The thyroid is a butterfly shaped endocrine gland located in your neck. It’s an endocrine gland, meaning the hormones it creates/regulates are secreted directly into the bloodstream instead of passing through a duct. The hormones that are most involved with the thyroid are thyrotropin, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), triiodothyronine (T3), and thyroxine (T4). Because the thyroid is an endocrine gland, it is very vascularized; it contains a lot of blood vessels.
Through the secretion and regulation of the hormones mentioned above, the thyroid gland has an impact on: metabolism, the central nervous system, body temperature, muscle strength, menstrual cycle, cholesterol levels, and weight. With so many important bodily processes affected by the thyroid, it is no surprise that thyroid disruption is a very serious issue for so many people.
Thyroid disruption is most commonly diagnosed as Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s disease, and/or hypothyroidism. There is some overlap between the three, but they are different. Graves’ disease is the most common, and consists of an excess of thyrotropin, which leads to the capillaries becoming too dense. When thyrotropin levels get too high, vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A) is produced, which is what leads to capillaries getting too dense, which is Graves’ disease.
Hypothyroidism is when thyroid hormones levels are too low. While hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease are often thought to be the same, Hashimoto’s is the disease that causes the symptom of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attacks thyroid tissue as if it were a virus. Some symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease include: goiters, fatigue, weight gain, depression, constipation, and more.
Knowing that Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease is a big advantage in treating the symptoms and addressing the disease itself. Hashimoto’s, like all autoimmune diseases are at their root, cause by inflammation. Chronic and systemic inflammation that causes the body to attack certain tissues, leading to disease states. In the case of Hashimoto’s, as with the majority of autoimmune diseases, managing and reducing inflammation is the key to recovery.
A very common source of inflammation is diet, more specifically gluten. In regards to thyroid disruption and Hashimoto’s disease, the fact that the protein structure of gluten very closely resembles thyroid tissue is no coincidence. There is also a strong association between Celiac disease (intolerance to gluten), non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and Hashimoto’s disease. Gluten can be a very inflammatory substance and can lead to many different health problems. Along with gluten, people are often found to have food intolerances for dairy. A caveat to this is that when people remove both gluten and dairy from their diet, then reintroduce dairy, there is, in many cases, no problem. But everyone is different, so you would have to see what works best for you. Another cause of inflammation is frequent surges in insulin levels, which again, can be attributed to a diet consisting of gluten, refined carbohydrates, and sugar.
How gluten ties into inflammation and an autoimmune response seems complicated, but really isn’t. When gluten, as an inflammatory substance, is ingested the small intestine becomes inflamed. Over time, this inflammation leads to small tears in the intestinal lining, which allows gut bacteria to leak out of the gut. This is known as leaky gut, a very disruptive issue on its own. If this leaking occurs for long enough, the body will begin to identify certain tissues as foreign and the immune system will attack them. If the main cause of the inflammation is gluten, the body will see that structure as a virus, which is a problem because thyroid tissue very closely resembles the structure of gluten protein. So, in a mistaken attempt to try to rid itself of a “virus,” the body attacks its own tissues, which is the case with Hashimoto’s, leaky gut, and many other autoimmune disease.
It’s not all bad news. Hashimoto’s disease, while serious and very disruptive can be addressed very easily. While there are successful medications, such as levothyroxine, the best method is usually to address the cause instead of simply reducing the symptoms. Let’s start with promoting a healthy thyroid. The thyroid gland relies on several key vitamins and nutrients to function optimally.
- Iodine (essential for thyroid hormone production)
- Selenium (essential for thyroid hormone production)
- vitamins B12, B2, and C
Foods that can provide these are:
- certain nuts
- Beef and chicken
- certain legumes (beans)
- lots of different vegetables (I always recommend dark, leafy veggies)
Some other good foods to eat are probiotic containing foods, such as yogurt, collagen, and fermented foods like kimchi.
What should you avoid? The answer to this seems to be not very cut and dry. Some things are obvious though.
- gluten (grains, pasta, bread, etc.),
- overly processed foods,
- soy (everyone should really avoid soy),
- vegetable oils, canola oil (omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation, which is an essential bodily process, but in this instance our goal is to reduce inflammation.)
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) are usually put on the “Do not eat” list, but this seems to be based on research from the 50’s mistakenly stating that they were goitrogenic. There’s a very secret technique to make these veggies safe to eat..Steam them! I would hope you’re not munching on raw broccoli either way though.
Another gray area is dairy. Some people can have cheese and be fine others cannot. The milk protein, casein, seems to be the factor in this instance. So, if you want some butter (who doesn’t..) you will most likely be ok with ghee or clarified butter, which has the milk protein removed.
Digestion playing a big role here, stomach acid (HCL) is very important. Most people have low levels of HCL which is needed for proper digestion and nutrient/vitamin absorption. To naturally increase your levels of HCL try eating more:
To simplify all this: You need to change your diet. Maybe drastically, maybe not. The first priority is removal, completely, of gluten. The secondary goal should be to manage and reduce inflammation totally. The diets that are best at this are:
Each of these will provide relief from most of the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease and/or hypothyroidism. The ketogenic diet is a very anti-inflammatory diet, as its staple is very low carbs from starch and high fat. When the body is metabolizing fat instead of glucose, less inflammation is produced and there is less of an insulin response.
There is also some relatively recent research demonstrating that intermittent fasting, IF can help with symptoms of Hashimoto’s as well. IF helps with appetite control, insulin sensitivity, and can significantly lower C-reactive protein (CRP) which is a main cause of inflammation. Just make sure if using IF to eat enough calories; severe calorie restriction is never a good thing.
Don’t eat gluten. Eat a diet of whole foods. Eat your meat and veggies. Avoid refined carbs and processed foods.