism is known as Graves Disease
The most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism are:
- Rapid weight loss
- Heart racing
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loose bowel movements
Note: It is common to oscillate between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism resulting in some of the symptoms listed blending together. This broad range of symptoms, in addition to difficulty accessing accurate testing, can make it difficult to obtain a proper diagnosis.
Goiter refers to the abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland. Most goiters are caused by chronic iodine deficiency resulting in the thyroid enlarging in an effort to pull in more iodine out of the bloodstream.
In 2018, almost 900,000 people were living with thyroid cancer in the United States
Thyroid cancer is usually very treatable and is often cured with surgery and/or radioactive iodine. There are, however, many powerful dietary and lifestyle modifications that support the immune system before, during and after treatment.
Diet & Thyroid Health
It can take many years for a compromised thyroid to become inefficient enough to become a diagnosable disease. What you eat plays a vital role in supporting thyroid hormone production and conversion. Furthermore, shifting the diet, improving sleep patterns, lowering stress and addressing mineral deficiencies all help to support the root causes of thyroid imbalance.
Eating certain foods won’t magically improve your thyroid health overnight, but their nutrient profile will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to support thyroid function optimally over the long term.
8 Foods For Thyroid Health
Some of the top foods to eat (and why) to improve your thyroid function include:
The thyroid gland is the organ with the highest selenium content, which is important in converting T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) into T3 (active thyroid hormone), decreasing Reverse T3 (which can block T3 hormone receptor sites), and decreasing anti-thyroid antibody levels (antibodies the body produces to attack itself).
Brazil nuts are the most potent sources of selenium. 2-4 brazil nuts a day provide all the selenium your thyroid needs to function. Getting your selenium via food, and in particular, from brazil nuts, is more effective than supplementation.
Oysters are high in zinc which helps to regulate the immune system and thyroid. Zinc is essential for the production of white blood cells which help protect against pathogens. Oysters are also rich in copper, which, along with zinc, is important for thyroid function and collagen synthesis.
Seaweed & Dulse
Seaweed and sea vegetables including kelp, nori and wakame as well as dulse, are a rich food source of iodine which is used as a building-block for thyroid hormone production. These food sources of iodine also contain selenium, which is required to support iodine uptake. selenium improves how efficiently the body can absorb the iodine consumed from the diet. Adequate iodine consumption also prevents and, in some cases, helps reduce the presence of a goiter.
Liver and Organ Meats
Organ meats are not a common favorite food for many, but they are extremely nutritious—containing between 10 and 100 times the amount of nutrients than their conventional muscle meat counterparts. Liver, specifically, is considered to be a nutritional powerhouse and superfood for the thyroid. It is a highly concentrated source of vitamin A, which directly supports thyroid hormone metabolism and inhibits thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) secretion. Liver is also rich in more thyroid supportive nutrients, including B12 and folate and minerals such as copper, iron, zinc, and chromium.
Curious on how to include more organ meats in your diet? Read here
Most people recognize that bone broth is a source of easy to absorb essential minerals. A cup of bone broth also contains many amino acids, which have gut healing benefits. Many thyroid disorders are autoimmune in nature and often have roots in impaired digestive function, making gut health important for supporting thyroid health. Bone broth is also a source of glutamine, used by the intestinal and immune cells for energy.
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Avocados contain twice the amount of potassium as bananas along with a huge dose of healthy monounsaturated fats, which help regulate blood sugar and provide the thyroid with a steady supply of energy to function.
Dark Leafy Greens
Leafy greens help regulate inflammation in the body. Greens contain powerful antioxidants and carotenoids that lower free radical damage. Many people are concerned about the natural occurring goitrogens found in dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables however there are no studies that have ever shown that consuming cruciferous vegetables can induce hypothyroidism. Goitrogens do block iodine uptake in the body but cooking vegetables and continuing to eat sea vegetables provide more than sufficient iodine for the thyroid to thrive.
Eggs from pastured chickens provide many thyroid supportive nutrients including iodine and selenium. One egg contains about 16% of the iodine and 20% of the selenium you need on a daily basis. Eggs are rich in protein along with tyrosine, an amino acid necessary for the production of the thyroid hormone T4. While your body can produce tyrosine, a single egg adds an extra 250 milligrams of tyrosine into your diet. Be sure to eat the whole egg, as the yolk is more highly concentrated in nutrients.
3 Foods To Avoid For Thyroid Health
Sugar contains no nutrients and can wreak havoc on your health, increasing your blood sugar and triggering inflammation, which in turn can impair immune and endocrine function (read more on that here). If you want something sweet, choose berries and use naturally occurring sweeteners like raw honey and maple syrup in small amounts.
Gluten and wheat are often present in many of the processed and manufactured foods that are avoided on a real food eating plan. These foods spike glucose levels and raise inflammation in the body. Eating a variety of mineral dense root vegetables, green plantains, sweet potatoes and gluten-free whole grains and legumes will provide all the healthy complex carbohydrates needed for satiety and energy.
Soy is a complete protein and does contain fiber. However, soy also contains Isoflavones, which are estrogen-like compounds that have been shown to reduce ovulation and stimulate the growth of cancer cells. Soy inhibits thyroid gland function causing inflammation which can further exacerbate thyroid issues.
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There is no magical diet to eat when you have thyroid issue but including some foods and avoiding others can be supportive in your treatment plan. Your thyroid condition and your health are individual, so be sure to speak with your healthcare provider to find an eating plan that works for you.