The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped structure located at the base of the neck. It produces and stores the thyroid hormone, which is responsible for controlling the growth, cell repair, and metabolic rate of the body.
When thyroid hormone levels are low, the pituitary gland in the brain releases the thyroid stimulatory hormone (TSH), prompting the thyroid gland to release its hormone. A shortage of thyroid hormones in the body can cause a condition called hypothyroidism.
Today, we’ll see what this condition is and how it can be treated with the help of vitamins and diet.
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
Sometimes, the thyroid gland does not release the hormone even when there is enough TSH in the body, causing primary hypothyroidism.
Almost 90% of primary hypothyroidism cases result from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It is a condition where the body’s autoimmune response causes the immune cells to attack the thyroid gland and destroy the cells that make the thyroid hormone.
Other causes of hypothyroidism include genetic defects, deficiency of iodine, taking certain medications, and surgeries that remove part of the thyroid gland.
Sometimes, the problem is not with the thyroid gland, but with TSH production by the pituitary gland. If there is not enough TSH in the blood, the thyroid gland won’t secrete the thyroid hormone, causing a condition called secondary hypothyroidism.
It means that vital functions like cell repair and growth slow down. The most important visible effects include:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Muscle weakness
- Puffy face
- Feeling down
Treatment of Hypothyroidism
Treating hypothyroidism is important because the condition is chronic and can slowly weaken various systems of the body. Thyroid replacement is the standard treatment that’s currently in use.
This treatment involves administering a daily supplement of the thyroid to the patient in the form of levothyroxine. The hormone is taken orally, and its effects can be seen soon after the treatment. Other ways of treating hypothyroidism include a careful diet and the use of vitamins.
Let’s see how effective vitamins and diet can be in treating this condition.
- Extremely well for 3% of the cases
- Very well for 25% of the cases
- Fairly well for 45% of the cases
And for people who didn’t take any supplements or medical aids and tried to combat the condition by carefully choosing what to eat, the dietary changes – according to data analyzed by the platform – worked:
- Extremely well for 16% of the cases
- Very well for 42% of the cases
- Fairly well for 30% of the cases
Several other studies have also established that certain nutrients help with, or at least manage, hypothyroidism. Here are some of them.
Nutrients Good For Patients With Hypothyroidism
Since Iodine is an essential element needed to make thyroid hormones, people with a deficiency of iodine are at a higher risk of hypothyroidism.
Iodine deficiency is a very common condition. It affects one-third of the world’s population and is more prevalent in underdeveloped countries, where iodized salt is not common.
Adding iodized table salt to the food can help cure the disease in people who have hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency. However, taking too much iodine can also be harmful. It has been scientifically established that excess iodine can damage the thyroid gland.
Including selenium-rich foods like tuna, nuts, sardines, legumes, and eggs can boost the selenium levels of the body. However, selenium supplements should be taken with caution as they can increase the level of selenium beyond the safe limit, making it toxic.
Just like selenium, zinc also helps the body activate thyroid hormones so that the body can use them. Zinc helps regulate the levels of TSH – the hormone that signals the thyroid gland to release the thyroid hormone.
Zinc deficiency, just like iodine deficiency, is rare in developed countries where it is available in food. Nonetheless, adding zinc-rich foods like seeds, nuts, dairy, and beef to your diet can help improve the performance of the thyroid gland.
Nutrients Harmful For People With Hypothyroidism
Goitrogens are the most significant nutrients that might harm the health of people with hypothyroidism.
Goitrogens are compounds that have a tendency to interfere with the normal function of the thyroid gland. The name comes from the term goiter, a condition where the thyroid gland is enlarged and results in hypothyroidism.
Goitrogens can be found in many foods, such as:
- Soy food
- Vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and spinach
- Fruits like cassava, peaches, and strawberries
- Nuts and seeds including millet, pine nuts, and peanuts
Theoretically, anyone with hypothyroidism should avoid goitrogens. However, research has pointed out that they cause a problem only in people who have an iodine deficiency. It has also been found that cooking foods with goitrogens also cancels out their effects.
One food that has been noted to cause interference with normal thyroid function even in people who don’t have iodine deficiency is pearl millet. It is advised that anyone with hypothyroidism, regardless of iodine deficiency, should avoid it.
Final Word On Diet As A Treatment For Hypothyroidism
From all the above discussion, we can infer that:
- Food and vitamins can only act as a treatment for hypothyroidism if the condition is being caused by dietary deficiency.
- If hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is the case in 90% of the patients, diet alone cannot cure it.
However, as hypothyroidism slows the metabolic activity down, decreasing the intake of high-calorie foods can help manage the effects of hypothyroidism. On that basis, here are the foods that people with hypothyroidism can or cannot eat.
Foods To Avoid
- Processed high-calorie foods like cakes, cookies, and burgers
- Supplements unless advised by a physician
Foods To Eat In Moderation
- Soy-based foods
- Peaches, pears, and strawberries
- Coffee, tea, and alcohol
Foods To Eat Without Restriction
- Vegetables when cooked
- All fruits other than the ones listed above
- Beverages that do not have caffeine
As mentioned above, diet or vitamins alone cannot cure hypothyroidism, unless it is caused by a deficiency of iodine, selenium, or zinc. However, avoiding certain foods, especially the ones containing goitrogens and high-calorie ones, can help manage the disease, regardless of its cause.