- What is the Thyroid?
- Common Thyroid Challenges
- How To Know If You Have a Thyroid Challenge
- What Contributes to Thyroid Issues?
- Diet Suggestions to Improve Thyroid Function
- Thyroid-Supporting Lifestyle Practices
- A Path Towards Thriving Thyroid Health
NOTE ON MEDICAL ADVICE: This article is not written to provide specific medical advice to treat any medical condition. That conversation needs to happen between you and your medical care team.
Thyroid challenges are widespread nowadays. Levothyroxine, a thyroid hormone replacement drug, is the 3rd most prescribed drug in the US (1). At the same time, thyroid symptoms can easily be overlooked or misdiagnosed.
The great news is that thyroid challenges can generally be corrected. Some can be addressed through diet and lifestyle changes, while others may require hormone replacement therapy or similar measures.
As always, we suggest working with a medical professional, but we will outline some simple information that can help you improve thyroid function (regardless of whether you have a thyroid challenge).
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- A brief explanation of the thyroid and its importance
- Common thyroid challenges and associated symptoms
- Contributing factors to thyroid challenges
- Diet and lifestyle practices to improve thyroid function
Off we go!
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ found in the neck. It is a key component of the endocrine system. The thyroid gland is crucial for metabolism, temperature regulation, and organ function. Thyroid hormones are also vital for sex hormone production (such as estrogen and testosterone).
So, it can be a significant issue when the thyroid isn’t functioning optimally!
Common Thyroid Challenges
Thyroid challenges primarily impact women and are related to an under or overactive thyroid. Some have an autoimmune component as well. Symptoms may appear in a variety of areas throughout the body.
Common challenges include
Hypothyroidism – a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. Symptoms such as cold hands/feet, low energy, brain fog, weight gain, hair loss, or constipation may be present.
As mentioned above, thyroid health can greatly impact sex hormones. So, women with hypothyroidism may experience low libido, trouble conceiving, or disordered menstrual cycles. Men may experience erectile dysfunction or decreased sperm count.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – this is an autoimmune disease where the immune system begins attacking the thyroid. It can lead to fatigue, depression, hair loss, joint stiffness, and dry skin. This disease also results from an underactive thyroid.
Hyperthyroidism – on the opposite end of the spectrum, an overactive thyroid is present with hyperthyroidism (leading to excess production of thyroid hormones). This may result in heat intolerance, increased appetite, excessive sweating, weight loss, goiter, or anxiety.
Grave’s Disease – an autoimmune disorder related to an overactive thyroid and can be a precursor of hyperthyroidism. Symptoms can vary widely depending on the person but frequently include heart palpitations, heat intolerance, disturbed sleep, low libido, irregular periods, and increased frequency of bowel movements
How To Know If You Have a Thyroid Challenge
If you suspect a thyroid issue, we suggest working with a medical professional to run testing. Doctors will often look at T3, T4, Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), thyroid antibodies, and other metrics based on your symptoms and medical history.
If needed, check out the Society of Metabolic Health Practitioners, where individuals can find physicians from all around the globe who understand the value of making animal foods the center of the diet. IFM Find a Practitioner is another excellent option if you’re looking for a functional medicine approach.
What Contributes to Thyroid Issues?
How do these challenges develop? The underlying cause(s) of thyroid troubles can involve a combination of the following:
- Genetics (2)
- Nutrient Inadequacies (3)
- Stress (4)
- Toxin Exposure (heavy metals, mold exposure, Lyme disease, etc.) (5, 6, 7)
- Infection (8)
- Compromised Gut Health (9)
So, there is a clear interplay between genetics and your environment. Diet is also essential to consider if you’re looking to improve thyroid function.
Diet Suggestions to Improve Thyroid Function
As with most health hurdles, diet can improve thyroid-related symptoms.
Here are eight powerful dietary suggestions:
1. Include High-Quality Animal Proteins
Protein assists with transporting thyroid hormones throughout the bloodstream. Adequate protein intake also supports the production of T4 (a thyroid hormone).
Not to mention that animal foods contain iron, zinc, B vitamins, and other nutrients (in a highly bioavailable form) that are critical for thyroid function.
Animal foods also provide fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble as they are absorbed along with dietary fats. Vitamins A and D, in particular, are essential for thyroid health and the immune system (10, 11, 12, 13).
Sunlight is the ideal source of vitamin D, but animal foods (liver, egg yolks, butter, etc.) are the only natural food sources.
How much protein should you eat daily?
