Thyroid And Healthy Life


Ever heard of these wise, ancient idioms: “Let your food be your medicine”, or “All diseases start in the gut”?

These were my guiding principals when all else (meaning: western medicine) failed to help my thyroid drama; first Graves’ and later Hashimoto’s Disease. After many years of trying different things, I’m finally putting the pieces together and calling it the “Thyroid Diet”.

I wish there were two different words to say what I want to say; one for “diet” when you want to lose weight and another for a nourishing food change that will bring healing and joy. Oh well… But you know when I say “diet” I mean a protocol, a way of being, living and eating that will free you from some/all of the fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight yo-yos, Weight Watchers micro-management and infertility that have plagued you for some time now.

There are some people who say that there is “no scientific evidence between food and thyroid or healing.” It’s a choice we make on how we want to view things and what we want to believe. Choice is a powerful tool we have. Let us never forget that. I would therefore offer a reframe from “there is no evidence” to “what if I just try something new/different for 3 weeks and see how I feel.” Because really, what have you got to lose? Especially if you have been sick for a long time… You might learn something new and have fun along the way! You have a choice.

Before you read on, it’s key to know (and most people do not realize this as doctors don’t have the time to explain things) that 90% of hypo- and hyperthyroidism results from an autoimmune disorder. This goes to say that most hypothyroid conditions are Hashimoto’s and most hyperthyroid conditions are Graves’ Disease. It means that your immune system started attacking the thyroid. Since the immune system resides in the gut, or our intestine, (did you know that?!), a lot of what you will read here is about rebuilding the digestive system.


Thyroids And Our Body


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What the heck does the thyroid gland do? Most physicians will tell you “it controls metabolism,” which is what we all learned in medical school. That statement is basically the same as saying “it’s really complicated and I don’t understand it.” It also presumes that the listener knows what metabolism is, and why controlling it is important. Well, I’ll do my best to actually explain the thyroid gland.

Our thyroid is a butterfly-shaped glands that is found in the front of our throats right below our Adam’s apple (the larynx). It’s responsible for regulating our thyroid hormones on a day to day basis. But what do those hormones do? There are three thyroid hormones, two of which are commonly known as T3 and T4. The other is lesser known, yet still important and called calcitonin. These hormones control the body’s metabolic rate as well as contribute to heart function, digestive health, muscle control, bone maintenance, and even brain development and mood. The release of these hormones are completely controlled by the TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) that’s produced by the pituitary gland. They are utilized in the body to assist with energy and also affect how other hormones in the body work as well.




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The disease process for Hashimoto’s is a spectrum, and not all patients require treatment. Some patients have autoimmune antibodies but retain enough thyroid function without the need for intervention for years. Generally, once the body can no longer produce an adequate amount of thyroid hormone for necessary physiological functions, thyroid replacement medication is necessary to correct the hormonal imbalances associated with hypothyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism usually is treated with medications, surgery, or oral radioactive iodine. However, these treatments are imprecise and may cause the thyroid to secrete inadequate amounts of T3 and T4 and function insufficiently after treatment. Seventy percent to 90% of patients with Graves’ or thyroid cancer eventually need treatment for hypothyroidism as a result of treatment.


Possible Thyroid Problems


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It’s estimated that 30 million people have a thyroid disorder of some kind. Many people suffer from underactive thyroid, known as hypothyroidism, while others suffer from overactive thyroid disorder, or hyperthyroidism. Both can be detrimental to one’s health and cause a host of other health issues to occur as a result. Hypoythyroidism is most common, especially in women. It can lead to weight gain, a slowed metabolism, low energy, depression, digestion upset, mood problems, joint pain, poor memory, muscle stiffness, headaches and more. It often leads to autoimmune disease disorders known as Hashimoto’s and Graves disease due to the way the thyroid affects all major parts of the body. Hypothyroidism can cause anxious-like energy, problem gaining weight, higher body temperatures, trouble sleeping, and overactive digestion.

The reasons for a thyroid disorder are hard to pinpoint since many things can cause an imbalance quickly. A poor diet, too much or too little exercise, consistent stress, trauma, a food allergy, lack of rest, metabolic disorders, other hormone disorders, medication and birth control pills, and so many other things can affect one’s thyroid. Many women in their early 20′s and 30′s begin to show thyroid problems, but it can occur at any age, even babies and young children.


