You have probably heard about your thyroid a multitude of times, but did you realize that it’s one of your body’s largest endocrine glands? It should come as no surprise then that it’s incredibly important to your overall health.
Your thyroid lives in your neck, and it is just below the thyroid cartilage. It controls your body’s ability to create proteins, how it uses your energy, how it reacts to others, and more. It’s all down to the T3, T4, and calcitonin hormones.
What Is The Thyroid?
Just below your voice box lives the butterfly-shaped thyroid. It has two lobes, with one on either side of the windpipe. It produces and stores TH, the thyroid hormone which is often also known as the metabolic hormone. The thyroid hormone helps maintain your blood pressure, plays a role in the development of the nervous system, skeletal system, and regulates tissue growth, too.
Your thyroid can fall pray to a variety of disorders, including hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer, thyroiditis, and thyroid nodules.
- Hyperthyroidism – The overactive thyroid works a little too hard to produce the T3 and T4 hormones. In many cases, there are no symptoms accompanying hyperthyroidism which makes diagnosis a challenge. However, when symptoms are present they generally include racing heart, brittle hair, sweating, difficulty sleeping, irritability, nervousness, anxiety, hand tremors, thin skin, weight loss, hair loss, memory problems, diarrhea, heat intolerance, disruption to menstruation, and muscular weakness. The most common cause is Graves disease.
- Hypothyroidism – This is another term for an underactive thyroid, which simply means your thyroid gland isn’t doing enough. It just can’t produce enough of the relevant hormones and some of the symptoms include fatigue, heavy colds, and weight gain. If it is present in children, it can affect their growth developmentally and intellectually. It’s believed that the main cause for this is a deficiency of iodine. However, in countries where this is not a risk the major cause of it is Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition.
For most sufferers, their bodies are unable to convert T4 to T3. Most people don’t realize that essentially every cell in the body relies on the thyroid functioning properly and any thyroid disorder can lead to dramatic changes in health.
- Thyroid Nodules – The tissue of the thyroid gland can overgrow and when this happens a small lump (or nodule) is left. This is the most common disorder of the thyroid and is most likely to occur in people over 50. Most of these nodules are harmless, however, around one in ten is cancerous. Most nodules produce no symptoms, they are entirely harmless and never detected. Sometimes, though, they grow large enough to cause coughing or difficulty swallowing as they start to press on the windpipe. Additionally, a thyroid nodule can be overactive and cause hyperthyroidism.
According to figures from the American Thyroid Association, 12% of the American population will develop a thyroid issue at some point in their lifetime (*). It’s believed that around 20 million Americans today are living with some type of thyroid problem. Yet, it’s thought that as many as 60% of those people have no idea that their thyroid isn’t working properly.
Women are more likely to suffer from thyroid issues than men, with one in eight women likely to develop a thyroid problem. The majority of cancers affecting the thyroid will respond to treatment, however, some of them can be aggressive, which is why it’s vital that people are checking their thyroid and visiting the doctor if they believe there is an issue at play.
Symptoms of Thyroid Problems
While we did cover the typical symptoms of a thyroid problem above, there are more and if you’re experiencing a number of these then you should visit your primary care physician and specifically request a check on your thyroid hormone levels, specifically T3 and T4.
- Low Libido
- Change in appetite
- Change in taste buds
- Dry Skin
- Change in bowel movements
- Fuzzy brain
- Change in menstrual cycle
- High blood pressure
- Painful muscles
- Painful extremities
- Hoarse Voice
- Weight Gain
- Weight Loss
- Change in sleep schedule
- Poor temperature regulation
- High cholesterol
- Funny feeling in your neck
- Hair loss (or thinning hair)
- Feeling jittery
- Trouble conceiving
There are plenty of natural solutions available that will help you treat any type of thyroid problem that you have, this can be as an alternative to pharmaceuticals or in conjunction with the treatment(s) your doctor has recommended.
There are plants and minerals that will provide you with an increase in energy, help you regulate thyroid hormones, and allow you to stop (or at least reduce) the number of prescription drugs you need.
Selenium is a well-known remedy, along with iodine, for hypothyroidism, but there are also foods that can help. If you do choose to go down an alternative route, you should speak to your doctor before you make any changes to the medication they have prescribed or recommended.
Your diet can vastly improve your thyroid health (or, make it worse). Just remember, everything in moderation, so just because some of these foods are good for you, there is such a thing as overdoing it when it comes to your overall health and wellbeing.
- Because of its trace minerals and high iodine content, seaweed is an exceptional food treatment for hypothyroidism.
- Another iodine-rich food is shellfish.
- Something that may help in boosting the production of thyroid hormones is coconut oil as it stimulates your metabolism.
- You can suppress your thyroid hormones by choosing fermented soy food products.
- Cruciferous vegetables are also helpful, so eat plenty of broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, cabbage, and the rest of the family.