We suggest a range of 1-1.2 grams of protein per pound of ideal body weight. For example, if you’re looking to be around 150 lbs, you would include about 150-180g of protein per day.
Great protein sources include grass-fed and grass-finished beef, corn-and-soy-free eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese.
2. Include Carbohydrates
We’ve already discussed the importance of fat and protein intake. Carbohydrates are no exception if your goal is to improve thyroid function.
Eating individually-sufficient amounts of food can help hormones, energy, mood, immunity, and digestion thrive (14). Check out Paul Saladino, MD’s macro calculator to calculate your macronutrient targets based on your ideal body weight.
3. Iodine and Selenium are Crucial
Minerals such as iodine and selenium are vital for thyroid health (15, 16).
Iodine is important for thyroid hormone synthesis, and it relies on the presence of fat-soluble vitamins as well as minerals like magnesium, selenium, and iron.
The body cannot produce iodine on its own, but it’s found in wild-caught cod, raw dairy, oysters, eggs, and iodized salt.
Despite its importance, excess iodine can worsen thyroid function. It may not be as simple as adding an iodine supplement. It’s imperative to work with a medical professional before supplementing with iodine.
Selenium is a mineral that protects the thyroid from excess iodine exposure and helps balance levels of T4.
The selenium content of foods can vary widely based on soil quality and other environmental factors. Some great sources of selenium include grass-fed and grass-finished beef, organ meats, cottage cheese, eggs, and seafood (such as oysters).
4. Include Organ Meats
Organ meats (liver, heart, kidney, etc.) are incredible sources of vitamins A, B & K2. Iron, zinc, copper, and selenium are also present.
5. Avoid Seed Oils and Other Processed Foods
This includes corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, canola, peanut, grapeseed, etc.—all of which are found in processed foods and used, unfortunately, in most restaurants.
Look out for these oils in the “Ingredients” of food labels and avoid them at all costs! Excess linoleic acid, as found in seed oils, can contribute to metabolic dysfunction, weight gain, and chronic disease. Not to mention, exposing them to heat can result in toxic byproducts. Feel free to check out this Seed Oils YouTube playlist if you need more convincing.
Instead of seed oils, we suggest prioritizing animal fats such as butter, tallow, or ghee.
Most processed foods are devoid of nutrients and not suggested when following an animal-based diet.
6. Be Mindful of Plant-Defense Chemicals
If you’ve read The Carnivore Code or follow Paul Saladino, MD, you’ll know that many plant foods don’t want to be eaten. To protect themselves, they produce defense chemicals that can harm your health, especially if consumed in excess.
These compounds can contribute to autoimmune disorders, neurological issues, digestive issues, and joint pain. If your health is not where you want it to be, we suggest avoiding the most toxic plant foods such as:
- Seeds (nuts, grains, and legumes)
Goitrogenic foods are another topic to be aware of when looking to improve thyroid function (17).
Goitrogens can block iodine uptake, which is necessary for thyroid hormone production (18, 19). These are derived from natural plant pesticides known as glucosinolates. In particular, brassica vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, etc.) can have goitrogenic effects. Other goitrogens include soy, cassava, and millet.
7. Avoid Soy Products
Over 90% of soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified (20). Soybeans contain isoflavones, naturally occurring phytoestrogens (a compound that mimics estrogen). Consumption of these isoflavones can interfere with thyroid hormones (21, 22). Not to mention, soybeans are high in phytic acid, which can prevent the absorption of important nutrients!
Soy is often found in cereals, crackers, sauces, milk alternatives, protein powders, and infant formulas. Most conventionally raised cattle, pigs, and chickens consume soy. This can become a concern with monogastric animals (such as chickens and pigs) as they cannot eliminate or convert excess polyunsaturated fatty acids from their diet. So these PUFAs are stored in their fat tissues.
8. Identify Food Sensitivities
Common food sensitivities include grains, soy, nuts, seeds, nightshades, and dairy. Caffeine and alcohol can also be problematic. You may need additional testing with a medical professional to determine your sensitivities.
For dairy, in particular, when people react negatively to milk products, the offending component is often a protein called ‘casein.’ There are two varieties of milk out there, A1 and A2, which refers to the type of casein protein found in the milk.
A1 casein is found in most cows’ milk in the United States, and the A2 variant occurs in the milk of a small percentage of US cows and other ruminants like buffalo, goats, and sheep. Generally speaking, the less common A2 milk is easier to digest.
Thyroid-Supporting Lifestyle Practices
Lifestyle decisions can also have a tremendous impact (directly or indirectly) on the health of your thyroid.
