Hypothyroidism is a health condition that occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck that makes hormones that affect many activities in the body including how fast you burn calories and how fast your heart beats (1).
An underactive or overactive thyroid can make you feel restless, tired and even make you lose or gain weight.
People with hypothyroidism experience a slow metabolic rate which is associated with weight gain caused by the accumulation of salt and water in the body.
About 4.6 percent of the US population aged 12 or older have hypothyroidism, which amounts to almost 5 in 100 people (2). Generally, women are at a higher risk for developing hypothyroidism.
This disease is also more common in people over 60 than those under 60. People with type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, pernicious anemia, and lupus are also more likely to have hypothyroidism.
Although no food can alone increase the levels of your thyroid hormones, avoiding some foods and eating more of certain other foods can improve your body’s absorption of these hormones.
Read on to learn more about the best and the worst foods for hypothyroidism.
What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism does not cause any noticeable changes in the early stages. Often the symptoms like tiredness and weight gain are merely attributed to getting older.
However, over time untreated hypothyroidism can lead to health problems like infertility, joint pain, heart disease, and weight gain.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Sensitivity to cold
- Joint pain
- Dry skin
- Thinning of hair
- Heavy menstrual periods
- High cholesterol
- Muscle weakness
Hypothyroidism in infants
In some rare cases, infants can also develop this condition. Congenital hypothyroidism (CH) occurs in around 1: 2000 to 1:4000 newborns.
In this condition, some children are born without a thyroid gland or with a thyroid gland that does not function properly.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism in infants include:
- Jaundice: The yellowing of skin and whites of the eyes
- Difficulty in breathing
- A large, protruding tongue
- An umbilical hernia
- Hoarse crying
- Puffy face
- Frequent choking
Hypothyroidism in teens and children
The symptoms of Hypothyroidism in teens and children are the same as that of adults. They may experience:
- Poor growth which may result in short stature
- Delay in development of permanent teeth
- Poor mental development
- Delayed puberty
- Increased menstrual flow for girls
Tests for diagnosing hypothyroidism
If you have any of the symptoms given above you should make an appointment with your doctor to check for hypothyroidism. The standard tests for diagnosing hypothyroidism include:
- Physical exam
- Blood test
- Imaging exam
If these tests show an elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and low levels of thyroid hormones, like free T4, total T3, or free T3, you may have hypothyroidism.
Causes of hypothyroidism
1. Autoimmune disease
The most common cause of primary hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disorder known as a Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which your immune system attacks your own thyroid gland (3).
This affects the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones. While scientists aren’t sure why it happens, it may be a combination of factors like genes and environmental factors.
2. Thyroid surgery
If your thyroid gland or a large portion of it is removed during surgery, it halts the hormone production. In such cases, you have to take thyroid hormone all your life.
3. Hyperthyroidism treatment
People who produce too much thyroid hormone are treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medication. In some cases, it can lower the production of thyroid hormone too much, which can lead to hypothyroidism.
4. Radiation therapy
When radiation therapy is used to treat the cancer of the head or the neck, it can affect your thyroid gland and cause hypothyroidism.
Certain medications can affect the functioning of the thyroid gland. Lithium, a drug used to treat specific psychiatric disorders, is one such medication.
6. Poor diet
A diet low in iodine and selenium can increase the risk of thyroid disorders. The thyroid gland needs both selenium and iodine to produce the right levels of thyroid hormones (4).
7. Pituitary disorder
The pituitary gland makes a hormone called the thyroid stimulating hormone, which controls the levels of hormones produced by the thyroid gland. A problem with the pituitary gland ( like a tumor) can cause changes in the thyroid function.
8. Gut inflammation
Food sensitivities and allergies can trigger gut inflammation. Bacterial imbalances in the gut, toxin overload from diet and stress can also damage the intestine.
This can lead to leaky gut, which can cause particles to leak into the bloodstream and lead to autoimmune activity and other health issues.
9. Congenital disease
Some babies are born with the dysfunction of the thyroid gland. This condition is known as congenital hypothyroidism. Some children also have an inherited form of this disorder.
Some women develop hypothyroidism during or after their pregnancy. This is known as postpartum hypothyroidism. In most cases, the symptoms disappear after 12 to 18 months, but in some cases, it can lead to permanent hypothyroidism.
11. Lack of exercise
Regular exercise and a nutritious diet are essential for controlling stress and managing hormones. People who exercise regularly have lower levels of can lead to hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism can be a problematic health condition to manage. While some factors like genetics and the environment around you are out of your control, you can make some changes in your diet to manage hypothyroidism better.