Foods You Should Avoid For The Health of Your Thyroid
Just as with anything – there are foods that support health and there are those that can be detrimental to specific disorders.
If you’re trying to optimize the function of your thyroid hormones that there are certain foods you should just avoid altogether (*). For the most part, these are foods that cause or contribution to the inflammation problem in your body.
- Coffee – because it’s a stimulant it can mess with the formation of your hormones, which means it’s not an ideal option for someone with any type of thyroid problem. In fact, caffeine, in general, is a bad idea.
- Unfermented Soy – these types of foods may be linked to thyroid problems due to autoimmune diseases. So, if you must eat soy opt for fermented soy and don’t overdo it. Examples of unfermented soy include fake meat, soy ice cream, soy cheese, soy milk, etc.).
- Gluten – this is something else that’s been linked to autoimmune diseases, in fact, while research is ongoing, we may soon find that there is a link between celiac disease and thyroid issues.
- Processed sugars – so, full sugar sodas, sugar itself, cookies, candy, and other things that are delicious, but bad for you.
- Dairy – creams, milk, yogurts, and cheese can wreak havoc so it’s important to note how they make you feel and cut back if necessary.
- Gluten-free grains such as millet, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.
- Goitrogens – this is simply a good that interferes with how your body absorbs iodine. This is generally an issue for people who have hypothyroidism as iodine is necessary to produce TH. So, anyone with hypothyroidism should limit their intake of these foods. That doesn’t mean ruling them out altogether, though, because they are all healthy foods. The key is to cook them and avoid eating them raw. Goitrogenic foods fall under the heading of cruciferous vegetables, so always enjoy them cooked and be careful.
Your Guide To Eating For Your Thyroid
The above is just the beginning of how you can change your diet to support the health of your thyroid. There is so much that food can do for our health, it’s why people go out of their way to have food testing done to find out what foods they have an intolerance to. Lactose may bloat you, while peanuts may upset your bowels, other foods may cause you inflammation.
For the most part, when we think of an allergy or intolerance we assume there is going to be a deathly reaction and that just isn’t the case. So, you may experience symptoms that you don’t directly relate to the food you eat, even though they are driving your problems. The same can be said for your thyroid health.
When it comes to thyroid function – certain nutrients are vital for it to work optimally, you can do that without calorie counting and you certainly don’t need to diet to eat for thyroid health either. What you can do by eating for your thyroid is balance the nutrients necessary, relieve inflammation, and enjoy a healthy thyroid.
When you think of inflammation you probably think about a twisted ankle or a sore knee. You experience an injury and your body swells to protect the affected area. It’s a natural response from the body to send help to the injured area, it fights infection and encourages healing.
That’s not the only inflammation that affects us, though. We also suffer from low-grade inflammation and a lot of us are suffering from this on a daily basis without realizing it. Sadly, when your body is under this stress daily you’re left at risk of disease. So, reducing that inflammation will help your body heal quicker and prevent diseases, too.
Choose Foods And Habits That Relieve Inflammation
- Water – your body is mostly made up of water, so you need to be drinking plenty of it. How much water? The easiest way to figure that out is by stepping on the scales. Once you have your weight, cut it in half – the total you are left with is what you should be drinking in ounces each day. So, if you’re 150 pounds you should be drinking at least 75 ounces of water on a daily basis. If you struggle to drink enough, you’ll need to go out of your way to increase your water intake.
- Live foods – quite simply, live foods or real foods are those that don’t come with a label or contain added ingredients.
- Sleep – not only should you be getting at least seven hours of sleep each night, you should be getting a good sleep. The National Sleep Foundation has tips and hints to help you with this (*).
- Exercise – you should be as active as you physically can for your age, health, and body type. Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about exercising.
- Relaxation & Breathing – it’s difficult for your body to heal when you never allow your brain to slow down and take a minute. While you’re at it, deep breathing is an excellent way to de-stress and relax.
- Green Vegetables – everyone needs a healthy dose of leafy greens, they’re packed with vitamins and minerals and you should make room for them every day. Particularly, spinach, green lettuce, arugula, and red lettuce. We mentioned cruciferous vegetables above and how they can affect how much iodine the thyroid receives. So, if you’re going to eat them you need to ensure they’re cooked.
- Taste a Rainbow – we often talk about eating a rainbow and this simply means that you are eating vegetables of all colors and types (think squash, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, celery, and carrots). If you’re sensitive to the vegetables in the nightshade category you should also avoid potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. Additionally, choosing
- Low Glycemic Fruit – what does this mean? Simply that they are lower in sugar. People who have thyroid problems struggle with sugar because sugar leads to inflammation. So, good low glycemic fruits include green apples, limes, lemons, avocados, berries, bananas, and olives.
