How to Boost Thyroid Function
By Sharon New, MS, Food Educator and Health Coach, Local Food Beat
Autoimmune Diseases are on the rise in the United States. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Graves’ Disease are autoimmune conditions affecting the thyroid. They’re the cause of much confusion, even within the medical community.
Your thyroid gland is one of eight glands in your endocrine system which functions as an elegant feedback system. The thyroid is shaped like a butterfly and lies just above the collar bone. This is why a physician checks your neck – they are looking for growths on your thyroid. In fact, many years ago, there was a campaign called “Stick Your Necks Out America” which encouraged people to hold their head back and visibly look for any lumps.
Your thyroid is vital to your body’s metabolism by converting food into energy (its main job) and producing two major thyroid hormones: T4 and T3.
If you develop a thyroid issue you most likely will be either hypothyroid or hyperthyroid. If you are hypothyroid, the thyroid has an inadequate production of thyroid hormone (T4’s and T3’s). This means the pituitary gland releases Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) into blood telling thyroid to “make more thyroid hormone.” So a high TSH (anything above 2.0 – 3.0 depending upon the individual) translates to low thyroid function and thus hypothyroidism.
If you are hyperthyroid, this means that the thyroid gland is producing too much thyroid hormone and the pituitary gland stops releasing TSH into the blood telling the thyroid to “stop making thyroid hormone.” Thus, a low TSH (anything below 1.8-1.5 depending upon the individual) would indicate hyperthyroidism.
However, as the majority of people with thyroid issues are hypothyroid (they have a sluggish thyroid), I am going to talk about what foods to eat to help boost your thyroid function. However, these principles would still be good even if you are hyperthyroid.
Cook with Coconut Oil
Considering my audience, I’m fairly sure most of the readers are already familiar with the wonderful health benefits of coconut oil. Coconut oil received a bad rap many years ago when the soy industry wanted the cooking oil market and began to make false claims against coconut oil. Unfortunately, their campaign worked for a while, but it’s not any longer as coconut oil is as popular as ever.
The health benefits of coconut oil include hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism to name a few.
Coconut oil’s greatest benefit though is that its fat content is easily converted into energy and helps in boosting energy. Think of CO as the great “metabolic stimulator.” Because CO is metabolized in the liver, it raises your basal body temperature which is good news for those with a low functioning thyroid.
I use coconut oil in almost everything I cook. If a recipe calls for vegetable oil, I substitute CO. I also use it to stir fry or cook my eggs or spinach in it or use it for baking. Contrary to what one might think, it does not make your food taste like coconut.
Cook Your Cruciferous Veggies
Goitrogens are naturally-occurring substances which are found most commonly in cruciferous vegetables and can have the ability to cause a goiter or an enlargement of the thyroid gland. A few examples of cruciferous vegetables (or sometimes known as the anti-thyroid veggies) are brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale AND soy.
Goitrogens are able to disrupt thyroid function by interfering with the process by which iodine helps make T4 and T3. But you can still have your cake – I mean brussels sprouts – and eat it too. Cooking or steaming your veggies can partially destroy the anti-thyroid properties, but you should still use moderation with these vegetables. If your thyroid has been removed you have no concerns and, likewise, if you are hyperthyroid you may want to actually incorporate more cruciferous vegetables into your diet.
A special note I think is required here: Juicing has become very popular and many times juicing includes large amounts of cabbage and spinach and kale – more than you may eat in a normal serving. Please be aware that this will be a very concentrated amount of goiter-inducing foods so if you juice, please do so with caution about the kind of veggies you will be using if you are hypothryoid.
One of the things I see most often – particularly in young women – who are suffering from an under-active thyroid is that they are killing themselves on a treadmill or other kind of high-impact cardio activity for several hours a week. Of course, exercise is beneficial by keeping you strong and helping to clear the body of the stress hormone cortisol and releasing both serotonin and endorphins – your “feel good” – hormones. But when it comes to the thyroid, not all exercise is created equal. Too much cardio can actually be trouble for your thyroid. Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that lengthy bouts of strenuous exercise can cause the body unnecessary stress — and lead to higher cortisol levels and lower levels of thyroid hormones 24 hours after exercise. Rather, try 30 minutes of strength training two to three times a week, and one to two short cardio workouts on alternate days. T-Tapp is widely respected as one of the best exercises for maintaining thyroid health.
“Fat doesn’t make you fat, sugar makes you fat.” I must say this ten times a day. And it looks like the message may finally be getting into the public conscious. Study after study has found that low-fat diet leads to obesity. But what does eating fat have to do with a low-functioning thyroid? Olive oil, coconut oil, contain healthy fats help enhance hormone production in the thyroid gland. But many people still avoid animal fats believing they are “bad” fats. Yet the healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in meats from healthy animals (raised humanely and on pasture) provide the vital nutrients critical to thyroid function because the fats better help the body absorb thyroid hormone. Omega 3’s also play a large role in reducing inflammation from autoimmune thyroid disease which is frequently the cause of hypothyroidism. So don’t be afraid to put some grass-fed butter on your cooked brussels sprouts right after your walk!
I want to emphasize that none of the above should be considered a substitute for taking your thyroid hormone medicine. You cannot supplement or eat your way out of taking your medicine if it is required. Also, please be aware that if you do begin to eliminate some of the foods that may have been contributing to your under-functioning thyroid, be sure to periodically test your blood levels as you may need to make a dosage adjustment.
Sharon New, MS, is a Food Educator and Health Coach who teaches food and health classes throughout the Mid-Atlantic and teaches four very popular workshops: Overfed and Under-nourished; Thyroid and Your Body; Adrenals and Inflammation; and Sugar & your Brain. After working as a paralegal and legal secretary for over 12 years, Sharon made a decision to re-career and in 2002 enrolled in graduate school and in 2004 received a Masters of Science in Health Science. Six years ago Sharon was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After treatment she began to investigate the relation of her thyroid to her adrenals and overall health and the role inflammation plays. As she began to make changes and experience healing, she began to teach. Attend her classes and learn how you can become an advocate for your own health. To schedule a consult with her, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.