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Thyroid Health – The Low Down

Thyroid health is a topic that is very close to my heart.
At the age of 12, after having gained over 4 kg on a 3-week summer camp and was feeling, well let’s say, abnormally tired for a 12-year-old, I found out that I had an underactive thyroid. To be more specific, I found out that I had Hashimoto’s disease.

Since then, the respect I have for the thyroid gland and the important role it plays in our body has grown.

While current statistics for thyroid disorder in South Africa are lacking, thyroid conditions affect populations worldwide, about 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disorder, while there 60 000 new cases of thyroid disease each year in Australia.

It is important that if you suspect that there is something fishy going on with your thyroid, to get it checked out by a qualified health professional who can send you for the appropriate tests, put you on individualized treatment or refer you to a specialist who can help.


What is the thyroid gland?

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that is located just below your Adams apple. It is a silent powerhouse in the body and forms an intricate part of the body’s hormonal network (the endocrine system).

These hormones are vital for metabolism and energy level regulation. The thyroid also influences digestion, mood, skin, hair, heart health, reproduction and body temperature.


Common Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid disorders impact the amount of thyroid hormone being produced.

HYPOthyroidism is when the thyroid is underactive, not working hard enough and producing too little hormone, and can commonly be caused by:

  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – a common hereditary disease where your immune system mistakenly attacks and slows down the function of your thyroid gland;
  • Iodine deficiency – iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormone and therefore a deficiency can result in reduced thyroid hormone formation. An iodine deficiency can also cause a goitre to form, which is an extremely large thyroid gland.

HYPERthyroidism occurs when the gland is overactive, working overtime and producing too much hormone, and can commonly be caused by.

  • Graves disease – an autoimmune disorder that stimulates the production of thyroid hormone


Common Symptoms

The symptoms one may experience with both hypoactive and hyperactive thyroids are often overlooked as they can easily be passed off as other things.

An underactive thyroid is often associated with symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue; complete lack of energy and motivation
  • Easy weight gain and a battle with weight loss (yes, it’s not your fault)
  • Constipation, bloatedness and gas
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Anxiety and low mood
  • Foggy brain and forgetfulness
  • Hair loss, with dry skin and hair
  • Muscle and joint pain

An overactive thyroid is often associated with symptoms such as:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A constant running stomach
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Poor concentration
  • Heart palpitations
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Sweating


What Affects Thyroid Health?

Our thyroid is affected by a multitude of factors.

Genetics plays a big role in the development of thyroid disorders, especially when it comes to autoimmune thyroid disorders such as Graves and Hashimotos.

Stress, adrenal-fatigue, high cortisol levels and imbalanced oestrogen levels reduce thyroid efficiency.

Poor gut health and an imbalance in gut microbiota, can cause the body to produce more thyroid antibodies (those soldiers that attack your thyroid gland), resulting in either too much or too little thyroid hormone being produced.

Other factors include environmental toxins and heavy metals, our intake of minerals like iodine, selenium and zinc (which are essential for thyroid hormone production) and our diets.


Eating to Support Thyroid Health

1 Selenium

Selenium is not only involved in anti-oxidant processes in the body, but it is essential for the production of thyroid hormone. All you need is two brazil nuts per day to provide you with your recommended daily dose of selenium.

2 Iodine

Iodine is a key nutrient in thyroid health and it strongly influences the production of thyroid hormone. Too much iodine can result in an over-production of thyroid hormone, especially in hyperthyroidism. Too little iodine can impair thyroid function and result in an underactive thyroid. Foods that are high in iodine should especially be consumed by those with an under-active thyroid. These include seafood, eggs and seaweed (where one sheet contains the recommended daily dose of iodine). Those who have an overactive thyroid should avoid the high-iodine containing foods mentioned above, as well as iodated table salt.

3 Zinc

Zinc is another one of those minerals that is needed to produce the thyroid hormone. Low levels of zinc can lead to an underactive thyroid; however, zinc deficiencies are unusual. Foods that are high in zinc include oysters, shellfish, lean red meat and poultry.

4 Limit Goitrogenic Foods.

These foods include broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kale as well as peaches, strawberries and peanuts. They are known to slow down thyroid function and enlarge the thyroid gland (hence the name Goitrogenic). These foods don’t need to be avoided completely, however large quantities in their raw form is not recommended, especially for underactive thyroids. For underactive thyroids, it is best to cook your cruciferous and green leafy vegetables.

5 Limit Soy Intake

Soy is controversial. Soy is also known as a goitrogen. There are studies showing that soy intake adversely affects the thyroid function of those with underactive thyroids. Some studies show no effect on thyroid function but do advise those who are on thyroid replacement therapy, to wait at least 2 hours after taking their medication before consuming soy products, as it affects their absorption. Moral of the story; for those with an underactive thyroid, time your soy intake well and eat it as a part of a well-balanced diet.

6 Calcium and Vitamin D

Low levels of vitamin D and calcium are common in thyroid disorders, resulting in increased risk of osteoporosis and poor bone health. Eating foods such as shiitake mushrooms, lean animal-protein, oily fish (limited portion due to mercury), nuts, bone broth and fermented foods will increase your vitamin D and calcium intake.

7 Gluten

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as rye and barley. Although not everyone with a thyroid disorder is sensitive to gluten, research shows that celiac disease (an autoimmune disease where you have a reaction to gluten) and auto-immune thyroid diseases are closely linked.  This means that some people who have Hashimoto’s may need to avoid gluten in order to improve their symptoms.

9 Anti-oxidants

There is increasing research that shows there is increased oxidative stress in those who have underactive thyroids. While there has been inconclusive research to show that anti-oxidant supplementation improves thyroid health, dietary intake of anti-oxidant stimulating foods are important. These foods include those rich in vitamin C and vitamin E (bell peppers, kiwi, citrus, chilli, almonds and seeds), food high in polyphenols (berries, olive oil, coca, green tea) and carotenoids (orange and yellow vegetables) as well as those containing the bioactive quercetin (garlic, onion, shallots, capers, fennel, radishes and apples).

Remember, every case is different and needs to be personalized. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and professional help is very important.

Nourish yourself to the sunrise.

Written with love ,
Sunrise by HM

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