What is the Thyroid and what function does it perform?
The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped hormonal gland in the throat that releases a steady amount of thyroid hormones into the blood stream. It is part of our endocrine or hormonal system. This gland is vital as it plays a major role in many bodily functions such as metabolism, energy levels, body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, growth and development.
What is Hypothyroidism?
When one is diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, also known as an Under-active Thyroid, means that the thyroid gland produces less hormones than what the body requires. This can result in certain biological processes in the body to slow down and may lead to weight gain, fatigue, dry skin and memory problems like brain fog.
How do we treat Hypothyroidism?
Treatment for hypothyroidism usually involves taking a synthetic version, in the form of a daily tablet. Medication should be taken on an empty stomach. Wait at least 30 min before having your first cup of coffee, tea or breakfast bowl. Make sure to read the leaflet of your medication and to consult with your general practitioner to find out more on the specific requirements of using your thyroid medication.
Along with medication, one can help manage your thyroid with dietary and lifestyle interventions. We all eat out of habit, meaning most of us eat without even thinking about it. Our eating habits and lifestyles have a significant effect on our bodies and even more so when we have Hypothyroidism.
What dietary changes can we make to help Hypothyroidism?
Follow these easy steps and make sure to discuss these interventions more in depth with your healthcare provider or dietician.
Step one: Include specific nutrients in your diet to help maintain a healthy thyroid function. These nutrients include Iodine, Selenium and Zinc.
The body requires iodine to produce thyroid hormones, but the body cannot make it, so a person needs to get iodine from the food they eat.
Foods rich in iodine include:
- Iodized table salt
- Saltwater fish
- Whole eggs
It is crucial to avoid eating too much iodine, as this can worsen hypothyroidism, as well as hyperthyroidism.
We suggest you discuss iodine supplementation with your General Practitioner, Homoeopath or Dietician before taking it.
Selenium is a micronutrient that plays a role in the production of thyroid hormones and has antioxidant activity.
Foods rich in Selenium include:
- Brazil nuts
- Whole wheat bread
Zinc is another nutrient that may have beneficial effects on a person’s thyroid hormones.
Foods rich in Zinc include:
- Fortified cereals
- Pumpkin seeds
Step 2: Be mindful with some food items as they might affect the interaction of your medication or the thyroid hormone releasing action.
A study published in March 2019 in Scientific Reports indicated that that soy has no effect on thyroid hormones and very modestly raises thyroid stimulating hormone levels. Some research does suggest that eating soy may interfere with your ability to absorb thyroid medication. Therefore, you may want to wait four hours after eating soy-based foods before taking your regular dose. Check with your doctor to see what’s best for you.
These vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, turnips, bok choy, kale and brussels sprouts. Cruciferous vegetables contain goitrogens. These are compounds that may affect one’s thyroid function if one eats large amounts of these types of vegetables.
In regular amounts, goitrogen-containing vegetables are beneficial for overall health, have cancer fighting, immune boosting and liver detoxing properties and do not interfere with thyroid function.
To make cruciferous vegetables less interfering if you do have hypo-thyroidism, you can cook them and have them in the correct amounts. Cooking can reduce the effect that cruciferous vegetables have on the thyroid gland. Limiting your intake of these cooked vegetables to 2 cups a day may help as well, since that amount appears to have no adverse effect on thyroid function, according to newer research done.
Fibre rich foods have many beneficial effects on your health, including anti-inflammatory properties, good gut health, heart healing properties, managing insulin resistance and weight fluctuations. That is why you have to include fibre rich foods in your diet. Do allow enough time for your medication to work before eating though.
Dietary fibre includes whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes. If you’re on a high-fibre diet, ask your doctor if you need to adjust the dose of your thyroid medication.
Step 3: Limiting or avoiding specific foods and drinks may have a more positive effect on the management of your thyroid function.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and some other grains. If you have hypothyroidism, gluten could interfere with the absorption of the thyroid hormone replacement medication. A study published in July 2019 in Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology & Diabetes found that a gluten-free diet may have clinical benefits for women with thyroid disease. Work with you dietician to discuss alternatives if you do eliminate gluten from your diet to ensure you are still getting all the nutrients your body needs.
Research indicates that fats might hamper the ability of the thyroid to produce hormones and also affect the ability to absorb thyroid medication. To help manage your thyroid function, avoid all fried foods and limit your intake of fats from sources such as butter, mayonnaise, margarine (you should eliminate this anyway) and fatty cuts of meat. Fats give us lots of energy in very little amounts. In the case of hypo-thyroidism, your metabolism might be slower, so you need to make sure to eat the correct amount of energy your metabolism needs.
Processed foods tend to have a lot of salt, sugar and unhealthy fats. Having an under-active thyroid increases a person’s risk for high blood pressure, weight gain and insulin resistance. Having too much salt, sugar and unhealthy fats over time can further increase this risk.
Therefore, choose real whole foods that are mostly in its natural state.
According to a study done in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, alcohol consumption can negatively impact both thyroid hormone levels in the body and the ability of the thyroid to produce hormones. Alcohol appears to have a toxic effect on the thyroid gland and suppresses the ability of the body to use thyroid hormone. Ideally, people with hypothyroidism should avoid alcohol or limit intake and rather consume it in moderation.
What is the take-home message on Hypothyroidism?
If you are diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, it doesn’t mean you can’t live a healthy life and not have a healthy body. Changes do not happen rapidly, but if you are focused and determined daily to start eating and living well to help manage your thyroid function, half the battle has been won.
Include real, fresh whole foods and be mindful of your food type and portion intake as this can help you feel better and manage your thyroid function in the long run.
For more information and contact details for Tanya Alberts
Dietician from TYHN – Transform Your Health Network
Phone or WhatsApp us @ 063 292 8968