Keep your Thyroid Healthy
How much do you know about your thyroid? My hope is that you know how important it is for your overall health. And if you don’t, this is the message of this particular blog article—along with tips and tricks for maintaining and sustaining thyroid health over the long term, so that you can prevent some of the thyroid issues and diseases which plague many people the world over.
What is the thyroid?
Your thyroid gland is located at the bottom of your neck. It’s a gland that’s about the shape of a small butterfly. While tiny, this gland is powerful. Inside this butterfly-shaped gland you’ll find thyroid hormones. They’re stored here, and they’re responsible for many bodily functions. In fact, according to a study, published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology your thyroid hormones impact nearly every, single cell in your body. Which means, we need to make sure we keep this gland functioning optimally.
This gland, which controls metabolism, often gets ignored. Thyroid problems go untreated, misdiagnosed, or even undiagnosed altogether. The American Thyroid Association states that some 60% of people with a thyroid issue don’t know they have one. This is because symptoms of a thyroid problem commonly coincide with symptoms of other problems. What’s more, if you get your thyroid tested with a TSH test (thyroid stimulating hormone test), there’s a good chance your results could come back normal, when really there’s an underlying issue. This is because Free T3 and Free T4 tests are sometimes necessary to determine a thyroid problem or autoimmune thyroid disorder like Hashimoto’s. If your tests come back normal but you’re still experiencing symptoms, ask your doctor to run these labs.
What’s the difference between an underactive thyroid and an overactive thyroid?
When there’s a serious thyroid problem, either the thyroid is underactive (hypothyroidism) or it’s working overtime (hyperthyroidism). When a person has hypothyroidism, the body doesn’t make the amount of thyroid hormone it’s supposed to. Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, is characterized by too much thyroid hormone being produced within the body. Hyperthyroidism Impacts about 1% of the female population. It’s not a common problem for men. Grave’s disease is the most common disease of hyperthyroidism.
Characteristics of hyperthyroidism include: stress and anxiety, rapid heartbeat and heart palpitations, losing weight for no apparent reason, an intolerance to heat, sleep issues and insomnia, light periods, skipping periods altogether, the bulging eyes of Graves’ disease, shaking, thin skin, muscle weakness, irritability, and brittle nails and hair.
Hypothyroidism is a bit more common than hyperthyroidism, affecting around 4 and a half percent of the population. Luckily, most people with hypothyroidism have mild symptoms. Hashimoto’s is the most common hypothyroid disease. Hypothyroidism is typically associated with symptoms like fatigue, a slow heart rate, loss of energy, hair loss, gaining weight without an apparent reason, hypersensitivity to cold temperatures, frequent constipation, dry skin, brittle hair, depression, forgetfulness, and irregular periods.
Who’s at risk for thyroid problems?
First off, women are at greater risk than men for developing serious thyroid problems. This is just the way it is. The American Thyroid Association states that 1 out of every 8 women will develop a thyroid issue in their lifetime—especially post-pregnancy and during perimenopause and menopause. In fact, oftentimes, symptoms of menopause and symptoms of a thyroid disorder are mistaken, as they both share similar symptoms. It’s common for someone going through perimenopause or menopause to think they’re experiencing issues related to this change of life, when really, there’s a thyroid imbalance.
Those who are chronically stressed
Secondly, if you’re a seriously stressed out person, you’re more at risk for thyroid problems, as chronic stress often contributes to disorders of the thyroid. Why? Because when we’re chronically stressed out, our body is continually releasing the stress hormone (cortisol) into the bloodstream. This constant cortisol injection means the thyroid must work harder than it should to keep up. Over time, it becomes overtaxed and out of balance.
Implications of thyroid diseases
Many thyroid problems go unnoticed and untreated. This isn’t good, considering the fact that they can be dangerous, and sometimes even fatal. For example, having an underactive and sluggish thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) puts you at greater risk for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death these days. This is one reason why the health of our thyroid is so important.
In the same vain, hyperthyroidism can also lead to some serious health issues like hypertension. Advanced stage hyperthyroidism can even lead to a loss of vision. Then there’s thyroid cancer, which has been on the rise lately. Thankfully, it’s treatable and curable.
Natural solutions for a healthy thyroid gland
Lucky for us, there’s so much we can do to prevent thyroid disorders from happening in the first place. Most of it can be done through healthy habits. Meaning, how we eat, drink, move, sleep, think, and go about all aspects of our lives. We all have the ability to override our genetic destiny by making healthier choices than our previous family members did. This is referred to as epigenetics, and it pertains to all areas of health, including thyroid health.
People experiencing extreme fatigue from an underactive thyroid often reach for short term energy solutions like coffee and sugar. But these are superficial solutions. And they’re not true solutions because they don’t get to the root of the problem. They simply mask the symptoms. Which is what pharmaceutical meds do as well. There are natural solutions which give our thyroids effective and long-lasting health. And those are largely in the form of diet.
Healthy eating for a healthy thyroid
Your thyroid needs certain nutrients for it to function properly. So, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of these vitamins and minerals.
