You feel tired, worn down, your hair is falling out, you can’t deal with stress, and you have constipation. You go to the doctor to find out that you have an autoimmune condition that attacks the thyroid called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. The doctor starts you on thyroxine medication. Problem solved. Right?
Unfortunately, not necessarily. Medication is only one of the many pieces of the puzzle that is needed to decrease hypothyroid symptoms and to heal. It is outside of my realm to comment on different thyroid medications, however, I can offer the science-based evidence there is for nutrition that can help to re-balance the body.
So, what are the nutrition basics for your thyroid? Keep reading to find out:
Break-up with grains
Have you ever been in a toxic relationship in which you knew breaking up with the other person would be in your best interest, but you just stayed in that bad relationship anyway? This is how I can describe most people’s relationship with grains. For many, they are toxic, and yet they continue to eat them.
If you really want to take the first step to feeling better, you need to break-up with grains. Sure, it will hurt for a while and you will miss them, but once you start to see how great you feel, eating them will no longer be an option.
It’s not by chance that there has been such a boom in gluten-free products. Okay, I wouldn’t recommend all gluten-free products as many are processed and I always promote real, whole foods. However, according to many recent studies, gluten, or the group of proteins that make up gluten from wheat, barley, and rye, are responsible for increasing intestinal permeability in EVERYONE. Not just people with an autoimmune disorder, EVERYONE. (1)
Intestinal permeability or leaky gut are terms that refer to what happens to the intestines when they get inflamed and damaged. When you have a leaky gut, substances that are not supposed to enter the bloodstream do and this causes the immune system to go awry and increase one’s chances for an autoimmune attack against healthy tissue.
In many cases, simply avoiding gluten-containing foods can dramatically reduce some symptoms associated with hypothyroidism such as fatigue, brain fog, and intestinal issues. In other words, it can be the catalyst to putting an autoimmune disorder like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis into remission.
Ditch the dairy
In most cases of hypothyroidism, if someone has issues with gluten and has a leaky gut, chances are they have the same intolerance to dairy. Casein protein is a protein that can escape into the bloodstream when one has a leaky gut. It can therefore trigger an autoimmune response. Therefore, this is another group of foods that can be removed in order to see an improvement in hypothyroid function. (2)
Raw is not necessarily better
If someone’s gut is really inflamed, they cannot tolerate fruits and vegetables in their raw form. This is because raw foods are higher in phytic acid which can exacerbate an already inflamed gut. For people who cannot tolerate raw foods, it’s important to cook or steam your veggies before you eat them. This process also decreases goitrogens which can decrease the function of the thyroid (even though goitrogens don’t REALLY damage the thyroid, but you can read more on this here). Once the gut heals, you can reintroduce raw foods one at a time to see your tolerance threshold. The more you are able to tolerate raw foods, the greater the chances that you are on the road to healing.
Selenium is king when it comes to your thyroid
Selenium is a mineral that has great antioxidant capabilities. It is needed for detoxification purposes by the liver and is a very important ingredient from changing T4 (the storage form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (the active form of thyroid hormone) that is needed by the cells to perform their everyday tasks. Without selenium, this transition does not take place. Therefore, one can see that if they are on T4-only medication which is the case for many, if they are selenium deficient, the medication will not be very effective.
Brazil nuts have been touted for their rich source of selenium, however, in people with hypothyroidism, Brazil nuts may not be tolerated. (3) Therefore, it is important to supplement the diet with foods such as organic yellowfin tuna, halibut, canned sardines, and grass-fed beef for extra selenium intake. The egg yolk is also a great source of selenium. If you cannot tolerate the above foods, taking a selenium supplement of 200 mcg per day is warranted. (4)
Eat saturated fats
Saturated fats are needed to support the proper balance and signalling of many hormones. Specific kinds of saturated fat called medium-chained fatty acids can boost thyroid function and therefore help support higher energy levels and weight loss. Coconut oil is a great source of these kinds of fatty acids. One to two tablespoons per day is enough to support your metabolism. (5)
Eat real food.
If it’s one thing that I cannot emphasize enough, it’s the importance of food that is void of any chemicals, hormones, pesticides, insecticides, or additives. ALL processed and non-organic foods throw off the function of the thyroid and in many cases are deficient in essential nutrients that are needed to heal. For example, if you decide to go gluten-free, have a smoothie with spinach, blueberries, coconut milk, and gelatin protein instead of gluten-free bread with 200 mystery ingredients.
Not convinced that diet is important when trying to optimize your thyroid function? I dare all of you to try the above for two weeks. I promise that in only a small period of time, you will start to feel better.
Of course there is a lot more to consider when trying to reduce hypothyroid symptoms, however, all of the above can be the first steps you take to better health with nutrition.
Take home message:
Diet is just as important as medication when treating hypothyroidism.
The first step to healing the thyroid is to break up with grains and all gluten-containing foods.
Avoiding dairy also helps to decrease an autoimmune attack.
Steam or cook vegetables in order to decrease phytic acid which can exacerbate an inflamed gut.
Choose foods that contain selenium or take a selenium supplement. Remember selenium is needed to make the active thyroid hormone that cells use to produce energy.
Eat saturated fats like those found in coconut oil to boost metabolism and weight loss.
Eat real foods that support the body with real nutrients.
Hollon J, Puppa EL, Greenwald B, Goldberg E, Guerrerio A, Fasano A, Effect of gliadin on permeability of intestinal biopsy explants from celiac disease patients and patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.Nutrients. 2015 Feb 27;7(3):1565-76. doi: 10.3390/nu7031565.
Jianqin S, Leiming X, Lu X, Yelland GW, Ni J, Clarke AJ. Effects of milk containing only A2 beta casein versus milk containing both A1 and A2 beta casein proteins on gastrointestinal physiology, symptoms of discomfort, and cognitive behavior of people with self-reported intolerance to traditional cows' milk.Nutr J. 2016 Apr 2;15:35. doi: 10.1186/s12937-016-0147-z.
Stockler-Pinto MB, Malm O, Moraes C, Farage NE, Silva WS, Cozzolino SM, Mafra D.A follow-up study of the chronic kidney disease patients treated with Brazil nut: focus on inflammation and oxidative stress. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2015 Feb;163(1-2):67-72. doi: 10.1007/s12011-014-0167-5. Epub 2014 Nov 14.
Pilli T, Cantara S, Schomburg L, Cenci V, Cardinale S, Heid EC, Kühn EC, Cevenini G, Sestini F, Fioravanti C, D'Hauw G, Pacini F. IFNγ-Inducible Chemokines Decrease upon Selenomethionine Supplementation in Women with Euthyroid Autoimmune Thyroiditis: Comparison between Two Doses of Selenomethionine (80 or 160 μg) versus Placebo. Eur Thyroid J. 2015 Dec;4(4):226-33. doi: 10.1159/000439589. Epub 2015 Oct 8.
Hargrave KM1, Azain MJ, Miner JL Dietary coconut oil increases conjugated linoleic acid-induced body fat loss in mice independent of essential fatty acid deficiency.Biochim Biophys Acta. 2005 Oct 15;1737(1):52-60. Epub 2005 Sep 13.