According to the Thyroid Foundation of Canada, about 1 in 10 Canadians suffer from a thyroid condition. Of those, as many as 50% are unaware of their thyroid condition; interestingly, thyroid disorders are much more common in women (according to the US Department of Health and Human Services).
WHAT IS THE THYROID GLAND AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped organ located at the front of the neck. It is involved in numerous physiological and metabolic processes in the body, including: heart rate, body temperature, carbohydrate metabolism, blood cholesterol levels, body weight, menstrual cycles, and muscle mass, amongst others.
The thyroid gland produces the hormones T3 and T4 which act as the main messengers of the thyroid in the body. The thyroid gland responds to Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH) released by the pituitary gland that tells the thyroid how much T3 and T4 to produce. When your levels of T3 or T4 are too low and your TSH is high, you may have hypothyroidism. Your underactive thyroid makes your metabolism slow. On the contrary, if your levels of T3 and T4 are too high and your TSH is low, you may have hyperthyroidism.
Untreated thyroid diseases can lead to many long-term complications such as the development of type 1 or type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, decreased bone density, dementia, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, etc. People with hyperthyroidism may also experience impaired digestion due to decreased pancreatic enzyme secretion.
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WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF HYPO- OR HYPERTHYROIDISM?
Thyroid hormones control how your body uses energy and a lack of those hormones can throw off many of your body’s functions.
Individuals with hypothyroidism often experience weight gain - even with proper diet and exercise - constipation, hair loss, slow heart rate, trouble sleeping, tiredness and fatigue, difficulty concentrating, mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, constant feeling of being cold, to name just a few. The symptoms of hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, can include: weight loss, diarrhea, rapid heart rate, anxiety, weakness and fatigue, irritability, insomnia and more.
People having a thyroid condition often feel misunderstood by those around them as it can be hard to understand thyroid conditions if you don’t have one. Your coworkers, friends and family may not realize how much it can impact your everyday life, and your symptoms may not be taken seriously with people questioning how bad can you really feel when you look fine?
HOW CAN DIET HELP WITH A THYROID CONDITION?
If you have been diagnosed with hypo- or hyperthyroidism, it is important to follow your doctor’s orders on how to medically treat your condition. But adopting the following dietary recommendations can also help you better manage your symptoms and keep your thyroid healthy.
When your thyroid isn’t working at full capacity, your metabolism tends to be slower, and you may find that you
gain weight more easily. The weight gain may not necessarily be from fat; it can also be the result of water and salt retention. You may want to follow an energy-controlled diet to promote healthy weight management until your thyroid hormone levels are stabilized. Here are some tips from your Registered Dietitians:
• Fill 1/2 your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner (especially orange or dark green vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, squash, carrots, etc.). These contain essential vitamins and minerals that support thyroid health, as well as fiber which will help you feel satisfied after a meal.
• Have fish and seafood at least 2-3 times per week. These are high in selenium and iodine; minerals that are required for thyroid hormone production. Ideas include salmon, cod, anchovies, sea bass, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and halibut.
• Ensure that you have a source of lean protein at every meal (e.g. eggs, beef, pork, chicken, turkey or fish) which
will provide you with selenium, iodine, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B12.
• Aim for 2-3 portions of low-fat dairy products every day for your dose of riboflavin, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
• Integrate legumes and nuts in your weekly menu. Nuts (such as brazil nuts and cashews) provide various vitamins and minerals integral to thyroid health.
• Choose whole grains (such as brown rice, fortified fiberrich breakfast cereals) over refined grains for added
• Add 1 tbsp. of wheat germ daily either to your yogurt, cereals or salad, for an added zinc boost.
• Limit added sugar, and fats, fast food and processed food.
• If you feel you are not meeting your daily mineral requirements through food sources, consult a Registered Dietitian who will guide you through your food choices based on your likes and dislikes and discuss your needs for supplements.
• Make sure you leave a 4 hour gap between consuming certain mineral supplements (calcium, iron, zinc or magnesium), fiber or psyllium supplements, soy-containing foods, and walnuts, and taking your thyroid medication.
• Do not drink coffee within 1 hour of taking your thyroid medication.
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“Goitrogens” can interfere with thyroid hormone production or utilization, and can contribute to the development of goiter in individuals with hypothyroidism if eaten in substantial quantities. Goitrogens can be found in cruciferous vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, spinach, rutabaga, turnip), certain fruits and starchy plants (corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, millet, peanuts, peaches, pears, strawberries) and soy-based foods (tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy beverage).
While it is not necessary for individuals with thyroid conditions to avoid these foods, there are a few strategies to help limit the effects of goitrogenic foods to support optimal thyroid health:
1. Vary the types of fruits and vegetables you eat every day to avoid overconsumption of any particular goitrogen-rich food in one day.
For individuals with hyperthyroidism, energy needs may be increased from 10% to up to 60% in severe cases. A highenergy, high-protein diet may be beneficial, especially if you have noticed weight and/or muscle loss:
• Have at least 3 meals and 3 snacks every day.
• Increase your protein intake by consuming legumes, meat, fish, eggs or dairy products at every meal. These will provide you with iron, zinc, thiamin and vitamin B12 which are essential nutrients for thyroid health.
• Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to ensure adequate vitamin C intake and absorption.
• As needed, include healthy high-energy foods in your daily diet such as nuts and seeds, cheese, avocado, hearthealthy oils (such as olive oil, canola oil), etc. Once your hyperthyroidism is under control, you won’t need to continue following a high-energy, high-protein diet.
• Having hyperthyroidism increases your risk of developing osteoporosis, so be sure to consume 4 servings of different calcium-rich products every day (dairy or alternatives, tofu, black-eyed peas, etc.), as well as enough vitamin D. Vitamin D will facilitate calcium’s absorption, thereby reducing your risk of osteoporosis.
• Add 1 tbsp. of wheat germ daily to your cereal, yogurt, salad or in baking for a boost of zinc, vitamin E and phosphorus.
• Taking high doses of iodine with anti-thyroid medication can have an additive effect and lead to hypothyroidism. Limit your use of iodized table salt and seaweed. You can continue eating seafood and fish, even if they contain iodine.
• If you take natural supplements or multivitamins, make sure to read the label. Some of them may contain iodine in the ingredients. Choose one containing less than 100 micrograms of iodine.
DON’T FORGET TO EXERCISE!
Even if exercising is probably the last thing on your mind when you have an under- or hyperactive thyroid, it can help reduce the symptoms of thyroid diseases, by improving your metabolism, maintaining a healthy weight, and boosting your energy levels.
• Exercise can help alleviate symptoms of fatigue and depression, as well as help you to maintain a healthy weight. It can also make your body more responsive to thyroid hormones.
• If you are feeling limited by your fatigue, start with gentle exercises, such as yoga, tai chi, water aerobics and walking.
• Integrate light to moderate exercise 30 min daily, 5 times a week.
• Intense physical exercise (such as running, raquet sports, and training on cardiovascular machines) should be limited due to its excess stress on the body, at least until your symptoms are well managed.
• Moderate exercise (such as walking and swimming) is usually well tolerated and is recommended to help alleviate fatigue, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. It also helps maintain strong bones and muscles.
• Integrate moderate exercise 30 min daily, 5 times a week.
WARNING: Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Note that exercise can help you reduce the symptoms of thyroid diseases but should not replace your medical treatment.
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