How to Optimize Thyroid Health
Inflammation & Stress
An anti-inflammatory diet is important for anyone concerned with thyroid health. This is because 85% thyroid disease is autoimmune. Inflammation plays a role in the destruction of the thyroid gland in cases of autoimmunity. In low T3 syndrome we know that chronic inflammation is a major contributor as well. I talk about this and other factors like poor gut health, high iron, nutrient deficiencies and low testosterone in another article.
Pregnancy is an excellent time to optimize diet and lifestyle for thyroid health because onset of thyroid disease post-partum is so common. Removing foods like vegetable oils, gluten, grains, sugar and processed foods is a good starting place. Adding more whole foods like meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds is excellent. Calories should not be restricted especially in pregnancy. This diet can be followed for thirty days to reset the body into knowing what it means to feel full and satisfied from eating nutrient dense foods. I walk patients through this all the time and have an online course called the Gut & Adrenal Reset to support the process.
Keep in mind that a very low carbohydrate diet can inhibit thyroid conversion of T4 to T3. At least 30 percent of calories can come from starchy vegetables, fruits and gluten-free grains if these are tolerated. Keep in mind that gluten has a protein called zonulin. We know this increases intestinal permeability and leads to autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Keep in mind that for athletes and those with high levels of activity at work or in the home a higher carbohydrate diet is appropriate. Too much exercise can stress the thyroid as well. Incorporate times of rest and down time into your lifestyle. Conversely if you have a job where you sit a lot ensure enough activity as not enough movement, play and pleasure also impacts the thyroid negatively.
Patients with inflammation or those who are motivated to optimize their health are also asked to eat 4-5 servings of cold-water fatty fish per week. This works out to about a pound of salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, snapper and cod. Canned, fresh or smoked are all good options. Variety is best in nearly all of our food choices. Please keep in mind that the research supports the safety of eating these fish due to the balance of selenium to mercury naturally occurring in them.
This brings us to specific nutrients to monitor in thyroid conditions. Selenium is one and is found in brazil nuts, fish/shellfish, kidneys, mushrooms and meat. Two brazil nuts per day is enough and much safer than supplementing especially long-term. Iodine is highest in seaweeds including kelp, kombu, hijiki, wakame and less so in nori. Fish, poultry, dairy, cranberries and potatoes are other sources.
Sufficient iodine minimizes the effect of goitrogens. These are foods that need to be limited in thyroid disease and cooked most of the time. I had a patient recently with Hashimoto’s who was having a green smoothie daily with kale. Kale is high in goitrogens and should be at least steamed. Collards, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, sweet potato, millet, soy and yucca all fall into this category.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut support the gut microbiome. This is very much linked to thyroid health. The live organisms and prebiotic fibers are effective at supporting long-term gut health as are a variety probiotic strains.
Last but not least is stress management. Meditation, journaling, yoga, breath work and other daily activities are known to reduce the negative effects of stress. The most pervasive and damaging factor in autoimmune and thyroid conditions may in fact be stress. Commit to making changes and get support. This factor alone can have an enormous impact on your health long-term.