Nutrients Needed for a Healthy Thyroid

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Key Nutrients

Many nutritional factors play a role in optimizing thyroid function. However, both nutrient deficiencies and excesses can trigger or exacerbate symptoms. Working in collaboration with a physician is ideal to determine nutritional status for optimal thyroid health.


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Iodine is a vital nutrient in the body and essential to thyroid function; thyroid hormones are comprised of iodine. While autoimmune disease is the primary cause of thyroid dysfunction in the United States, iodine deficiency is the main cause worldwide.

Iodine deficiency has been considered rare in the United States since the 1920s, largely due to the widespread use of iodized salt. This, along with fish, dairy, and grains, is a major source of iodine in the standard American diet.

However, iodine intake has dropped during the past few decades. Americans get approximately 70% of their salt intake from processed foods that, in the United States and Canada, generally don’t contain iodine. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicates that, on average, Americans are getting adequate amounts of iodine, with the potential exception of women of childbearing age.

Both iodine deficiency and excess have significant risks; therefore, supplementation should be approached with caution. Supplemental iodine may cause symptom flare-ups in people with Hashimoto’s disease because it stimulates autoimmune antibodies.

Iodine intake often isn’t readily apparent on a dietary recall since the amount in foods is largely dependent on levels in the soil and added salt. However, Schneider says, “Clients taking iodine tablets are a red flag. Frequent intake of foods such as seaweed or an avoidance of all iodized salt may serve as signs that further exploration is needed.”

Vitamin D:

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Vitamin D deficiency is linked to Hashimoto’s, according to one study showing that more than 90% of patients studied were deficient. However, it’s unclear whether the low vitamin D levels were the direct cause of Hashimoto’s or the result of the disease process itself.

Hyperthyroidism, particularly Graves’ disease, is known to cause bone loss, which is compounded by the vitamin D deficiency commonly found in people with hyperthyroidism. This bone mass can be regained with treatment for hyperthyroidism, and experts suggest that adequate bone-building nutrients, such as vitamin D, are particularly important during and after treatment.

Foods that contain some vitamin D include fatty fish, milk, dairy, eggs, and mushrooms. Sunlight also is a potential source, but the amount of vitamin production depends on the season and latitude. If clients have low vitamin D levels, supplemental D3 may be necessary, and the client’s physician should monitor progress to ensure the individual’s levels stay within an appropriate range.


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The highest concentration of selenium is found in the thyroid gland, and it’s been shown to be a necessary component of enzymes integral to thyroid function. Selenium is an essential trace mineral and has been shown to have a profound effect on the immune system, cognitive function, fertility in both men and women, and mortality rate.

A meta-analysis of randomized, placebo-controlled studies has shown benefits of selenium on both thyroid antibody titers and mood in patients with Hashimoto’s, but this effect seems more pronounced in people with a selenium deficiency or insufficiency at the outset . Conversely, an excessive intake of selenium can cause gastrointestinal distress or even raise the risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer. So clients will benefit from having their selenium levels tested and incorporating healthful, selenium-rich foods in to their diets, such as Brazil nuts, tuna, crab, and lobster.

Vitamin B12:

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Studies have shown that about 30% of people with ATD experience a vitamin B12 deficiency. Food sources of B12 include mollusks, sardines, salmon, organ meats such as liver, muscle meat, and dairy. Vegan sources include fortified cereals and nutritional yeast. Severe B12 deficiency can be irreversible, so it’s important for dietitians to suggest clients with thyroid disease have their levels tested.


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Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage naturally release a compound called goitrin when they’re hydrolyzed, or broken down. Goitrin can interfere with the synthesis of thyroid hormones. However, this is usually a concern only when coupled with an iodine deficiency.Heating cruciferous vegetables denatures much or all of this potential goitrogenic effect.

Soy is another potential goitrogen. The isoflavones in soy can lower thyroid hormone synthesis, but numerous studies have found that consuming soy doesn’t cause hypothyroidism in people with adequate iodine stores.However, Dean cautions clients to eat soy in moderation.

