Hormone Health Series: Thyroid

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The thyroid is a small organ located around the neck. Not many people ever have to worry about thyroid health, however more and more people are being diagnosed with thyroid issues. The most obvious sign of thyroid dysfunction is developing a goiter. A goiter is a result of a swollen thyroid due to a deficiency in the important mineral iodine. The glands in the thyroid expand in an attempt to absorb more iodine resulting in a lump in the neck. We fortify foods in the US because of particular deficiencies. To be sure Americans get their iodine, our commercial supply of salt has iodine added.

A goiter is a fail safe way to know if you have thyroid problems, but without such a physical manifestation, understanding what’s going on with your thyroid can be a little tricky. The thyroid’s primary function is to manage our metabolism. If you have unexplained weight gain, fatigue, bad mood, or poor sleep, you may be experiencing hypothyroidism which is a down regulation of your thyroid hormones. If you can’t seem to keep weight on, have bulging eyes, sweat uncontrollably, urinate more than usual, this could be a sign of hyperthyroidism, or the overproduction of thyroid hormones.

Going to the doctor and getting a blood test to see your thyroid hormone levels is an easy way to see if you have an issue. However, there is a long chain of hormone reactions that occur starting from the brain to the thyroid. Knowing where in the chain is the problem is really important and a little harder to discover. So if you have thyroid problems or want to keep your thyroid healthy, what can you eat and what should you not be eating?

First, the the foods that interfere with iodine absorption. Food colorings have been shown to not only increase your risk of cancer, but also affect thyroid function. Such colorings like red 3, and blue 2. So, a simple way of avoiding these additives is to simply check labels. If you see a color and a number following the color, don’t buy that product. Watch out especially for kids foods as they are often high in these additives.

Too much iodine can be just as bad as too little iodine. Watch the amount of sodium you eat per day. Seeing that commercial salt has iodine in it, foods like processed meats, chicken, canned goods, and sauces should be eaten in smaller quantities. Also when cooking at home, it is best to use Himalayan salt or just sea salt to avoid the added iodine.

Raw goiterogenic vegetables, which are all the vegetables in the cruciferous family. This includes broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, and more. When consumed in very large quantities raw, these vegetables can also interfere with iodine uptake. The simple solution? Because there are benefits to eating these veggies raw, simply eat some raw, and the rest steam or boil. Heating these vegetables rids them of the iodine blocking enzyme that is causing the issue.

What you should be eating are healthy carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. Carbohydrates cause our body to release insulin. Insulin converts a hormone T4 into its active form T3 which is essential for the thyroid to do its job. So if you’re on a low carb diet, you may be putting your thyroid at risk. Apart from helping your thyroid, healthy carbohydrates also reduce cortisol which is produced by your adrenal glands in your body. Insulin is the antithesis of cortisol. The adrenal glands work closely with your thyroid. Think of your adrenal glands as your thyroid backup. If both systems are being depleted by carbohydrate restriction, your thyroid and adrenals will be quite taxed.

Apart from these foods to eat, make sure you’re getting adequate rest and sleep. Cortisol raises when we are constantly deprived of sleep, dealing with a lot of stress, and are not exercising much. So keep the veggies coming, get in some sort of exercise on a daily basis, sleep well, and maybe even practice some mindfulness techniques. Avoid iodine rich foods that will affect thyroid health, and avoid colorings that are added to foods. Stay healthy my friends!

Jesse Rich