Iodine is a nutrient that’s lacking in people who have hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid. In fact, it’s believed that a third of the world's population is deficient in iodine. Thus, it’s important to eat iodine-rich foods if your thyroid needs a boost. Thyroid-rich foods include: seaweeds such as nori, kelp, wakame, and kombu. If you like sushi, great. If you don’t like sushi, try roasted and salted seaweed snacks, and/or buy seaweed seasoning to sprinkle on various dishes. Eggs also contain iodine. But, be sure to eat the entire egg, as it’s the yolk that contains the good stuff. It’s also important not to overdo it. Iodine needs to be balanced. So, don’t take an iodine supplement, which may give your body excessive amounts. Just focus on eating the right foods, and you’ll be fine.
Zinc helps activate thyroid hormones. If your thyroid is underactive, zinc’s a vital nutrient. If you know you have hypothyroidism, be sure to eat the following zinc-rich foods: pumpkin seeds, beef, chicken, oysters, and shellfish.
Your thyroid needs selenium. You can think of this mineral as a thyroid hormone activator. So, you’ll want to eat foods with a high selenium content. Brazil nuts are an example. So are macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, sardines, eggs, tuna, and legumes. Eat plenty of these foods on a regular basis to ensure you’re getting enough selenium in your diet. Pack a trail mix containing Brazil nuts for your daily commute, and you’re good to go! Also, note that taking selenium supplements can be harmful. Stick to the selenium-rich whole foods and you’ll be good.
As we know, eating healthy fats helps balance your hormones. They help balance all of your hormones, including the thyroid hormone. Here are the healthiest fats you can eat for thyroid health:
- Avocados, coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, wild-caught salmon, nuts and nut butters, seeds and seed butters
It’s a really good idea to make sure you’re eating plenty of healthy protein sources. These include:
- Beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, organic animal proteins like eggs, beef, chicken, fish, etc.
To clear things up, let’s take a look at a handful of the best foods to eat for thyroid health. They are:
As noted above, sea vegetables are the best foods when it comes to iodine. Insufficient levels of iodine lead to insufficient levels of thyroid hormone. Thus, eating sea veggies is one of the best steps you can take towards improved thyroid health, as well as the prevention of thyroid diseases. And if you’re wondering how to eat sea veggies, think nori wraps filled with avocado slices, cooked and diced sweet potatoes, and lettuce. Top salads with sprinkles of hijiki, and sip miso soup with wakame.
As we talked about above, selenium-rich foods are essential for thyroid health. But, to reiterate this fact, Brazil nuts are the best sources of selenium, and all you need to do is eat two of them each day. What a simple way to boost the health of your thyroid!
These veggies were once thought to be detrimental to thyroid health because they interfered with iodine, an essential nutrient for a healthy thyroid. However, it’s been found that you’d have to eat huge amounts of this vegetable for that to be true. Instead, the phytonutrients found in cruciferous veggies in the amount that any normal human would eat, are actually incredibly beneficial for the thyroid. So, eat your broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower any way you wish. Raw, steamed, roasted—any way is good for you!
Maca, that superfood from the Andes mountains, has been proven to balance the pituitary and hypothalamus glands, as this study, published in the International Journal of Biomedical Science, explains. This is important because these two hormones help support the release of thyroid hormone. All three of these glands—thyroid, pituitary, and hypothalamus—are intimately connected. The health of one supports the health of all three. So, supplementing with maca powder makes good sense for thyroid health. Add it to smoothies and oatmeal in the morning to ensure you consume it regularly.
Chlorophyll is the detoxification superfood. What does this have to do with your thyroid? Well, heavy metals in the body have been shown to play a part in thyroid issues. We’re talking about mercury, lead, and aluminum. Chlorophyll may very well bind with these unnatural toxins, and rid the body of them. If you suspect you may have toxicity in the form of heavy metals, taking a high-quality chlorophyll supplement or a shot of liquid chlorophyll each morning, isn’t a bad idea to maintain thyroid function and prevent thyroid dysfunction.
Foods to limit
Certain foods interfere with thyroid function. Soy protein isolate, for example, is thought to disrupt the body’s absorption of the thyroid hormone. Gluten, the protein found in wheat, may also have a negative impact on thyroid function. According to this study, published in the journal, Endocrinology Connections, gluten may actually trigger the production of thyroid antibodies, contributing to thyroid inflammation and damage. Those suffering from thyroid issues may want to consider eliminating gluten from their diet for a time to see if there’s improvement.
You’ll also want to limit refined carbohydrates, and stick to whole grains. Cut out the crackers, potato chips, baked goods, candy, and any junk food. These are no good for your thyroid. Eat plenty of fiber in the form of organic fruits and vegetables. Don’t overdo it with sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. You’ll also want to toss out the hydrogenated vegetable oils and margarine. Stick to the healthy oils we talked about previously.
Last but not least, do away with artificial sweeteners if you haven’t already. They’re no good for any part of your body, including your thyroid. Splenda, Aspartame, saccharin, and the like, may have detrimental effects on the thyroid gland, as this study suggests. While more studies need to be done to prove for sure that artificial sweeteners disrupt the thyroid’s inner workings, it’s always a good idea to eliminate anything artificial from your diet.
Healthy habits for stress management
Because chronic stress has been shown to disrupt thyroid health, I want to remind you all to find two (or more) of these stress-relieving techniques, and add them to your daily routine.
- Essential oils
- Bicycling for transportation
- Walking outdoors
May you all pay attention to your thyroid, and take the necessary steps to support its health over the long-term. The habits you create now, will shape your health tomorrow. Choose wisely!