You’ve heard of your thyroid, but what is it and what role does it play in your body? Your thyroid plays a large factor in your overall health and impacts many other parts of your body. Your thyroid can be overactive or underactive, resulting in hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Knowing if or when you should get yours checked out and understanding nutrition that will best support your thyroid function is a key part of understanding what your thyroid is and the role it plays.
Role in the body
The thyroid is responsible for regulating several different functions in the body. These include, but not limited to, carbohydrate and fat metabolism, cholesterol levels, menstrual cycles, and brain development. The thyroid can also impact a person’s energy levels throughout the day. When the thyroid is producing too much thyroid hormone, hyperthyroidism occurs. Hyperthyroidism speeds up metabolism and can cause weight loss, hand tremors and rapid or irregular heartbeat. When a thyroid is under working it results in hypothyroidism. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, difficulty losing weight, hair loss, fatigue, heavy or irregular menstrual periods, dry skin and nails, and difficulty concentrating. The most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States is an autoimmune response known as Hashimoto’s disease. In Hashimoto’s disease the body attacks the thyroid that leads to inflammation, and over time inability to produce thyroid hormones.
Nearly 5 out of 100 Americans ages 12 and older develop hypothyroidism1. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism than men and is most common in people 60 years or older. Other risk factors include having a family history of thyroid disease, previous thyroid issues such as goiter or nodules, pregnancy or post-partum, other autoimmune disorders: lupus, PCOS, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, Turner syndrome, or a history of radiation to the thyroid, neck, or chest. Hypothyroidism can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, elevated cholesterol levels, blood pressure and inflammatory markers due to low levels of thyroid hormone.
If you think you have any hypothyroid symptoms and fall into any of the risk factor categories, you can contact your primary care physician to be tested. Hypothyroidism cannot be diagnosed based on symptoms or risk factors alone, but your primary care physician will order bloodwork to test thyroid function. If a person is diagnosed with hypothyroidism, their primary care physician will discuss the best options and may prescribe medication. Hypothyroidism can be managed well through medication.
Nutrition can aid in better thyroid function. It is important to note that although dietary and lifestyle changes can help with a person’s thyroid function, nutrition alone cannot cure thyroid concerns.
Iodine is an important component of the thyroid that can aid in producing optimal thyroid hormone for better overall function. Food sources that contain iodine include cheese, cow’s milk, eggs, saltwater fish, seaweed, shellfish, soy milk, soy sauce and yogurt. However, it is less likely to have an iodine deficiency in the United States due to the widespread use of iodized salt. It is important that having too little or too much iodine in the diet can have significant risks. Consult your medical team before considering supplementation.
Vitamin D deficiency can be linked to Hashimoto’s disease. A major source of Vitamin D is direct sunlight. Sun exposure for 15 to 20 minutes two times per week without sunscreen is a way to absorb vitamin D through skin. Dietary sources of vitamin D are fatty fish like salmon or tuna, milk, eggs, and some varieties of mushrooms. If your vitamin D lab levels are running low, your medical team may discuss appropriate vitamin D3 supplementation to help replenish levels.
Selenium is a component of the enzymes that are necessary for the thyroid to function. Food sources that have selenium are Brazil nuts, tuna, crab, and lobster. It is important to note that too little or too much selenium has significant risk. Please consult your medical team before considering supplementation.
It is also important to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of fiber and fluids. A common side effect of hypothyroidism is constipation. Fluid and fiber intake are crucial in preventing that side effect. Fiber can be found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes. Daily fiber recommendations are 25 g per day for women and 38 g per day for men2. Consistent fluid intake throughout the day will help with hydration but also prevent constipation. If you struggle with fluid intake, try to keep a water bottle with you, drinking from a straw, flavoring water, or sparkling water.
Lastly, soy intake is something that should be monitored for better thyroid function. Soy isoflavones can lower thyroid hormone production and block the absorption of thyroid medication. Try to limit soy intake to 2 to 3 times per week. If taking thyroid medication, wait 2 to 3 hours before consuming soy to allow the medication to absorb in the body.
Do you think your thyroid is not functioning properly? Contact your primary care provider to discuss and have labs tested. Want to learn more about nutrition and how to fuel your body? Book an appointment with a dietitian online or call a wellness coordinator at (919) 237-1337 option 4 today! Avance Care offers nutrition counseling to fit your schedule so call today to make an appointment. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe today to be notified of the new post.