While some nutrients have been highly beneficial for the function of the thyroid gland, other foods can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb the replacement hormones that you are taking as part of the treatment.
Let us learn more about the foods to choose from and the foods to avoid when you develop hypothyroidism.
Foods to eat
Eggs are a good source of the three primary nutrients required for a healthy thyroid – iodine, selenium, and tyrosine. You must eat whole eggs as most of the iodine and selenium is found in the yolk, while the egg whites contain protein.
2. Wild-caught fish
Wild-caught fish is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are essential for thyroid function.
Wild-caught fish help maintain a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet, which helps in reducing inflammation and supports neurological function.
Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, Pacific sardines and Atlantic mackerel are some healthy options.
Nuts are an excellent source of selenium, which helps the thyroid to function correctly. Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts are some great options.
4. High-fiber foods
Hypothyroidism can cause constipation and other digestive problems. Having fiber-rich foods like fresh vegetables, whole grains, berries, lentils, and seeds helps improve digestive health.
However, fiber can interfere with synthetic thyroid hormones. So, you must take your thyroid medications several hours before or after you have your meals.
5. Fresh fruits and vegetables
These are low in calories and rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are necessary for lowering inflammation.
Add fresh vegetables and fruits to your diet as they support digestive health, brain function, heart health, hormone balance and also help in weight loss. Blueberries, cherries, sweet potatoes and green peppers are rich sources of antioxidants.
Seaweed is amongst the best natural sources of iodine. Kelp, nori, kombu, dulse, and wakame are some great options that you can make a part of your diet.
Dried varieties of these seaweeds are available at health food stores. They can be used in sushi, soups, and salads. Seaweed is rich in vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, calcium, and fiber.
7. Probiotic-rich food
Probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, natto, and sauerkraut are a great addition to a hypothyroidism diet.
Probiotics create a healthy gut environment which helps reduce leaky gut syndrome, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, and autoimmune reactions.
8. Sprouted seeds
Sprouted flax, hemp and chia seeds provide AHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is needed for proper thyroid function and hormonal balance.
These healthy fats lower inflammation, improve brain function, stabilize sugar levels and help maintain a healthy weight.
9. Bone Broth
Bone broth contains L-proline and L-glycine. These amino acids help repair the digestive lining and improve hypothyroidism.
Bone broth also contains essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and silicon, which help improve immunity.
Staying hydrated is essential as it improves digestion and prevents fatigue. It helps treat various symptoms of hypothyroidism like constipation, low energy levels, and weight gain.
Foods to avoid
Several foods are harmful to people with hypothyroidism.
1. Goitrogen foods
Goitrogen is a compound that interferes with the normal functioning of the thyroid gland. Some of the foods that contain goitrogens are:
Soy foods: Tofu, tempeh, edamame
Brassica vegetables: Cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, spinach
Some fruits and starchy plants: Sweet potatoes, cassava, peaches, and strawberries
Some nuts and seeds: Millet, pine nuts and peanuts
Goitrogen foods pose a higher risk for people with iodine deficiency (5).
People with hypothyroidism should lower their intake of gluten. Gluten, a protein found in food made from wheat, barley, and rye, can irritate the digestive system and may hamper the absorption of thyroid medication.
Many people with hypothyroidism are also sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease. So check the labels of the food you eat to avoid inflammation.
3. Sugary foods
Hypothyroidism can slow down body’s metabolism. Sugar can disrupt the hormone balance which is essential for metabolism. So avoid sugary foods as it can lead to hormonal imbalance, fatigue, mood changes, and weight gain.
4. Excessive fiber
Although fiber is good for the digestive system, excessive fiber in the diet can interfere with the thyroid hormone replacement drugs.
Your doctor may have to increase your dose of thyroid hormone replacement drugs if you are not absorbing enough medication.
Alcohol consumption can lower the thyroid hormone levels in the body and reduce the ability of thyroid to produce hormones. People with hypothyroidism should cut out alcohol entirely or drink it in moderation.
6. Refined Carbs
Foods made with refined carbs can disrupt hormonal balance and lead to weight gain. These products include bread, cereals, and pasta. Try to limit these kinds of foods in your diet and opt for grains like quinoa and buckwheat.
Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, is a problem that affects 4.6 percent of the US population. It can cause symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, joint pain.
In children, it can lead to poor growth and delayed mental development. Although there is no cure for hypothyroidism, eating the right food and taking medications can reduce the symptoms.
Choose foods that are rich in iodine and selenium and avoid foods that cause inflammation and immune reactions.