For a very little gland, the thyroid can create a lot of havoc. Located right at the base of the neck, our thyroid gland is like the drum majorette for our body controlling the pace at which everything runs. In fact, the thyroid stores and produces hormones that affect the function of virtually every organ in our body and impacts our metabolic rate, energy production and ability to manage our weight.
Unfortunately, one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime and about half of those women will walk around undiagnosed due to inadequate testing and the tendency of doctors - as well as patients - to chalk up symptoms to aging or stress or menopause.
How do I know if my thyroid is out of whack?
There are two variations of thyroid imbalance: one is slower thyroid function, or hypothyroidism, which affects most thyroid sufferers. Symptoms can include weight gain, fatigue, depression, thinning hair and eyebrows, dry skin, brittle nails, high cholesterol, constipation and brain fog. This slowed down ability to produce thyroid hormones is much more common in women although it can impact men as well as a growing number of teens and children. The other imbalance is hyperthyroidism, or an accelerated thyroid function, which can cause sudden weight loss, bulging eyes, diarrhea and excessive sweating. If you think you or a friend may have symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, it is important to get appropriate testing. Many doctors only test partial function so it is important to get the right testing done.
How can nutrition impact my thyroid?
Nutrition and lifestyle are essential to help alleviate symptoms as well as prevent thyroid imbalances from occurring in the first place. While many conventional treatments chase symptoms and produce unwanted side effects, more integrative health approaches seek to address the underlying health issues that cause the thyroid imbalance as well as help the thyroid heal itself. Sometimes thyroid function can be restored with natural methods using stress reduction, diet and supportive herbs.
Here are a few key steps you can take toward supporting your thyroid.
1. Address nutrient deficiencies.
The thyroid depends on a number of nutrients to run optimally. And guess what? Even those of us who eat organic, whole foods diets can be susceptible to deficiencies due to digestive imbalances and inadequacies in our food supply. Iodine, zinc, selenium, and iron are key nutrients to focus on as well as protein, B vitamins and Vitamin D to support thyroid function. Here are some great food sources that can supply these essential nutrients:
- Iodine: sea vegetables - try adding sea snacks to your day, enjoying kelp sprinkle on your food and cooking with dried sea veggies in your soups, stews and grains. Pastured eggs, seafood and whole grains also offer beneficial sources of iodine.
- Zinc: Grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, chicken, chickpeas, yogurt and cashews. Try this zinc-rich chili recipe adapted from Mark Bittman with a dollop of yogurt.
- Selenium: Brazil nuts, fish like halibut and cod, grass-fed beef, chicken, eggs and spinach. These Brazil-nut no-bake granola bars are the bomb.
- Iron: Grass-fed beef, oysters, dark meat turkey and chicken, black beans, spinach. I adapted these turkey lentil meatballs to enjoy on a bed of spinach.
2. Rethink your relationship with gluten.
In some people, eating gluten-containing foods (wheat, barley, rye) can cause Hashimoto’s disease (when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland) and exacerbate thyroid symptoms. Gluten can create intestinal permeability allowing molecules and proteins through the digestive wall which can ultimately disrupt thyroid function. A 3-month trial of going strictly gluten-free could be helpful to see if your thyroid begins to recover function.
3. Make friends with stress.
The thyroid and their friends, the adrenal glands, produce cortisol, our main stress hormone, need to work synergistically for optimal endocrine function. Try short, daily breathing or meditation, take a restorative yoga class and considering supplementing with herbs like lemon balm and chamomile that calm the nervous system and support our body’s ability to respond to stress like ashwaghanda and rhodiola. Try these soothing teas to get started.
Most importantly, tuning in to the health of your thyroid can help you tune in to your overall health. The thyroid is a like a canary in your body's coal mine letting you know when imbalances exist and giving you an opportunity to prevent disease, slow down the aging process and live more vibrantly!
References: whfoods.org, Romm, Aviva, MD, "Ten things you need to know about your thyroid," retrieved from: https://avivaromm.com/10-things-know-thyroid/, Myers, Amy, MD, " retrieved from: https://www.amymyersmd.com/2015/08/thyroid-health-part-vii-four-essential-nutrients-for-thyroid-function/