Sleep Disorders, Weight loss, Stress | December 17, 2016 | Author: Naturopath
A healthy thyroid will regulate the body's metabolism, mood, sleep and fertility in finely balanced harmony. But if you have any kind of condition of the thyroid, then you know how frustrating it can be to lose (or gain) weight, stay calm and focussed, or even keep a full head of hair. Once thyroid hormones are thrown out of balance, it can be difficult to regain equilibrium.
But there is good news.
Whether your thyroid is healthy, under-active, or over-active, there are dietary changes you can make to support the balanced production and activation of thyroid hormones. Supplementation may be required for some individuals – see a qualified naturopath or nutritionist for personalised advice.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ at the front of the neck that produces two major hormones: T3 and T4 (“T” for thyroid and “3” or “4” because each hormone molecule contains three or four iodine molecules, respectively). T4 is produced first, and is then converted to the more active hormone, T3, by losing one of its iodine molecules.
This conversion can occur in the thyroid gland, but more often in other areas of the body such as the liver, gut, muscles, and brain.
Specific nutrients are required for the production and action of thyroid hormones, and even for the conversion of T4 to T3. The thyroid gland itself, and the other organs involved in thyroid hormone activation, also require a wide range of vitamins and minerals to function properly.
Iodine is an essential trace element required for the function of the thyroid gland, and a key ingredient in thyroid hormones. A deficiency in iodine will impair thyroid hormone production and can result hypothyroidism and even a goitre. The most absorbable form of iodine is from salts in the ocean, including those found in sea vegetables (seaweeds such as nori, wakami, dulse, etc). Shellfish, seawater fish, and iodised table salt are also good sources to include in your diet.
Goitro–what? Goitrogens are foods that may interfere with thyroid hormone production by blocking iodine uptake into the thyroid gland.
Goitrogens include soybeans and soy products (tofu, soy milk, soy bean oil etc), pine nuts, strawberries, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.
In people who have neither over nor under-active thyroids, including goitrogens in an iodine-rich diet has little effect on the amount of thyroid hormone produced. But it makes sense that removing goitrogens from the diet may help to support hormone production in cases of hypothyroidism. However, proceed with caution – haphazardly removing groups of foods from your diet runs the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies which may ultimately harm thyroid health. For personalised advice, see a qualified nutritionist or naturopath who specialises in food as medicine.
Zinc is needed for the conversion of T4 to T3, and to keep the tissue of the thyroid healthy. Increasing zinc-rich foods in your diet is a good first step before trying supplementation – try incorporating oysters, beef, chicken, spinach, nuts and seeds into your menu. Vegetarians, women who are or were recently pregnant, and people who regularly drink alcohol are most at risk of having suboptimal levels of zinc and may require supplementation.
NOTE: Zinc binds to the thyroid medication, thyroxine, so be sure to take supplements and medications at least 2 hours apart.
Selenium supplementation may be an appropriate therapy for people with autoimmune conditions that effect the thyroid , but even getting moderate levels from a healthy diet will help support thyroid activity and the conversion of T4 to T3. Adequate selenium can also help to boost iodine uptake . Aim for six brazil nuts per day – they are packed with selenium (and calories – check with a nutritionist to make sure they're right for your diet!).
Adequate levels of vitamin A are needed for the thyroid to properly absorb iodine, and for the formation of T4. A study in 2012 showed that supplementation may assist in symptom management for people with hypothyroid conditions by regulating the amount of hormones produced, and it may have a protective effect against the development of hypothyroid conditions in those who are genetically predisposed .
Animal meats, milk and eggs are good sources of vitamin A, but don't forget that carotenoids from colourful fruits and vegetables are great precursors to vitamin A, and are potent antioxidants too!
A little-known effect of iron-deficiency anaemia is reduced thyroid hormone production, which can further exacerbate symptoms of fatigue. Iron is a cofactor for the enzymes involved in moving iodine molecules within the thyroid, and as a catalyst at the sites where thyroid hormones are used throughout the body. For these actions, iron must be in its “haem-iron” form. This is most readily found in animal meats, but can also be derived (in lower amounts, and more slowly) from a vegetarian diet rich in plant-based sources of iron such as: spinach, parsley, lentils, silverbeet, tempeh, and quinoa.
Thyroid hormones get thrown out of harmony when there are high levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol circulating through the body. Guess what contributes to huge spikes of stress hormones? You got it – caffeine. Regular consumption of tea, coffee, and caffeinated soft drinks is likely to interfere with T4 to T3 conversions, and can exacerbate both hyper- and hypo-thyroid conditions.
Being careful with the caffeine is especially important if you take medication for a thyroid condition. Taking thyroxine within 60 minutes of a cup of coffee significantly reduces the absorption of the medication , so be sure to separate them by at least an hour – or even better, swap the cuppa for a herbal tea!
Focussing on key nutrients is a great way to eat for a healthy thyroid, but if you're overwhelmed with all of the “rules”, don't worry – you can keep it simple by eating a whole food diet with a rich variety of sea vegetables, colourful produce, and well-cooked grains.
If you suspect you may have an undiagnosed thyroid condition, see a naturopath, nutritionist or health practitioner for advice.
 Wichman, J., Winther, K. H., Bonnema, S. & Hegedus, L. (2016) Selenium Supplementation Significantly Reduces Thyroid Autoantibody Levels in Patients with Chronic Autoimmune Thyroiditis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Thyroid. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27702392
 Benvenga, S., et al. (2008) Altered intestinal absorption of L-thyroxine caused by coffee. Thyroid, 18:3, 293 – 301. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18341376?dopt=Citation
 Higdon, J. (2003) An evidence-based approach to vitamins and minerals. Iodine. New York: Thieme, 130-7. http://iucat.iu.edu/catalog/12503236
 Farhangi, M. A., et al. (2012) The effect of vitamin A supplementation on thyroid function in premenopausal women. J Am Coll Nutr., 31:4, 268 – 274. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23378454
 Bleichrodt, N., et al. (1996) The benefits of adequate iodine intake. Nutr Rev,54:4, S72-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8700456