Hypothyroidism and Autoimmune Disease:
How to Avoid Foods that are Harmful to Your Thyroid
Plus Those that are Beneficial to Eat!
Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck. It releases hormones that control metabolism (how your body gets energy from the food you eat), and if this process becomes disrupted it can lead to weight gain or loss, heart disease, osteoporosis, infertility and, in rare cases, even coma and death.
Women over 50 are most likely to have hypothyroidism.
More specifically, your thyroid produces two main hormones thyroxine (T-4) and triiodothyronine (T-3), which are responsible for:
- Maintaining the rate at which your body uses fats and carbohydrates
- Helping control your body temperature
- Influencing your heart rate
- Helping to regulate the production of protein
Your thyroid also produces a hormone that regulates the amount of calcium in your blood and helps prevent bone loss.
Most thyroid disorders are divided into either hypothyroidism (low thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (high thyroid) disorders. Hypothyroidism causes your body to use energy more slowly, whereas hyperthyroidism causes your thyroid to use energy more quickly.
Hypothyroidism: The Most Common Thyroid Disease
Hypothyroidism is a common disorder. In one study, 40% of 25,000 people in US tested, had thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test levels above 5.1mIU/L. The thyroid gland is considered to be under functioning when the TSH is above 3.0 mIU/L by most endocrinologist (the higher the TSH, the lower the thyroid is functioning). So many physicians believe that 40% is thought to underrepresent the actual percentage of people with hypothyroid in the US. In other words, it appears that nearly half or more of the US population is suffering from some form of under-functioning thyroid disorder. Actual thyroid disease, impacts over 27 million Americans according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. But in fact, most people with low or high thyroid are not suffering from an actual disease, but from a mild under-functioning or over-functioning of this important gland that can wreak havoc with your life even if it is operating only a little bit high or low.
Most women (80%) are affected by hypothyroidism, a sluggish or “underactive” thyroid. Some of the more common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Obstinate constipation
- Feeling cold (especially the hands and feet) even on warm days
- Low basal temperature (below 97.8° F in bed, before moving in AM)
- Fatigue, exhaustion and low energy (even after 8-10 hours of sleep)
- Slow reflexes
- Slow, weak pulse
- Slowness of thought processes (brain fog)
- Poor memory and concentration
- Muscle weakness
- Pain and stiffness in muscles or joints
- Deepening, hoarse voice
- Mood swings,
- Severe PMS
- Thick, dry, coarse skin
- Creviced, cracking skin on heels, elbows and knee caps
- Enlarged thyroid gland
- Lump in throat
- High cholesterol
Menstrual cycle irregularities (defined as being prolonged and heavy). Other women may be affect by the opposite, hyperthyroidism which is an overactive thyroid. A person with hyperthyroidism may:
- Heat Intolerance
- Increased Bowel Movements
- Light/Absent Menstrual Periods
- Increased Heart Rate
- Trembling Hands
- Weight Loss
- Muscle Weakness
- Warm, Moist Skin
- Hair Loss
If you notice any of these symptoms while taking iodine supplements or iodine medication, talk to your doctor right away about decreasing your dosage.
Hormonal imbalances, which could be caused by stress and nutritional deficiencies, trigger thyroid dysfunction. Hypothydroidism may also occur at other times your body may be more prone to hormonal imbalance, such as during perimenopause, menopause and pregnancy.
It is hypothyroidism that is most common, making up perhaps 80 percent of thyroid disease cases. In hypothyroidism, your thyroid gland is not active enough, leading to:
- Sensitivity to cold
- Muscle weakness
- Pale, dry skin
- Obstinate constipation
- Swelling of your joints
- A puffy face and hoarse voice
- Brittle fingernails and hair
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency. More rarely an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto thyroiditis caused by a virus, bacteria, genetics, or a combination of environmental factors may be a factor. Thyroid surgery, radiation therapy for cancer and certain medications (such as lithium) can also lead to hypothyroidism.
Conventionally, hypothyroidism is treated by taking a synthetic or natural thyroid hormone daily.
How Do Foods Impact My Thyroid?
As mentioned in our article “Iodine Deficiency and Breast Cancer: Is this Vital Mineral Deficiency the Cause?”, iodine in foods is an extremely important mineral to benefit people with thyroid disorders. But other naturally occurring substances known as goitrogens, exist in certain foods and can interfere with thyroid function. Foods that contain goitrogens include:
- Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips, rutabaga, etc.
- Soybeans and soy extracts
If you’re healthy, there’s no need to limit goitrogen-containing foods, however if you have hypothyroidism some health care practitioners recommend against excessive consumption of these foods.
That said, because research studies showing a link between goitrogenic foods and thyroid hormone deficiency have yet to be conducted, you probably don’t need to eliminate these foods entirely, just eat them in reasonable quantities and be certain to include several iodine containing foods for each goitrogenic food eaten at different times.
Generally speaking, the food that could be most problematic would be soy. This is because soy exists in many forms in most processed foods. So if you eat a lot of processed foods, you could be inadvertently consuming a lot of soy. Therefore, people with hypothyroidism may want to limit their intake of processed foods.
A small amount of broccoli or other cruciferous veggie is unlikely to cause much thyroid trouble, especially if it’s cooked. However, excess quantities could be problematic.
Cooking is also known to help inactivate goitrogenic compounds in foods, so if you enjoy cruciferous veggies but are concerned about your thyroid, eating them cooked may be preferable.
Beneficial foods that may HELP your thyroid function are those rich in selenium, iodine and animal-based omega-3 fats such as ocean fish, Brazil nuts, beef and sea kelp.
Supportive nutrients from not only foods but also supplements act as raw ingredient precursors to enhance the health of the thyroid gland. There are scientifically designed all-in-one support supplements for the thyroid that provide botanical and nutritional enhancement of thyroid hormone production, peripheral conversion of T4 to T3, and receptor function and recognition of thyroid hormones.
Regarding fatigue, many experts believe that strengthening the adrenal glands enhances energy levels, promotes healthy hormone balance, and improves adaptation to stress. Using a prescribed supportive supplement may increase the effectiveness of a nutritional support program for hypothyroidism.
Finally, if laboratory testing supports the need for iodine, there is an iodine supplement that is excellent for many if not most patients to be considered based on your health conditions.
Hormonal Disorder Affects Many American Women
What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
JAMA Canaris, GJ etal. Arch Intern Med;160(4),526-534