Hypothyroidism affects 5% of the population. It is ten times more common in women and the prevalence increases with age. The sad part is many people are undiagnosed and this number is about 5-10% (1).
As a medical professional I have been looking at which lifestyle changes can support a low functioning thyroid. It is not surprising that simple changes in day to day routine and nutrition can support well-being with this condition. These can all be used alongside medication and with subclinical hypothyroidism, where medication has not yet been started.
- Reducing the toxin load in the body by having a whole food plant predominant diet. Cooking form scratch helps knowing what is going in your food. There is more and more evidence that chemicals are added to processed food which can behave as endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors act as hormones within the body, modulating the normal function of the glands and hormones (2). This leads to low functioning thyroid as well as other problems leading to chronic health conditions. Reducing toxins would also include avoiding smoking and consumption of alcohol.
- In 2021 the endocrine chemical disruptors (EDC) were studied and plastic products, food packaging, pesticides, personal products like perfumes and creams all contained various chemicals which interfere with the normal functioning of the thyroid gland (2). So avoiding plastic utensils and packaging, trying to eat organic when possible and avoiding personal products which are heavy in phthalate chemicals can also reduce the toxin load in the body.
- Stress has been seen to cause inflammation and oxidative stress at the cellular levels, which has an impact on thyroid functioning. Managing stress just for eight weeks was seen to reduce the thyroid antibody levels, which clearly indicates the toll it has on the body (3). I see in my own patients that this pillar of health is often difficult to address. People will say ‘well that is not something that can be changed’, however there are simple steps that can be taken. I have added the link to my blog about stress management which may be helpful (4).
- It is important to have a balanced diet which is rich in micronutrients. I would like to specifically mention selenium and iodine here as these are important in the production as well as functioning of the thyroid hormone (5). Food items rich in selenium include brazil nuts, chick peas, legumes and beans (6). For iodine the main sources come from fortified food (like salt), seaweed, whole grains and nuts. People who eat seafood would be getting adequate amounts for various fish sources (7). I often get asked by patients if they should avoid soya or vegetables from the brassica family like cauliflower, cabbage and the likes. Research shows that if the iodine content in routine food is enough, these food items can be taken without any concern. The brassica group vegetables have lots of health benefits and will only impact the thyroid hormone if eaten in large quantities (..we are talking in kilos!) in one go.
- Low iron can be a cause of low thyroid hormone functioning too and something I commonly see in menstruating women. It is important to make sure that the iron levels are normal for the thyroid hormone to be produced appropriately (8). Iron rich food includes lentils, beans, nuts and seeds, green vegetables and beetroot (9).
- Eating fibre rich food and drinking enough water help the body to get rid of the toxins via stool and urine. Aiming to support the detox system of the body by incorporating a plant predominant diet and at least 2 litres of water really helps restore the balance of the thyroid gland (5).
- Restoring sleep has major function in supporting thyroid health. If the circadian rhythm is disrupted, it causes oxidative stress and can affect the thyroid hormone production (10).
- Weight gain and fatigue are some of the symptoms commonly seen with a low functioning thyroid. Exercise can really support with these symptoms. In fact, evidence suggests that aerobic exercise helps remove the body’s toxins through sweat. Aiming for 15-30 minutes of exercise per day where the heart rate is increased would be beneficial (10).
- Often I am asked if supplements maybe needed. I recommend a ‘food first’ approach as supplements come with their own concerns depending on the quality. Having a balanced homemade meal with an effort to include the micronutrients as stated above can mostly be enough. Iron can be sometimes needed as a supplement, which can be discussed with a health professional before starting, as excess iron can be harmful. Vitamin D also has a role in the production of thyroid hormone (5) as well and hence this is one supplement that I would recommend. 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D per day should be enough for an adult.
These are very simple lifestyle measures which can support the low functioning thyroid.
I hope you have found this blog informative.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog should not replace medical advice. If you want advice on any acute or routine medical condition, please contact your healthcare provider.
References and links