How to Treat Hypothyroidism With Food
by Veronica Hinke
Shaped like a butterfly, the thyroid gland in the neck plays a critical role in overall health, as it produces a series of hormones that regulate metabolism, brain development, bone maintenance, and heart, muscle and digestive functions. Thyroid health can be achieved by eating clean, unprocessed foods and maintaining appropriate levels of iodine.
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly five in 100 Americans suffer from hypothyroidism, which occurs when the body does not produce adequate amounts of thyroid hormones. Common symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, inability to tolerate cold temperatures and hair loss should not be ignored. Diagnosis is aided by a blood test that measures levels of thyroid-stimulating hormones. While most cases of an underactive thyroid are mild or cause few obvious symptoms, the disease can become severe if it is left untreated.
“Only 10 percent of the population is aware of their thyroid problem and trying to manage it. Thyroid disease is a big thing. If people don’t know if they have it, they should be screened for it. If they have it, they should have hope,” says Alan Christianson, a naturopathic endocrinologist and author of The Thyroid Reset Diet: Reverse Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Symptoms With a Proven Iodine-
“For women, an especially critical time to check thyroid health is during perimenopause years, when thyroid function can often waver, becoming underactive. Even if lab tests are normal, it is important to speak with a physician that understands the symptoms of hypothyroidism,” says Anna Cabeca, an obstetrician-gynecologist and women’s health expert in Brunswick, Georgia. “Most people can improve or reverse it radically. Diet is very powerful. Start with your shopping list and at the top write: Food is medicine.”
Offering hope, Michigan-based obstetrician-gynecologist Tabatha Barber says, “It’s often about doing less, not more, to help improve thyroid function. Don’t be afraid that this is something you have to live with forever.” As a teenager, Barber was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid gland and often causes hypothyroidism. She has learned how to modify her diet for relief.
Skip the Gluten
“Gluten is the main trigger that really seems to irritate the immune system,” says Barber. “A lot of people don’t realize that gluten is in some sauces, salad dressings, seasonings, medication fillers and more. It can be enough to keep the inflammation associated with hypothyroidism going.”
“Iodine is the Goldilocks mineral,” says Christianson. “It’s important to not consume too much or too little. Those with thyroid disease usually get too much. When they do, it inflames and slows the thyroid.” In such cases, he recommends eating a wide range of unprocessed food and avoiding ingredients with the highest iodine content, such as fish and other seafood, iodized salt, seaweeds, grains and most dairy.
Barber prioritizes the elimination of artificial ingredients and additives, saying, “It’s about really getting back to basics, eating unprocessed meats, vegetables and some fruits.” She recommends consuming foods rich in zinc and selenium, such as shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts and diary, as they send signals to the thyroid to produce the right hormone levels.
Cabeca shaves selenium-rich Brazil nuts on soups or salads. “Keep them as a staple in the kitchen,” she advises, adding that balance is important when selecting zinc- and selenium-rich foods because some of them, like dairy, may also contain high levels of iodine.
Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Cabeca finds clever ways to sneak anti-inflammatory ingredients into her recipes. For her kafta kabobs, for example, she combines ground meat with finely chopped parsley, garlic, tomatoes or dried shiso leaves and tops them with cashew butter or tahini sauce. Similarly, she uses plenty of parsley in her tabouleh—a traditional Middle Eastern salad—and replaces the customary bulgur wheat with chopped Brussels sprouts or cauliflower.
According to Northwestern Medicine, cauliflower can be part of a healthy thyroid diet, along with other cruciferous vegetables. “These are foods that I grew up on,” Cabeca says, noting that parsley is a natural diuretic that is also good for the thyroid.
Veronica Hinke is a food historian and author of The Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining and Style; Titanic: The Official Cookbook and Harry Potter: Afternoon Tea Magic. Learn more at FoodStringer.com.
Photo credit: minadezhda by Getty Images/CanvaPro