Here are 7 main suggestions to improve thyroid function:
1. Manage Stress
We challenge everyone to engage in stress management activities. Meditation, prayer, sitting outside and connecting with nature, gardening, or even learning a new skill can all be enjoyable ways to reduce stress (25, 26, 27).
2. Prioritize Sleep Quality
Consistent, quality sleep is vital for the body to heal and recover! Sleep is also known to significantly impact hormonal health and the endocrine system (28).
While proper sleep habits can be a challenge nowadays, there are dozens of methods for naturally improving your sleep quality.
3. Sun Exposure
Exposure to sunlight helps regulate hormones, helps decrease blood pressure (29), and improves blood flow throughout the body. It can also help our body enter its natural circadian rhythm cycle, which promotes sleep (30), recovery, and muscle growth. On top of this, sun exposure can improve the alpha diversity of the gut (31).
Inadequate vitamin D levels are also connected to abnormal thyroid function (32).
4. Reduce Exposure to Toxins
It’s essential to be aware of your exposures and do your best to mitigate them. Toxin reduction is a loaded topic nowadays, but there are a few areas to hone in on.
For women especially, personal care products are a daily fixture, whether it be makeup, perfumes, soaps, or feminine hygiene products. As a result, women can be exposed to various chemicals.
We suggest using personal care products made with tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, or other natural ingredients. Limiting fragrances as much as possible can also decrease exposure to chemical inputs. This website is an excellent resource for finding cleaner personal care products. Chem Trust also has helpful insight on this topic.
Another challenge is exposure to xenoestrogens. These synthetic, industrial chemicals can mimic endogenous hormones. Xenoestrogens are found in plastics, pesticides, tap water, cleaning products, sunscreen, and other products. Exposure to xenoestrogens may disrupt thyroid function, especially during pregnancy, childhood, and other critical periods (33).
You’ve likely seen labels that say “BPA Free.” Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical commonly used in toys, cosmetics, receipts, and food can lining. It’s a xenoestrogen that’s easily transferred to food and water. Unsurprisingly, BPA can have adverse effects on thyroid function (34).
Cutting down on BPA and other xenoestrogens can be as simple as using stainless steel water bottles, minimizing canned food intake, avoiding plastic containers, avoiding non-stick pans, and using glass for food storage.
Other simple ways to reduce toxins include:
This topic can seem daunting, but you can take plenty of steps to reduce exposure!
5. Find Balance with Exercise
Exercise can be a hindrance if overdone.
Excessive exercise can increase inflammation and negatively impact hormones (36). If you’re constantly tired, sick, or getting injured, it may be necessary to dial it back.
Hypothyroidism can even contribute to muscle weakness, cramping, and poor endurance. So, be conscious of your situation, allow time to recover p
roperly, and keep it simple.
6. Be Mindful of Fasting
While some studies have demonstrated clear improvements in glycemic control, genetic markers of autophagy (cellular house cleaning), and longevity (37), others point out that too much fasting can harm hormones and overall vitality (38).
Ultimately it’s based on the individual, but we suspect that for many, frequent 24+ hour fasts, OMAD (one meal a day), or a 6-hour eating window for an extended time is going to be too restrictive and not allow for optimal hormonal health (especially if managing a thyroid issue).
7. Focus on Improving Gut Health
As noted earlier, poor gut health can lead to thyroid complications. Thyroid and gut challenges often overlap, resulting in similar symptoms (fatigue, acid reflux, constipation, etc.)(39).
Improved gastrointestinal health can reduce autoimmunity and directly improve thyroid function (40). When the gut is compromised, this may result in inadequate absorption of nutrients (iodine, selenium, etc.) needed for proper thyroid function (41).
Improved gut health can stem from a culmination of the steps listed above. You can better assimilate nutrients and optimize digestion by removing highly processed foods, adding nutrient-dense foods, managing stress, and reducing toxins.
A Path Towards Thriving Thyroid Health
Proper thyroid function is crucial for your health!
Unfortunately, thyroid challenges are a common occurrence that can wreak havoc on your energy levels, digestion, sex drive, and various other areas. These challenges may develop due to genetics, infection, exposure to toxins, and dietary habits.
The great news is that these can often be corrected by identifying the root causes, including nutrient-dense foods, improving your gut health, limiting toxins, and other lifestyle decisions!
Given the implications, we suggest working alongside a trusted medical professional to address or diagnose your thyroid challenge. If needed, the team at Heart & Soil is happy to help wherever possible!
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