For instance, soy foods and the broccoli family (broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens) have all been said to cause thyroid dysfunction, but they also have many other health benefits. Research on these foods to date has been less than conclusive. In one study, rats fed high concentrations of soy had problems with their thyroid.
*Cassava bears special mention here. You may have heard of it because it is the starchy root vegetable from which tapioca is made, but cassava is also a popular staple food in many Third World countries, where it is eaten boiled, mashed, or ground into flour. Fresh cassava root contains a harmless substance called linamarin, which can turn into hydrocyanic acid (aka cyanide!) when the plant is damaged or eaten. Flaxseeds also contain linamarin. Cyanide is very toxic, so the human body converts it into thiocyanate (which, although it does interfere with thyroid function, is less toxic than cyanide and easier for the body to eliminate).
Since iodine is found in soils and seawater, fish are another good source of this nutrient. In fact, researchers have long known that people who live in remote, mountainous regions with no access to the sea are at risk for goiters. "The most convincing evidence we have [for thyroid problems] is the absence of adequate nutrition," says Salvatore Caruana, MD, the director of the division of head and neck surgery in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at ColumbiaDoctors.
Thyroid scanning is used to determine how active the thyroid is in manufacturing thyroid hormone. This can determine whether inflammation of the thyroid gland (thyroiditis) is present. It can also detect the presence and degree of overactivity of the gland (hyperthyroidism) or, conversely, it can determine the presence and degree of underactivity of the gland (hypothyroidism).
l-Thyroxine monotherapy for athyreotic rats results in a high T4:T3 ratio at doses sufficient to normalize serum TSH levels (8). Yet, the brain, liver, and skeletal muscle tissues of these l-thyroxine–treated animals continue to exhibit markers of hypothyroidism (9), probably because of the inability of l-thyroxine monotherapy to restore tissue levels of T3 (8). This is probably a direct consequence of lower serum T3 levels and the relatively high T4 concentration in these tissues, which inactivates the type 2 iodothyronine deiodinase (D2). In the hypothalamus, loss of D2 is minimal in the presence of T4, which increases sensitivity to T4 levels and explains TSH normalization, despite relatively lower levels of serum T3. Only combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine normalized all thyroid hormone–dependent measures (9), including serum and tissue T3 levels (8). Whether tissue-specific markers of hypothyroidism are restored with l-thyroxine monotherapy in humans remains to be determined, as does the ability of l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine combination therapy to normalize the serum T4:T3 ratio without adverse events. The development of a novel drug delivery system for l-triiodothyronine would facilitate these studies (5).
Choose foods that offer nutritional support for your thyroid. The production of thyroid hormones requires iodine and omega-3 fatty acids; converting the inactive T4 to the active T3 requires selenium; and both the binding of T3 to the receptor on the nucleus and switching it on require vitamins A and D, as well as zinc. You will find these nutrients in a whole-food, clean, organic diet. To get therapeutic levels of these nutrients, please use the supplement protocol in strategy 4.
Soy for thyroid health is controversial: There's some research that suggests soy might negatively affect your thyroid gland under certain circumstances, like if you have an iodine deficiency. (Something to keep in mind: A 2011 study of vegetarians and vegans in the Boston area found that some vegans did have a mild iodine deficiency, most likely because they don't eat animal and dairy products). But other research presented at the 2014 Endocrine Society's annual meeting found that unless you have thyroid problems already, soy probably won't have any effect on it. Again, says Ilic, as long as you're eating normal amounts of soy, there's no reason to worry it'll hurt your thyroid.
An early symptom of hypothyroidism is weight gain. Low-calorie, high-density foods such as fresh produce are the cornerstone of every successful weight loss program. Include either fresh fruits or veggies at each meal, if possible. Specific foods such as blueberries, cherries, sweet potatoes, and green peppers are also rich in antioxidants, nutrients that are known to lower risk for heart disease.
You may have read that green, leafy veggies like kale, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts can make hypothyroidism worse. But before you keep reading, ask yourself a question: Do you live in the United States? That’s key — because if you do, you likely don’t need to worry about these cancer-fighting veggies messing with your hypothyroidism management. (7)
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