hypothyroidism

Diagnosis and treatment of thyroid diseases, hypothyroidism (© Peakstock - stock.adobe.com)

Over 12 percent of Americans are expected to develop a thyroid condition in their lifetime. Hypothyroidism is the most common condition and is characterized by the inability of your body to make sufficient thyroid hormones. These days, social media and online forums are full of information about the best diets and supplements to fix things. Should you go no-dairy? Gluten? Unfortunately, the answer is more nuanced than that, here’s why:

What is hypothyroidism?

The thyroid is a gland shaped like a butterfly that is located in the front of the neck. It is responsible for creating and storing thyroid hormones needed by the body. When it gets a signal from the pituitary gland, called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), it’s supposed to release hormones into the blood. The hormones released, called T4 and T3, help your body to regulate weight, energy, temperature skin, and more.

In the setting of hypothyroidism, the thyroid doesn’t release enough hormones to support the body even in the setting of ample TSH telling it to do so. Symptoms can include:

  • Weight gain possibly accompanied by difficulty with weight loss
  • Frequently feeling cold
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue

Common causes

Although the specific cause varies from person to person, these are generally the most common ones:

  • Iodine deficiency
  • Environmental pollutant exposure
  • Thyroid surgery
  • Autoimmune disease
    • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. The cause of autoimmune diseases can often be unclear. However, studies find things like chronic stress, nutrient deficiencies, and insulin resistance may all play a role.
  • Medications such as lithium
Doctor looking at throat of sick teen girl, possible strep throat
(© Alexander Raths – stock.adobe.com)

Can thyroid conditions be fixed with diet?

Since there is no single cause for everyone’s hypothyroidism, there is no single diet that will fix all cases. However, just like anyone else, eating a nutrient-dense and balanced diet is key for good health. Specifically for hypothyroidism, focusing on all micronutrients is especially important, including these three:

Selenium

Selenium is critical for thyroid function, and deficiency is linked to hypothyroidism. It allows your body to convert thyroid hormones effectively. Beef, chicken, eggs, nuts, and seeds are rich in selenium.

Zinc

Zinc is needed to produce thyroid hormones as well as TSH. Zinc is commonly found in oysters, eggs, chickpeas, and more.

Iodine

Iodine helps to make thyroid hormones and regulate metabolism in general. Iodized table salt and seafood are the most common and reliable sources.

What food items should be avoided?

Some may find relief by removing or limiting certain foods in their diet. The following may cause issues if they make up a significant part of someone’s diet who has hypothyroidism:

Gluten

Research continues to find links between celiac disease and hypothyroidism, largely because they are both autoimmune conditions. Cutting down on gluten may not be the answer for everyone, but research has also shown that doing so can improve thyroid function.

Dairy

Most commonly, people push the removal of dairy to improve symptoms. This is rooted in the idea that dairy is inflammatory, given its saturated fat content. Some research backs this idea, but more recent studies do not seem to agree. However, calcium can inhibit the absorption of the most common thyroid medication, levothyroxine. Dairy is high in calcium, therefore it’s recommended to avoid taking calcium supplements and consuming milk within a four-hour window of taking the medication. Of note, lactose intolerance appears to be more common in people with hypothyroidism, in which case it may be better to avoid it.

Goitrogens

Goitrogens are compounds found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. It’s important to keep in mind that problems are seen when eaten in excess, not in average everyday amounts. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in nutrients that support the body’s overall health needs. Additionally, the concern comes when eating large amounts of them raw, as cooking destroys the enzyme that controls the goitrogenic properties.

Highly processed foods

Cakes, cookies, sodas, and fast food are typically high in added sugars and fats, which do not support weight loss — something already more difficult to achieve with hypothyroidism. Additionally, all of these unhealthier components in foods can alter thyroid metabolism and disrupt regulation.

Bottom Line

Hypothyroidism affects millions around the world and can either display mild symptoms or cause more significant disruptions to daily life. Despite what you may see on TikTok, there isn’t a single best diet or food to eat (or avoid) to make your thyroid function better. Nutrition for thyroid support is individualized. However, it’s definitely important for everyone with the condition to ensure that micronutrient intake is meeting daily needs and to take medication if it has been prescribed by a doctor.

About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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