If you are struggling with low energy, constipation, weight gain, dry skin or hair loss, you may benefit from some thyroid support. In fact there is a long list of symptoms associated with low levels of thyroid hormones. The first step would be to get your hormone levels tested. It may be that they are on the low end, but not low enough for medication – in which case you need to know about food for thyroid support.
Fortunately, I have written a section on this in my book, Nutrition Brought to Life. Chapter 19 is all about Balancing Hormones, and here is an excerpt from pp231-232 on thyroid support. The book is great because it explains things clearly, provides opportunities for reflection and to make action plans, as well as 50 recipes at the end to help you make practical changes.
Food for thyroid support
“The primary nutrients you need to for [thyroid support] are:
Tyrosine is the amino acid that T4 and T3 [your main thyroid hormones] are made from, and you can find it in seaweed, spirulina, eggs, turkey, game and soya protein (although note that genistein in soya can also act as a goitrogen, or iodine blocker, especially when iodine levels are already low).
The richest source of iodine is seaweed, especially kelp / kombu (there’s not nearly as much in nori, unfortunately), and you can also find good levels in white fish and egg yolks.
Seaweed is also an excellent source of selenium and all the other co-factors you need to make T4 and then convert some of it to T3. Brazil nuts are notoriously rich in selenium, with oily fish, cod and chicken being the next best food sources.
If you want to keep things simple, then include seaweed as part of your daily diet. The recipe section in this book can give you some ideas how to do this. I also have a jar of mixed seaweed flakes that I sprinkle onto most savoury dishes, like a condiment. I just use a little, as too much just makes everything taste of the sea! In addition, there is a little kelp powder in my favourite supergreen powder mix, which I add to smoothies, bircher muesli, chia pots, energy balls and sometimes salad dressings too.
Some foods are called goitrogens because they can interfere with iodine uptake. Cruciferous aka brassica vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts etc.) as well as turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, mustard greens and some other vegetables are goitrogens when raw, so should generally be cooked if your thyroid is struggling. There is also an isoflavone in soya called genistein that is a known goitrogen. There is ongoing debate and research on how influential these foods can be, and my own experience is that different people notice varying impacts. So if you’re unsure, at the very least keep soya (including edamame beans and tofu) and raw brassicas to a minimum.
Iodine belongs to a group of chemicals called halogens, and its uptake can also be blocked by the other halogens, including bromine, chlorine and fluorine. So if you swim [in chlorinated pools] a lot, or if there’s a lot of chlorine and/or fluoride in your tap water, then you may need to compensate with more iodine-rich foods.
There have been recent trends in iodine supplementation, sometimes in fairly high doses, and there are strong arguments both for and against this. I have seen mixed outcomes, and so have always advised anyone wanting to take an iodine supplement to start very low and build up gradually and sensitively. For most people, introducing seaweed into the diet on a regular basis seems to make enough of a difference – especially as it contains not just the iodine but everything else you need too.“
Liver and thyroid support
The book goes on to explain that your liver is responsible for most of your T4 to T3 conversion, and refers you to the chapter on how to support your liver. I also explain that to provide proper thyroid support, you also need to make sure your adrenals are happy – and there are no less than 4 chapters on that.
So if you want to find out more, then treat yourself to Nutrition Brought to Life – available from Waterstones, Amazon, Alchimia Publishing, Cook Book Bake in Hove, the Guarana Bar in Brighton, and all good booksellers.
*If you have a diagnosed thyroid condition that you are taking synthetic thyroid hormone medication for (e.g. Levothyroxine), then be cautious around adding in additional support nutritionally. Your doctor or consultant will be fine-tuning your dose according to your needs, and if you start making more natural thyroxine yourself, you’ll end up with an imbalance. Equally, if you have an overactive thyroid, you may wish to avoid stimulating it even more.