Last week in Part I of this two-part series, we discussed what hypothyroidism is and what are the common signs and symptoms of the disease. If you are just visiting for the first time, head on over to Part I to get up to speed before reading this article.
As we discussed in Part I, we must address hypothyroidism comprehensively and not just rely on medication, as is so often done today. How can we do this? Through positive and healthy lifestyle changes to help resolve the underlying issue for why the thyroid became compromised to begin with.
We learned that conversion of inactive thyroid hormone (a.k.a T4) to active thyroid hormone can be influenced by age, prolonged caloric deprivation, mineral deficiencies (zinc, iodine, magnesium, iron and selenium), chronic lack of sleep, chronic stress and imbalance in our microbiome (a.k.a large intestine, where 20% of our T4 is converted). So, the first place to start after being diagnosed by a physician is to take a closer look at these items.
While we can’t change our age, we can work on our sleeping habits and stress and we can eat a healthier diet to improve the health of our gut and get adequate levels of minerals our thyroid needs.
When it comes to stress, it’s important to note that high cortisol levels impose a low thyroid state on the body. This includes physical, mental and emotional stress. No good. If there is something that is stressing you out, address it head on. You can remove yourself from this stressor completely (ideal but not always doable in the near term) or do something to help counteract this stress, such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing and taking walks outside in nature. Regardless, do something. Your body (and future medical bills) will thank you.
If you are having trouble sleeping, do an inventory of your caffeine intake during the course of the day. Perhaps you are drinking too much or too late in the day? Stress can also impact sleep (see previous paragraph). Drinking chamomile tea at night and reducing your exposure to technology up to an hour before you go to bed may also help. If you have tried everything and still aren’t seeing results, check out the book Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. It is chock full of natural ways to address sleep issues.
Now on to food, which is always my favorite topic to discuss! There are some foods that should be minimized when you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and some foods that you should eat more of to make sure you get all the nutrients your little thyroid needs to function properly.
Foods to avoid/minimize
- Raw cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips and bok choy) should be minimized. These foods contain goitrogens, which disrupt the production of thyroid hormones by interfering with iodine uptake and high amounts of these can impose a hypothyroid state. By “high amounts” doctors mean more than 1 cup 3-5 times per week. When these vegetables are cooked the compounds are destroyed, so if you want to eat these veggies (and I do!), I recommend cooking them first.
- Gluten should be minimized or eliminated completely, especially in the case of autoimmune hypothyroid, which is known as Hashimoto’s disease, and Celiacs disease. Put in the simplest way possible, about 80% of our immune system is housed in our gut. If we eat foods we are sensitive to, for example gluten, the lining of our small intestine (which is one cell thick) can become compromised. When this lining is compromised, the immune system is more likely to create an immune reaction to what is in your small intestine. This can lead to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s and also allergies. For a more indepth article on this, read here.
- Caffeine has been shown to disrupt the absorption of thyroid medication, so it is recommended that you do not drink coffee within 30 minutes of taking your medication in the morning. I also wouldn’t recommend drinking coffee on an empty stomach, as that can throw your entire delicate system off and lead to a spike in cortisol.
Foods that help your thyroid
These include foods that are high in zinc, iodine, magnesium, iron and selenium, which are minerals necessary for optimal thyroid function. Buy organic, grass-fed/pasture-raised when economically possible.
- Fish, shrimp and seaweed are great sources of iodine. Iodized salt (as the name suggests) is as well. It is important to note that the salt you eat in prepared foods is not iodized salt, nor is most sea salt. I recently found an iodized sea salt at my grocery store. Fresh fruit such as strawberries and cranberries, yogurt, navy beans, raw cheese and potatoes (eaten with the skin on) are also great sources of iodine.
- Spinach, lettuce, collard greens and other leafy greens, as well as fish, avocado, bananas and dark chocolate (emphasis on dark) are great sources of magnesium.
- Nuts and seeds such as cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and Brazil nuts are great sources of iron, magnesium and zinc.
- Other foods high in iron include animal protein (meat and fish), beans, and dark leafy greens.
- The best food sources for selenium include Brazil nuts and other nuts and seeds (sunflower, sesame, flax), fish, meat, eggs and whole grains.
- Add zinc to your diet with oysters, crab and lobster, animal protein (beef, pork, chicken), legumes (hummus, chickpeas, lentils, black beans), mushrooms, spinach, and whole grains.
I hope Part I and this week’s article have helped you to obtain a better understanding of what hypothyroidism is, what causes it and how you can address it through a holistic approach along with your medication. If you suspect you may have an underactive thyroid, I encourage you to check out the resources below so that you can have an informed discussion with your doctor. These are all resources that I found extremely informative for my own personal health.
- I love the podcast called The Model Health Show by Shawn Stevenson, the author of Sleep Smarter (the book I recommended for sleep issues above). He did a show recently on thyroid health with Dr. Jillian Teta, a naturopathic doctor. After listening to this podcast I finally understood what hypothyroidism is all about. Dr. Teta explains it phenomenally. Check out the podcast here.
- Dr. Jillian Teta also has a five day thyroid-gut school that is completely free. I did it and she spells out everything you need to know, plus discusses how gut health can impact the health of your thyroid. If you are thinking of discussing thyroid health with your doctor, check this out first. You will get one email every day for five days. Believe me, it’s worth it! To sign up go here.
Peace, love & health,