Thyroid conditions can lead to problems with weight, digestion, and tiredness. However, you may not think about your thyroid if it isn’t bothering you.
Though medical treatment can help treat thyroid problems, you should know a few lifestyle changes that can help your thyroid, too, like adjusting your diet or watching what you eat in general.
Health spoke to Ashita Gupta, MD, an integrative endocrinologist at Mount Sinai West in New York City, about recommendations for maintaining a healthy thyroid.
Located in the neck, the thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that is a part of the endocrine system. It essentially makes hormones and helps regulate metabolism.
The thyroid is also involved in assisting the functions of a number of organ systems throughout the body. These systems consist of the heart, bones, and gastrointestinal tract; the central nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system.
However, a few health concerns can occur if your thyroid does not function properly. For example, an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, can cause rapid weight loss, an unusually fast heartbeat, and anxiety. The opposite—hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid—can trigger constipation, weight gain, and extreme fatigue.
Other thyroid conditions include goiter (thyroid enlargement), thyroid cancer, thyroid nodules (lumps on the gland), and thyroiditis (thyroid swelling). Therefore, it is important to keep your thyroid as healthy as possible.
Making a few dietary and lifestyle adjustments can potentially be beneficial for the health of your thyroid.
One of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy thyroid is to eat a well-balanced diet.
“Seventy percent of our autoimmune system is found in our intestines, known as GALT, or gut-associated lymphoid tissue,” said Dr. Gupta. “When the intestinal lining becomes inflamed, it can trigger an immune response. Studies show that this plays a role in the development of thyroid disease.”
To help keep inflammation in check, Dr. Gupta recommended following a Mediterranean diet. This diet typically includes:
- Whole grains
- Fish and seafood
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils
Dr. Gupta suggested aiming for four to five servings of vegetables and three to four servings of fruit daily, along with plenty of lean proteins and fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, anchovies, and mackerel. Dr. Gupta recommended extra-virgin olive oil, expeller-pressed organic canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, coconut oil, nuts, nut butters, and avocados for healthy fats.
Be Wary of Certain Foods
While consuming the foods above, you’ll want to avoid processed foods packed with sugar and preservatives, dyes, or fat- and sugar-free substitutes.
“Processed foods, including trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, and refined sugar, can cause intestinal inflammation and, in turn, trigger autoimmune flare-ups,” said Dr. Gupta. “This is not specific to the thyroid, but the autoimmune system can affect various parts of the body.”
Cruciferous veggies such as cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, watercress, Bok choy, and Brussels sprouts. They may be packed with good-for-you nutrients like vitamin C and folate, but eating them raw in high doses could mess with your thyroid.
“Uncooked cruciferous vegetables contain natural chemicals called goitrogens (goiter producers) that can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis,” said Dr. Gupta.
However, if you love these types of vegetables, there’s good news: “The goitrogens in these foods are inactivated by cooking, or even by light steaming, so you can still consume them for their valuable antioxidant and cancer-protective effects,” added Dr. Gupta.
Consider Supplements—After Talking to a Healthcare Provider
You’ve probably heard that there’s a connection between thyroid health and iodine, which is essential for the synthesis of thyroid hormones.
“Worldwide, iodine deficiency is one of the causes of an enlarged thyroid gland and hypothyroidism,” said Dr. Gupta. “However, iodine deficiency is rare in developed countries due to supplementation in table salt and certain foods such as dairy and bread.”
In other words, you’re probably already getting enough iodine in your diet as is. Too much iodine can trigger hyperthyroidism in susceptible individuals. Thus, Dr. Gupta didn’t recommend taking iodine pills without consulting a healthcare provider.
On the other hand, if you suspect your thyroid may need a boost, speak to a healthcare provider about taking selenium or vitamin D, both of which have been linked to improved thyroid health.
“Clinical research shows that taking 200 mcg daily of the mineral selenium can reduce anti-thyroid antibodies,” said Dr. Gupta. “Alternatively, you can get the mineral by eating one to two Brazil nuts each day.”
As for vitamin D, some research suggests it could be important in aiding the immune system. “Severe deficiency of vitamin D may be associated with autoimmune disease, so have your physician check your vitamin D levels and advise you about supplementation if the level is below normal,” said Dr. Gupta.
Dr. Gupta also recommended taking probiotics, which offer a whole host of health benefits. “Probiotics can help modulate the immune system, enhance gut motility, and improve intestinal permeability,” Dr. Gupta said.
Dr. Gupta suggested looking for over-the-counter blends that contain the active cultures Saccharomyces boulardii and Lactobacillus acidophilus or eating natural sources like yogurt and kefir.
Try Your Best To Avoid These Environmental Toxins
Long-term exposure to endocrine disruptors—chemicals that interfere with your body’s endocrine system—may trigger endocrine problems in humans.
A few to be aware of are perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). PFCs are synthetic chemicals that repel both water and oil. These chemicals can be found in things such as:
- Some carpets
- Waterproof clothing
- Firefighting foams
- Non-stick cookware
- Leather products
PFCs have been linked to thyroid disease in previous studies from PLOS ONE. Researchers have also found that exposure to phthalates (found in fragranced products and soft plastics) and bisphenol-A (found in some hard plastics and canned food linings, although many manufacturers are removing them) could cause disruptions in thyroid hormone levels.
Dr. Gupta also recommended avoiding antibacterial soaps that contain triclosan. Triclosan is an ingredient that has altered hormone regulation in studies of animals (human studies are still ongoing).
Although it would be impossible to avoid these completely, the key is to reduce your exposure as much as you can, especially if you’re pregnant or have little ones in the house—developing fetuses, infants, and children are more vulnerable to any effects of environmental chemicals.
Following some general guidelines can go a long way. “Just use soap and water to wash your hands instead,” Dr. Gupta said. “Use essential oils when fragrance is needed.”
To avoid exposure to toxins, you can also choose more fresh or frozen foods over canned, store food in porcelain or glass rather than plastics, and keep your home well-ventilated.
The thyroid is a gland in your neck that helps with many functions in the body. If you experience issues with your thyroid, it can lead to other health conditions and issues.
Fortunately, there are ways to work on the health of your thyroid beyond medical care, such as making changes to your diet, adding supplements if necessary, and avoiding certain environmental toxins. But ultimately, if you suspect you have a serious thyroid problem, consult a healthcare provider about potential treatment options.
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