The potential exception is millet, a nutritious gluten-free grain, which may suppress thyroid function even in people with adequate iodine intake. If a dietary recall indicates frequent millet consumption in patients with hypothyroidism, it may be wise to suggest they choose a different grain.


What to Avoid to Take Care of Your Thyroid

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Hypothyroidism can be a tricky condition to manage, and what you eat can interfere with your treatment. Some nutrients heavily influence the function of the thyroid gland, and certain foods can inhibit your body’s ability to absorb the replacement hormones you may take as part of your thyroid treatment. There’s no such thing as a “hypothyroidism diet” that will make you well, but eating smart can help you feel better despite the condition. Here are nine foods to limit or avoid as you manage hypothyroidism:












The hormone estrogen can interfere with your body’s ability to use thyroid hormone, says Stephanie Lee, MD, PhD associate chief of endocrinology, nutrition, and diabetes at Boston Medical Center and an associate professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. Soy is loaded with plant-based phytoestrogen, and some researchers believe too much soy may increase a person’s risk for hypothyroidism. People with hypothyroidism should moderate their intake of soy. However, because soy hasn’t been definitively linked to hypothyroidism, there are no specific dietary guidelines.


Cruciferous Vegetables

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Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, can interfere with the production of thyroid hormone, particularly people who have an iodine deficiency. Digesting these vegetables can block the thyroid’s ability to absorb iodine, which is essential for normal thyroid function. People with hypothyroidism may want to limit their intake of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips, and bok choy. Cooking the vegetables can reduce the effect that cruciferous vegetables have on the thyroid gland. Limiting your intake to 5 ounces a day appears to have no adverse effect on thyroid function.



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People with hypothyroidism should consider minimizing their intake of gluten, a protein found in foods processed from wheat, barley, rye, and other grains, says Ruth Frechman, RDN, a dietitian and nutritionist in the Los Angeles area and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Gluten can irritate the small intestine and may hamper absorption of thyroid hormone replacement medication.


Fatty Foods

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Fats have been found to disrupt the body’s ability to absorb thyroid hormone replacement medicines, Dr. Lee says. Fats may also interfere with the thyroid’s ability to produce hormone as well. Some health care professionals recommend that you cut out all fried foods and reduce your intake of fats from sources such as butter, mayonnaise, margarine, and fatty cuts of meat.


Sugary Foods

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Hypothyroidism can cause the body’s metabolism to slow down, Frechman says. That means it’s easy to put on pounds if you aren’t careful. “You want to avoid the foods with excess amounts of sugar because it’s a lot of calories with no nutrients,” she says. It’s best to reduce the amount of sugar you eat or try to eliminate it completely from your diet.


Processed Foods

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“Processed foods tend to have a lot of sodium, and people with hypothyroidism should avoid sodium,” Frechman says. Having an underactive thyroid increases a person’s risk for high blood pressure, and too much sodium further increases this risk. Read the Nutrition Facts label on the packaging of processed foods to find options lowest in sodium. People with an increased risk for high blood pressure should restrict their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Excess Fiber















Getting enough fiber is good for you, but too much can complicate your hypothyroidism treatment. Guidelines currently recommend that older adults take in 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. Amounts of dietary fiber from whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes that go above that level affect your digestive system and can interfere with absorption of thyroid hormone replacement drugs. If you’re on a high-fiber diet, ask your doctor if you need a higher dose of thyroid medication. Your maintenance dose may need to be increased if you aren’t absorbing enough medication.



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Caffeine has been found to block absorption of thyroid hormone replacement, Lee says. “People who were taking their thyroid medication with their morning coffee had uncontrollable thyroid levels, and we couldn’t figure it out,” she says. “I now have to be very careful to tell people, ‘Only take your medication with water.'” You should wait at least 30 minutes after taking your medication before having a cup of joe.



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Alcohol consumption can wreak havoc on both thyroid hormone levels in the body and the ability of the thyroid to produce hormone. Alcohol appears to have a toxic effect on the thyroid gland and suppresses the ability of the body to use thyroid hormone. Ideally, people with hypothyroidism should cut out alcohol completely or drink in careful moderation.



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