Simple Dietary Changes That Can Help Your Thyroid Naturally
Simple Dietary Changes That Can Help Your Thyroid Naturally
by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
The case for thyroid nutrition
What about soy and thyroid health? Foods that may disrupt thyroid function
Find your balance — the Women to Women approach
The thyroid is one of the most important, and often mismanaged, glands we have working in our body. Located in the front of our neck, this butterfly-shaped gland secretes hormones that control some major functions including weight management, how we use energy, how we metabolize food, and even how we sleep. For women, hormones can shift out of balance during childbearing and menopause, and even under chronic stress, putting them at a higher rate of thyroid conditions than men, and at various times of life.
We hear about thyroid concerns every day, as women want to understand why they may be having issues that point to faulty thyroid functioning. Healthcare practitioners frequently rely solely on blood tests and do not work through the delicate gray area between “your lab results are fine” and “let’s try prescription hormone therapy”. But only considering these very two different ends of the spectrum leaves women at risk for a lifetime of thyroid imbalance, and possibly more serious, or even irreversible thyroid conditions.
But before you begin to worry, let me reassure you that there are many ways to support thyroid health easily and naturally, utilizing food and nutrients to encourage proper functioning. The way we eat can actually help, or hurt, our thyroid gland. The nutrients our thyroid needs are easily accessible in many foods and dietary supplements available at the grocery store. With the right information, we can make simple choices to improve thyroid health. Here’s how.
Nutrients that support our thyroid
The thyroid gland needs specific vitamins and minerals to properly do its job. Since we are all unique in how our hormones are functioning, the best way to get a handle on what our body specifically needs is to have a full thyroid panel to help pinpoint where individual levels may be off balance. Research shows us that there are a few key nutrients are highly valuable for everyone.
Iodine (I): This is the most important trace element found in thyroid functioning. Without it, our thyroid does not have the basic building blocks it needs to make the necessary hormones to support all of the tissues in the body. Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3) are the most essential, active, iodine-containing hormones we have. In 2012, a CDC report showed that women of childbearing years in the United States, ages 20-39, had the lowest iodine levels of any other age group. This is something we can easily improve by eating more iodine-rich foods.
Selenium (Se): This element is indispensable to our thyroid in several ways. Selenium-containing enzymes protect the thyroid gland when we are under stress, working like “detox,” to help flush oxidative and chemical stress, and even social stress – which can cause reactions in our body. Selenium-based proteins help regulate hormone synthesis, converting T4 into the more accessible T3. These proteins and enzymes help regulate metabolism and also help maintain the right amount of thyroid hormones in the tissues and blood, as well as organs such as the liver, kidneys, and even the brain. Selenium also helps regulate and recycle our iodine stores. These are all very important functions!
Zinc (Zn), iron (Fe), and copper (CU): These three trace metals are vital to thyroid function. Low levels of zinc can cause T4, T3, and the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to also become low. Research shows that both hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroids, and hypothyroidism, or under active thyroids, can sometimes create a zinc deficiency leading to lowered thyroid hormones.
Decreased levels of iron can result in decreased thyroid function as well. When combined with an iodine deficiency, iron must be replaced to repair the thyroid imbalance.
Copper is needed to help produce TSH, and maintain T4 production. T4 helps cholesterol regulation, and some research even indicates copper deficiency may contribute to higher cholesterol and heart issues for people with hypothyroidism.
Antioxidants and B vitamins: Most people have heard that antioxidants are important to help temper oxidative stress, and thus combat degenerative diseases as well as improve the aging process. Vitamin A (commonly known as beta-carotene), C, and E, along with iodine and selenium, help the thyroid gland mitigate oxidative stress in an ongoing, daily process.
Oxidative stress tends to be higher with Graves disease, the most common form of hyperthyroidism. With this condition, the overactive thyroid uses more oxygen, which can result in an accumulation of oxygenated compounds that can damage cells. Antioxidants are recommended to help stop the oxidative stress before it dominoes. In addition, the B vitamins, including B2, B3, and B6, help with the manufacturing of T4. As you can see, these mechanisms are all connected, which is why the proper micronutrients are important!
Foods that support our thyroid
The following list offers whole food sources containing the necessary vitamins and minerals needed to help our thyroid stay healthy and work properly.
Vitamin B6 (pyroxidine)
Fish (tuna, trout, salmon), liver, bananas, brown rice, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, walnuts, beans (navy beans, garbanzos, pinto beans, soybeans, lima beans), Brewer’s yeast
Foods that may disrupt our thyroid function
Soy: There are some studies showing that the isoflavones in soybeans can inhibit the enzyme which adds iodine to the thyroid hormone known as thyroid peroxidase (TPO). These studies indicate that soy isoflavone might bond with the iodine we do have, diminishing the reserve for thyroid production. The issue lies with the levels of iodine we have. If levels are sufficient, eating natural soy should not be a problem. Natural soy is a tremendous help to many women in regulating menopause symptoms, so this is an important nutrient to consider.
