support for an underactive thyroid and an overactive thyroid

by nutritionist Kyla Newcombe

The thyroid gland has many functions in the body, including the management of your metabolism (and therefore weight), digestion, skin health and many more areas of physiology. When it comes to supporting thyroid health, correct nutrition is paramount, with many nutrients playing an important role in the health of the thyroid. 

Tofu is a source of tyrosine to support an underactive thyroid

Here are our top 8 tips for supporting thyroid health. 

1. Support the production of thyroid hormones with tyrosine and iodine

An underactive thyroid may be a result of nutritional deficiencies of iodine or tyrosine, the essential building blocks required for the production of thyroid hormones.

Tyrosine is an amino acid found in animal foods such as beef, salmon, poultry and dairy products. Plant-based sources include tofu and haricot beans. Meeting your daily requirements for protein will support tyrosine levels. This article provides more information about how much protein you require daily, and how to achieve the right balance. 

Iodine is a trace element found in seaweed, fish, seafood and eggs. Followers of a plant-based diet may have a low intake of this essential nutrient and wish to consider supplementation with the recommended daily intake of 150mcg, as too much iodine can be just as detrimental to thyroid health as too little. 

2. Healthy thyroid hormones are dependent on an optimal dietary intake of zinc, copper, iron and selenium

T3 (triiodothyronine) is considered to be the most biologically active thyroid hormone, produced from T4 (thyroxine). The conversion of T4 to T3 is dependent on the supply of these four essential nutrients: zinc, copper, iron and selenium. Sources include seeds, cashews, chickpeas and lentils. Zinc can also be obtained from oysters and grass-fed meats; copper and iron from soybeans; whilst seafood and grass-fed meats contain richer sources of selenium.

3. Vitamin E and selenium provide antioxidant support

iodine, found in seaweed, supports an underactive thyroid

Oxidative damage may lead to injury to cells of the thyroid, with selenium and vitamin E showing promise when supporting thyroid health. Sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, avocado and dark green leafy vegetables. As indicated above, sources of selenium include seafood and grass-fed meats, as well as tofu, brown rice and sunflower and sesame seeds.

TIP: Pure & Essential Advanced Multivitamin & Minerals contains a plant-based source of iodine, zinc, iron, copper, vitamin E and selenium, at optimal doses to support thyroid function. 

4. Consuming fish and/or supplementing with a fish or algae oil, may support inflammation and the production of T4

When it comes to supporting the health of the thyroid, the long-chain omega-3 EPA is effective at reducing inflammation which may occur as a result of a condition such as Hashimoto’s, de Quervain’s or postpartum thyroiditis. Fluctuating levels of thyroid hormones, as seen in individuals who fluctuate between hypo- and hyper-thyroiditis can also cause additional inflammation.

Not only does EPA support inflammation, but it is also required to support the production of T4 and improving sensitivity to thyroid hormones. For those with low or no consumption of fish, consider an omega-3 EPA supplement from fish oil, or EPA & DHA algae oil

5. Cook your greens

Whilst consuming iodine is important for supporting the production of thyroid hormones, some vegetables contain goitrogens, which can block the absorption of iodine. Goitrogen-containing foods include spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and strawberries. Cooking these foods reduces their goitrogenic effect and is therefore recommended for those with thyroid problems.

support an overactive thyroid with relaxation

6. Concerned about weight, don’t calorie count

Difficulty in losing weight is a common complaint for those with an underactive thyroid. Whilst many consider restricting calories, this is not recommended for those with the condition, as restricting calorie intake may lead to nutritional deficiencies in vitamins and minerals required to support the health of the thyroid, thus perpetuating the problem. Instead, focus on consuming a healthful diet which may consist of 5+ vegetables each day (remember to cook those listed above), 2 fruits, a variety of plant and animal-based proteins, consuming 1-2 portions of oily fish per week, and reducing your intake of highly processed foods, especially those that contain artificial sweeteners and preservatives. Whilst the diet is the ultimate source of nutrients, a supplement may also help whilst these healthful changes to the diet are being made and to increase nutrient status more quickly. Followers of a plant-based diet should also supplement EPA and iodine.

7. Take time to unwind

Stress release, relaxation, rest and adequate sleep are all paramount in ensuring proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Consider relaxing forms of exercise, such as yoga or walking, for an initial phase of approximately three months, whilst also adopting healthy sleeping habits; perhaps go to bed an hour earlier than usual.

8. Concerned you may have a thyroid problem? Consider your testing options

If you display symptoms of a underactive thyroid (weight gain or difficulty losing weight, sensitivity to cold, a swollen neck, brittle hair, brittle nails, dry skin, sluggish digestion and constipation), or overactive thyroid (swelling in the neck, weight loss or difficulty putting on weight, an elevated heart rate, an increased feeling of stress and anxiety, excess skin tissue growth, and diarrhoea), you may wish to speak to your GP about your symptoms. They will be able to arrange a blood test, often testing TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone, responsible for telling your thyroid to produce thyroid hormones) and T4 levels in the blood. Whilst this may lead to a diagnosis, sub-clinical thyroid dysfunction, particularly an underactive thyroid, is rarely identified and diagnosed by the GP. If your GP gives you the all-clear but you still feel that your thyroid health is sub-optimal, consider speaking to a nutritionist who can arrange a private thyroid test. A full thyroid panel can test a wider range of thyroid hormones and provide a greater understanding of thyroid status.

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These achievable steps can go a long way towards supporting the health of your thyroid and helping you to take positive steps forward in achieving your health goals. If you require more support, feel free to contact our approachable team of nutrition professionals who will be more than happy to support you further or point you in the right direction.

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