Maintaining healthy hormone levels can be a challenge but it is possible. Following a diet that supports the thyroid is a good place to start. It should provide certain nutrients, like iodine and selenium, that naturally support normal thyroid health. Additionally, it's important to be mindful of other types of food that can actually interfere with hormone balance and thyroid function. Let's take a closer look at how you can use the power of nutrition to support your thyroid and encourage normal hormone balance.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
When the thyroid functions normally, it produces the metabolism-regulating hormones T3 and T4. When it's not functioning normally, a thyroid disorder may be to blame. Thyroid disorders typically manifest as the thyroid being too active, or not active enough.
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid is underactive and doesn't synthesize enough thyroid hormone. Aside from making you feel generally unwell, it can produce other symptoms such as sensitivity to cold, dry skin, fatigue, muscle cramps, constipation, depression, and voice changes. Hypothyroidism is relatively common in middle-age and older adults; according to some estimates, it affects up to 20 percent of women over the age of 60. It's common for affected people to have low energy levels, a slow metabolism, and difficulty maintaining a desirable body weight.[1, 3]
Health Benefits of Following a Thyroid Diet
Diet has a tremendous impact on thyroid health and function. Some foods provide the nutrients the thyroid requires. Other types of food may impair thyroid function. It's important to consume enough of the former and less of the latter. Just as you can't ignore the effect your dietary choices have on your waistline, you can't ignore the effect of nutrition as it helps, or hinders, the thyroid. If you're unsure of the status of your thyroid, a doctor can use blood tests to determine your standing. People who experience thyroid concerns should get tested every five years, beginning at age thirty-five.
Vitamins and Minerals Essential for Thyroid Health
Normal thyroid function and hormone production occur when the thyroid is healthy and it's provided the right nutrition. Iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc are all especially important for the thyroid. It's a good idea to take inventory of your nutritional intake and determine if you're getting enough of each.
Iodine deficiency is a common, contributing factor for hypothyroidism, and, as a global concern, affects as many as two billion people. Iodine is an essential component for thyroid hormone synthesis and actually becomes a part of the thyroid hormone itself. It’s impossible for the thyroid to produce hormones without iodine. A healthy, balanced diet should include foods that are a good source of iodine.
If your diet doesn't provide enough iodine, an iodine supplement can help bridge the gap between your intake and requirements.
Selenium is the second most crucial mineral for thyroid hormone production. In fact, gram for gram, the thyroid gland has the highest concentration of selenium in the body. Like iodine, selenium also becomes a part of thyroid hormones. Selenium is also a component of proteins, known as selenoproteins, that act as antioxidants to help protect the thyroid gland from oxidative stress.
It’s not possible to discuss thyroid health without considering the importance of vitamin B12. In one study, 40 percent of people who suffered from hypothyroidism also had a B12 deficiency. A supplement can help people who are deficient in B12 or have hypothyroidism. Foods that are rich in B12, while few and far between, and not often vegan-friendly, are one way to consume vitamin B12. Again, supplementation may be something to consider if your diet doesn't provide sufficient B12.
There are a number of other trace elements that contribute to thyroid health; zinc and iron are especially worth mentioning. Zinc is a crucial component of the thyroid hormone receptors that help regulate metabolism and heart rate. Iron boosts the efficacy of iodine. Following a healthy, balanced diet that provides a complete spectrum of nutrients is a good strategy for supporting thyroid health.
Foods That Help Maintain Healthy Thyroid Levels
Seaweed is a great source of iodine and considered one of the most beneficial foods for thyroid health. Believe it or not, not all seaweed is the same; there are a number of varieties to try. Wakame and nori can usually be found in the international section of your grocery store. Wakame is the delicious green seaweed you see swirling around miso soup. If you’ve ever tried sushi rolls, nori is the dark green sheet upon which the ingredients are arranged. Kelp and kombu, two other varieties, are used to flavor soup stock.
If you’re a regular seaweed consumer or feeling adventurous, try making a salad with kelp. It can be an acquired taste! Fruits and vegetables can provide iodine but the content varies considerably depending on the geographic region they are grown and the nutrient content of the soil. Antioxidant-rich foods like dark green leafy vegetables and berries can protect against oxidative stress. Although it is possible to get too much iodine, it's virtually impossible to get too much from eating food.
Many foods are high in selenium. Brazil nuts, pinto beans, and button mushrooms are just a few. Six Brazil nuts offer 774 percent of your daily selenium requirement. Eating just a few every day will provide more than enough selenium. Selenium toxicity is possible with high doses. Whether you get selenium from food or supplements, it's best to stay within dietary guidelines.
Various cereals and nut milk, like almond and hemp, are fortified with B12 — though natural sources are ideal. Other sources of B12 include meat, dairy, and eggs, but, beware, these foods also promote inflammation.[17, 18] Inflammation is often present with thyroid disorders. In fact, inflammation is a cause of hypothyroidism.
Herbs That Support Thyroid Health
Herbs that support the thyroid include Coleus (Coleus forskohlii), guggul (Commiphora mukul) and bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus).
It’s best to talk to your doctor before consuming these herbs as they may interfere with certain medications.
Foods to Avoid on a Thyroid Diet
Some foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, can actually work against the thyroid because they are goitrogens. When the body metabolizes the glucosinolates found in vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, goitrin compounds are produced. Goitrin interferes with the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Cruciferous vegetables also contain indole glucosinolates which, when metabolized, yield a product that traps dietary iodine. This can result in an iodine deficiency, even if you consume enough iodine.
Soy is another goitrogenic food. Common sources of soy include tofu, soy sauce, and soy milk. The main isoflavone in soy, genistein, deactivates human thyroid peroxidase (TPO), an enzyme, and interferes with T3 and T4 synthesis. However, a pre-existing iodine deficiency must be present for this effect to significantly lower thyroid hormone production. Older adults, especially women, should avoid soy products if they have an iodine deficiency.
People who take the synthetic T4 hormone L-T4 should avoid coffee, as it interferes with the medication's absorption. If you can’t give up coffee, it’s best to avoid coffee at least an hour before or after taking synthetic thyroid hormone medication. The caffeine is not the culprit, so you can trade your morning coffee for tea and avoid the coffee-sourced compound that binds to L-T4.
Alcohol is toxic to thyroid cells and harmful for thyroid health. It suppresses thyroid function and affects T3 levels. Clearly, those who have low thyroid hormone levels should avoid alcohol at all costs.
A Thyroid Diet Is Essential for Healthy Thyroid Functioning
Whether you’re trying to boost an underactive thyroid or just want to be on top of your thyroid health, following the right diet is key to helping manage frustrations like poor-quality sleep and weight gain.
Ideally, most people should be able to get vitamins and minerals from diet alone. However, if your diet isn't balanced or doesn't consistently provide the completed spectrum of nutrients your body requires, supplementation may be the key.
If you’re one of these people, I recommend the Thyroid Health Kit™. It’s specially formulated to nourish your thyroid gland and contains our three best supplements for maintaining a healthy thyroid — nascent iodine, selenium, and vitamin B12.
Have you tried eating foods or following a diet specifically to support thyroid health? Share your experiences below!
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.