The Thyroid Gland and Your Diet
By far the commonest cause of Hypothyroidism across the world is Iodine deficiency. Though less common in civilized world due to the use of iodised salt, there still are a large number of people with underactive thyroid who have problems stemming from their diet.
There are a variety of foods available that can help or hinder the Thyroid Gland. In this hub we will look at those food items that can help the Thyroid gland to function better. We will also look at dietary items that could worsen thyroid function.
Thyroid problems can often be sub-clinical and don't get diagnosed until late. This is because many of the symptoms are non specific and easy to ignore. We often attribute tiredness, sleep disturbance, weight gain, stress, feeling cold to age and lack of fitness. It is always worth keeping in mind that excess or persistence of these symptoms can also be due to Thyroid problems. A simple blood test is all it takes to diagnose problems in Thyroid activity.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
Congenital: agenesis ( malformed or unformed gland)
Iodine Deficiency : Dietary
Drugs ( Lithium, Amiodarone, Interferon)
Thyroid Gland inflammation ( Pregnancy, Autoimmune)
Infiltration from a Tumor
Surgery for Growths
Pituitary problems: TSH deficiency
If on Thyroid hormone replacement therapy, a 6-12 monthly Thyroid function Test is essential to monitor and maintain. Some patients may need lifelong thyroxine replacement.
What is the Thyroid?
Ever since we began in the primordial ooze as single celled organisms, life on earth has spent a long time in the sea before slowly crawling into land. Our evolutionary origins in the sea means that our bodies and our cells still have a very strong connection with elements that have a strong presence in the sea : salt and iodine.
Our metabolism is the way we process our energy, grow and the way our body responds to various endocrine hormones and processes.The master controller of our metabolism is the butterfly shaped Thyroid gland that resides in our neck in front and just below of our voice box.
The Thyroid Hormone is essential to control our metabolic processes. When the gland works well there is a constant stream of this hormone circulating in our blood. The demands of the body are met by a steady production especially in times of growth spurts, stress, child birth and overactivity. Dietary iodine is essential to make the hormone and as long as we are eating a balanced diet rich in this ingredient, the gland works well, and we have no problems.
If for the reasons mentioned in the side box, the Hormone production slows and reduces, we are in trouble. The reduction may be slight or severe. This is what we call as Hypothyroidism.
Occasionally the Gland can overproduce the thyroid hormone and this can have an opposite effect on our metabolism. This condition is called Hyperthyroidism ( If you say them quick both conditions sound the same, so it is important to remember them as under and overactivity!)
The symptoms of under and over activity are listed above and can overlap with clinical depression. However, there are also symptoms unique to the problems and will give you clues as to which one it is likely to be.
Underactive Thyroid ( Hypo)
Overactive Thyroid (Hyper)
Slow Heart Beat
Dry, Coarse skin
Thryroid Swelling (Goiter)
Loss of Periods
Skin and tissue changes
Foods that may cause Hypothyroidism
Peanuts ( Raw)
Soybean and Soy products
Strawberries and Peach ( in excess)
It is important to realise that these foods also contain many helpful nutrients and are by no means dangerous to normal individuals. Also many of these food items need to be eaten in very large quantities (and eaten raw) to cause problems.
Foods That Can Cause Thyroid Problems
There are a handful of foods that may cause or aggravate thyroid underactivity. This could be problem for people with already low thyroid function and those who have genetic predisposition to Thyroid problems.
It is important to realise that these foods also contain many helpful nutrients and are by no means dangerous to normal individuals. Also many of these food items need to be eaten in very large quantities and often eaten raw in order cause problems. Well cooked items may lose many of their thyroid disturbing property.
Soymilk and Soy substitutes do represent a problem for many women who may use them as natural substitutes during the menopausal stages. Though they do help in hot flushes, their anti-thyroid property can reduce hormone production during the crucial menopausal age when thyroid activity does decrease.
Women are more vulnerable to Hypothryoidism during puberty, pregnancy and menopause.
Foods That Help Thyroid function
Very high Iodine
Sea Vegetables: Kelp, Arame, Kombu
Seafood: Fish, Mussels, Shrimp
Milk & Cheese
Rich in Tyrosine
Foods Rich in Iodine and help Thyroid Gland
There are many dietary items that contain varying levels of Iodine and help production of Thyroxine. The main source of dietary iodine is of course sea or table salt. The salt in most civilized countries is now iodized during production. However as we increasingly go for a salt free diet, there is a danger we may lose the Iodine supplementation as well.
Foods that contain the amino acid tyrosine are also vital as this combines with the dietary iodine in helping the Thyroxine hormone production.
The main sources of Iodine rich food are Dairy products such as cheese and Yogurt, Sea vegetables, Sea Food, Certain Fruit, Ground vegetables such as Potato, Cranberries and Strawberries and Sea Salt.
Just as taking anti-thyroid diet can reduce thyroid activity, overindulging in iodine ( taking supplements, Herbal remedies) can cause an imbalance also. Moderation in the key here.
Top Dietary Tips to Help your Thyroid
- A Balanced normal Diet should contain enough Iodine for our daily requirement
- Sea Food has high Iodine content. Seaweed such as Kelp should be used but not overindulged
- Sea Salt is always a good source of Iodine
- Foods that affect Thyroid function such Broccoli etc do so more in raw state. Well cooked and they are not harmful. They also contain many important vitamins so no need to eliminate them completely
- Soy substitutes such as Tofu can really reduce thyroid function and need to be used with caution
- Always check before randomly buying herbal Iodine supplements They may be harmful if used without medical advice
- If properly diagnosed as underactive thyroid you do need treatment with thyroid hormone. This is prescribed according to your needs. Diet alone will not help.
© 2012 Mohan Kumar
More by this Author
Everything you need to know about St John's Wort (Hypericum): where it is from, what it is used for, and its health benefits and dangers.
Ginseng has been known to the Chinese since prehistoric times. It's widespread popularity is a mixture of real benefits and some tall claims. It is useful to know it's history, benefits and dangers.
Everything you need to know about licorice (or liquorice): Where it is from, what is it used for, and its health benefits and dangers.