- Lean Protein – your body needs protein daily, it’s essential to its function. Therefore, it’s fairly common for vegetarians/vegans to deal with thyroid issues, they fail to get enough protein in their diet to replace what they’ve lost by cutting out meats. The benefit of animal proteins is an amino acid that supports your thyroid. Choose lean cuts and go organic (or wild) – other types and cuts of meat will only increase inflammation. Great options are white fish, bison, and free range turkey and chicken.
- Healthy Fats – not all fats are bad fats, and it’s important to remember that when you choose the right foods to eat. Bad fats are usually found in foods that have been processed, packaged, and/or deep friend. However, healthy fats come from natural (or live) foods, such as flax, coconut oil, avocados, seeds, nuts, and olive oil. You still need to eat these in moderation, but these are healthy fats and shouldn’t be treated the same as trans fats (which do not belong in your diet whatsoever).
- Fatty Protein – yes, sometimes a fattier source of meat is good – think wild salmon and beef that has been grass-fed. It’s important to avoid meats that aren’t organic or pasture-raised.
- Herbs & Spices – not only do herbs and spices improve the flavors of your food, they provide you with some medicinal properties. Cloves, garlic, oregano, turmeric, basil, cilantro, and cinnamon are all great for your health.
- Fermented Foods – you should aim to enjoy fermented food on a daily basis, but in small amounts. Foods like kimchi, kombucha, miso (if you can have soy), raw sauerkraut, and coconut kefir are all great options. They’re packed with live bacteria and are great for your health.
- Organic Tea – it’s best to avoid caffeine and in place, you can instead enjoy healthy, herbal teas which will provide you with some medicinal benefits. Remember, always choose organic teas. If you’re not sure where to start, peppermint is excellent for digestive health, while lemon balm is a wonderful detoxing tea, chamomile is great for winding down before bed, and if you’re interested in reducing inflammation then you may want to try out reishi mushroom tea.
- Red Wine – everything in moderation, remember, and thanks to its antioxidants red wine is one of those beautiful options. It’s likely best to choose a dry red and enjoy a glass now and then.
- The Sweet Stuff – if your sweet tooth needs a hit then reach for a square or two of (80% cacao) dark chocolate. Stevia is a great replacement for sugar.
It’s fairly common for people to eat all of the right types of foods and see no change in their health. That’s because it isn’t all about what you eat, but how you balance it. Let’s get the thyroid balance right and see if you can see a difference in how you’re feeling.
- Healthy Fat – this should make up 10% of your plate.
- Starchy Vegetables – make up 15% of your plate with squash, turnips, sweet potatoes, and beets.
- Protein – it doesn’t matter whether your proteins are animal based or plant-based. It should make up 25% of your plate and includes organic products.
- Non-Starchy Vegetables & Greens – the other half of your plate should be made up entirely of these types of vegetables, which includes scallions, kale, arugula, shallots, spinach, mushrooms, and carrots.
While some people may need to tweak the balance, this is generally the best balance. You can make changes as your body guides you. What’s important to note is that diets like keto and paleo aren’t suited to anyone with a thyroid problem as they’re high in fat and low in carbs. Typically, people with hypothyroidism struggle to burn fat efficiently.
Supplements To Support Your Thyroid Health
- Magnesium – it works with calcium and the former is what regulates the absorption and utilization of calcium. So, in addition to the other bodily functions magnesium supports, it’s also vital to thyroid health.
- B Complex – not only is it great for liver detox, it also helps convert hormones found in foods.
- Iodine – while it’s helpful for anyone with hypothyroidism it’s not ideal for anyone taking thyroid medication. So, speak to your doctor before you take any supplements, it’s also not recommended for anyone with Hashimoto’s disease.
- Probiotics – what better way to provide your gut with healthy bacteria and balance than with probiotics? It isn’t just helpful for digestion, it can improve your mood, too.
- Essential Fatty Acids – Omega 3 is found in fish (and supplements) and it’s vital to brain health and reducing inflammation, too.
- Selenium – it’s crucial to the production of T4 and it also helps the liver convert T4 into T3. Some people produce enough of the hormone, but the body just isn’t converting it efficiently.
- Zinc – your body can’t synthesize thyroid hormones without zinc, likewise the body can’t absorb zinc without thyroid hormones.
- Vitamin D3 – this is a hormone and while supplements are available, you can get yours through various foods and plenty of sunshine (just don’t forget the sunscreen).
Your thyroid relies on you to make healthy dietary decisions. It isn’t about dieting or counting calories, rather, it’s all about leading a healthy lifestyle that supports the overall health of your body. By following the guide above, you can help improve your thyroid function, whether you already have thyroid problems or you’re looking to prevent them.
Before you start taking any supplements, change medications or alter your diet too drastically, you should speak to your doctor about what you intend to do. Your doctor can keep you on the right track and prevent you from doing anything detrimental to your health.