Brassica family of vegetables: This group of vegetables includes brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage, which studies show can reduce the thyroid hormone in a similar way to soy. Goiter, an enlarged thyroid, is linked to iodine deficiency. The compounds categorized as goitrogens can be found in small amounts in many other foods as well, including spinach, peanuts, and strawberries. It’s ok to eat them, but by pairing them with iodine-rich foods, we can counteract the metabolization reducing iodine.
Gluten: There is a distinct connection between gluten intolerance, celiac disease, and autoimmune thyroid issues. This is the one food I strongly recommend to avoid if you have a thyroid condition. Gluten is found in many foods, and can trigger a whole series of digestive issues and hormonal imbalances. I have many patients whose thyroid functioning improves if we determine a gluten sensitivity and remove gluten from their diets. Not only that, they feel better!
Find the right balance
When we support our thyroid naturally, we can improve the way we feel on many levels. It may seem complicated, but once we learn which foods help and how to support our thyroid with the micronutrients we need, it will become second-nature.
Get tested. Have a full thyroid panel, as well as check iodine, selenium, and Vitamin D levels. The results of these tests combined, can help determine any underlying conditions and the best way to treat them.
Eat whole foods and consider supplements. Supporting our thyroid through consuming wholesome foods rich in the right micronutrients is ideal. But it isn’t always possible to do this on a regular basis. Using a quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement can help round-out deficiencies in thyroid imbalance. Try this approach before taking a synthetic thyroid hormone, since these prescriptions tend to increase our thyroid’s dependence on them, making it harder to get off of them later.
Use herbs. There are many herbs that can support thyroid function, such as sage, ashwaganda, bacopa monnieri, and coleus forskohlii. Combined with iodine and selenium, these herbs can help boost energy and support healthy metabolism. A functional medicine practitioner can help with the formula based on individual need.
Address stress. Chronic stress leads to elevated levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, which over time can overwork thyroid hormones, eventually leading to hypothyroidism. A good way to minimize physical stress is to actually eat more often. Three balanced meals and two healthy snacks every day can keep our thyroid working smoothly. Minimizing emotional stress is also important. Exercise, plenty of sleep, and relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation can also help balance our hormones and thyroid functioning.
Sit and enjoy your meals. We live in a culture where relaxing is put at the bottom of our to-do list. When we are rushed and hurry to eat, or eat standing at the kitchen counter, in the car, or at our desks, our digestive systems do not work as well as they do when we are relaxed and comfortable while eating. Sitting down and enjoying our meals not only helps nourish our bodies, it helps our thyroid by reducing the stress associated with hurrying. Sit with friends and family, talk, laugh, relax, and enjoy the break. You will notice a difference in how you feel, and your thyroid will too.
Something you can use as a quick printout:
Here are three things you can do to boost your thyroid function:
1. Eat more of these great sources of iodine to enhance thyroid function:
Low fat cheese
Low fat ice cream
Low fat yogurt
Seaweed (including kelp, dulce, nori)
2. Eat less of these foods; they slow your thyroid because they block your thyroid and your medication from producing thyroid hormone properly, especially when eaten raw. Cooking these foods inactivates their anti-thyroid properties. These foods are called goitrogens, which are chemicals that lower thyroid function. Eat these foods sparingly or only once every four days:
Cauliflower (Any vegetable that falls into the broccoli family is a goitrogen and shouldn’t be eaten more than twice a week if you have hypothyroidism.)
Soy (Isoflavones block iodine)
3. Workout every day. All you need is a pair of sneakers and a watch, and you’re ready to go. For optimal thyroid function, you must exercise at least three days a week for 40 minutes per workout. I strongly suggest working out/walking every day so your thyroid gets a boost daily to correct the condition until your thyroid is running at an optimal rate. Circuit training is also great way to lower insulin levels and increase thyroid function. This is easy to do in the comfort of your own home by doing push-ups, lunges and sit-ups back to back without rest, pushing yourself a bit to get out of breath.
Bonus: Enhance your thyroid with supplements. Take thyroid-enhancing supplements daily to gently and safely keep your thyroid working optimally for life. The best way to treat anything is to prevent it! Supplementing is the best way to keep your thyroid running at an optimal rate and to keep your weight under control. Start your supplement regime first by using a very strong, high quality multivitamin. Most store-bought vitamins are not suitable or strong enough to help hypothyroidism, so look for a very potent high quality multi with high levels of iodine, selenium, zinc, vitamin B, D, E and at least 2 grams of vitamin C. Other nutrients such as omega-3 as well as amino acids also help regulate the thyroid and need to also be considered. One of my favorites that I put all of my hypothyroid clients on is gugglesterones. Guggulsterone or guggulipid’s have been used for centuries in ayurvedic medicine to naturally regulate the thyroid and keep it running at an optimal rate without the side effects of medications. Look for supplement multitaskers from a very reputable source so you don’t have to take 29 different pills every day. ~Excerpt from Dr. Oz