Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that makes up part of the endocrine system and sits right at the the base of your neck. This modest hormone-secreting gland is actually the control station of your hormones, responsible for producing and regulating your hormones and interconnected to nearly very system in the body.
Perhaps the most notable way in how your thyroid functions is in its regulation of the metabolic processes. When it is under-active, known as hypothyroidism, the system slows. Most commonly reported, hypothyroidism may lead to weight gain, constipation, poor energy and libido, depression, lower body temperature, dry skin and hair loss, etc. Conversely, when it is overactive, we experience hyperthyroidism, where the metabolism and heartbeat speed up. One may experience weight loss, anxiety, insomnia, hot flashes, poor assimilation and digestive disturbances.
Today, it is estimated that nearly 20 million Americans have some sort of thyroid-related health issue. The American Thyroid Association estimates that 1 in 8 women will have a thyroid-related health concern in her lifetime. These staggering reports are even more disconcerting when it is also estimated that nearly 60% of these people don’t even know they have an issue.
The real concern and growing issue is, however, that many of us are unaware that many of our chronic and often debilitating symptoms are related to the declining efficiency of our thyroid function, and that many of the everyday foods and habits we enjoy daily greatly contribute to the issues we may be experiencing with this essential body regulating gland.
Everyone is, of course, different and the way our thyroid imbalances may exhibit bodily symptoms may be complex - especially if we are already fairly healthy or maintain an active lifestyle. When the thyroid isn’t functioning correctly though, this can not only lead to weight loss or gain and changes in energy, but seriously impact our overall health and hormone functions, leading to imbalances throughout our entire body. So even if you are active, eat well – here are 6 lifestyle tips to support your thyroid function and restore balance.
1. Reduce Chronic Stress
Easier said than done, but nevertheless essential to combat adrenal exhaustion, a common concern when it comes to thyroid health. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone is excreted in larger amounts when we are chronically stressed. This disrupts our thyroid hormone production and desensitizes thyroid receptors in our cells, leading to adrenal fatigue. This means, though our thyroid hormone levels may come back as normal, we aren’t necessarily able to utilize or receive the hormones correctly. Practice daily stress management through meditation, yoga, breathing, or simply unplugging and getting out in nature to reset and unwind.
2. Detox Heavy Metals and Toxins
Heavy metals and trouble with detoxifying pathways are an increasing issue as our foods become more and more processed, and synthetic ingredients make their way into nearly every aspect of our lives – from chemicals in cleaning supplies, foods, makeup, and even furniture and clothing. These toxins alone can disrupt the hormones and cause imbalance. Over time they may trigger autoimmune issues, slowing thyroid hormone production, and interfering with vitamin and mineral absorption.
Limit intake of fish, especially from the top of the food chain, like swordfish and tuna which typically have the highest concentrations of mercury. Instead, focus on small and oily fish, high in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats, like sardines and anchovies. Limit intake to no more than one time per week, less if you know of an existing heavy metal issue.
Reduce your exposure of other daily toxins by removing plastics to store food and water, switching to all natural beauty products and cleaning products, and getting an efficient water filter to remove impurities. If you do have hormonal imbalances, you may consider being tested for genetic disorders that interfere with your cleansing pathways and removing excess hormones. Additional detoxification therapies such as infrared saunas, sweating, and liver detoxifying herbs may help to promote cleansing of these hormones, toxins, and heavy metals.
3. Remove Hidden Food-Related Triggers
Food Intolerances and issues with digestion can lead to issues with absorbing nutrients, leaky gut, and spark autoimmune issues. The most common offenders are gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar.
Gluten, especially in its processed form, is highly inflammatory and can lead to autoimmune issues for those that are sensitive to it or have celiac disease, by weakening the immune system, and interfering with nutrient absorption. Like gluten, dairy is a common, inflammatory and mucus-forming food that can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, or yeast imbalances.
Soy is not only hard to digest and contains high levels of phytoestrogens that mimic our own hormones, it is typically genetically modified. Sugar in any form is inflammatory, leading to potential nutrient deficiencies, and fosters yeast imbalances and autoimmune diseases by weakening the immune system.
Remove these potential problematic ingredients and focus on an anti-inflammatory diet of whole and pure ingredients and a plant-focused diet rich in fiber. Add probiotics to help cultivate a healthy gut ecology.
4. Remove Processed Foods
Keep in mind that just because something is sugar- or gluten-free does not mean it is necessarily healthy. Steer clear of processed inflammatory foods with refined, even “all-natural” ingredients. Remove all artificial sweeteners that may also interfere with hormone balance. Highly refined plant oils like canola or corn oils should be removed from the diet and replaced with healthy, cold pressed, unrefined oils like coconut, avocado, and flax oils.
When in doubt, don’t read the marketing label, read the ingredients! If there is an ingredient you don’t recognize, put it back. Shelf-stable items usually mean there is going to be some sort of preservative used in them. Shop your local Farmers' Markets to source what’s fresh and in season.
5. Support your Thyroid Through Nutrition
Often, when it comes to thyroid, hormonal or autoimmune issues, there is a nutritional deficiency component, as well. Whether it’s that you are not getting enough of a nutrient or having issues absorbing it, these nutrients are key for thyroid function. Speak with your nutritionist, doctor, or naturopath about supplementing with thyroid-supporting vitamins and minerals like iodine, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, iron, and A, D, and B vitamins.
Iodine is perhaps the most important mineral when it comes to thyroid health, however it is very scarce in the diet. Though it can be sourced through seaweeds, often health practitioners will recommend supplemental iodine, like nascent iodine, as well.
6. Reduce Goitrogenic Vegetables
For those with symptoms of an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism, it may be wise to reduce goitrogenic vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc. Especially in their raw form, these vegetables may interfere with the thyroid function and inhibit proper nutrient absorption. Reduce your intake of these veggies in general, and when you do decide to partake, be sure they are cooked well.
Do you have symptoms of a thyroid imbalance? Find out more: