Are you putting on weight without significant changes in your lifestyle and diet? Perhaps, you’ve noticed a difference in your hormones and are experiencing muscle aches and pains or a puffy face? It’s possible that you may have developed hypothyroidism. Also known as an underactive thyroid, this condition affects around 20 million¹ Americans, with only 60% of them being aware they have the disease. Read on to discover if you may be suffering from hypothyroidism, its causes, risk factors, and how food can help manage this condition.
What is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism refers to a condition in which the thyroid, a gland located on the front of your neck just under the larynx, doesn’t release enough hormones. As a result of the lack of thyroid hormones², the body’s metabolism slows down. Bear in mind, this is the opposite of hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid produces a much higher level of hormones causing the metabolism to speed up drastically. People of all ages, genders, and ethnicities can develop an underactive thyroid; however, this condition is most common amongst women aged 60 and over. Furthermore, women are more likely to develop hypothyroidism after menopause.
Causes and risk factors
While there are various causes for an underactive thyroid, one of the most common is an autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto thyroiditis. Essentially, this condition means the immune system attacks the thyroid, leading to an imbalance of hormones. Other common causes of hypothyroidism³ include thyroid surgery, radiation therapy, certain types of medication, and less commonly, a lack of iodine in your diet. Individuals who have a high risk of developing hypothyroidism are those with a family history of the disease, anyone who has had a thyroid issue (such as goiter) previously, and women who are pregnant or have had a baby in the last 6 months. In addition, medical conditions which also put you at risk for an underactive thyroid include:
- Turner syndrome
- Pituitary disease
- Pernicious anemia
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Type 1 diabetes
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Although it is best to see a physician for a formal diagnosis, recognizing symptoms of an underactive thyroid can help you know when to see a doctor. Some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Dry skin
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- High blood cholesterol
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle aches
- Pain or swelling in your joints
- Thinning hair
- Heavy or irregular periods
- Impaired memory
Many of these symptoms occur because the body’s cells lack the thyroid hormone, leading them to slow the body’s processes down⁴. Therefore, individuals may feel colder, more tired, and notice they have drier skin alongside becoming forgetful, depressed, and constipated. Medication can help bring thyroid hormone levels back to normal. Even though this condition cannot be cured, it can be managed with the right treatments, which can also be aided by a supportive lifestyle and diet.
Diet and hypothyroidism
Supplementing your diet with certain foods can have beneficial effects when managing this condition. Nonetheless, some foods can bring about negative effects⁵. Foods to restrict with an underactive thyroid are goitrogens like cabbage, brussels sprouts, collard greens, cauliflower, and Russian kale. However, cooking these foods can deactivate the goitrogenic compounds in them. Furthermore, highly processed foods with high sugar content like fast food, hot dogs, donuts, cakes, cookies, and soda should also be restricted. By reducing these foods, you can encourage weight management and overall good health.
Iodine and selenium can help
On the other hand, foods that can help are those containing iodine and selenium. Iodine helps the body produce thyroid hormones. Some common foods containing iodine include:
- Whole eggs
- Saltwater fish
- Iodized table salt
Furthermore, the micronutrient selenium works as an antioxidant and helps the body produce thyroid hormones. Foods that contain selenium are:
- Brown rice
- Brazil nuts
Nothing is off-limits, although you will likely notice a difference when you consume foods that boost your metabolism and support your thyroid. In combination with thyroid medication, hypothyroidism can be managed, thereby allowing individuals to lead normal, happy, and healthy lives.
- “General Information/Press Room.” American Thyroid Association, www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/.
- “Hypothyroidism: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Medication.” Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12120-hypothyroidism.
- “Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Nov. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/symptoms-causes/syc-20350284.
- “Hypothyroidism.” American Thyroid Association, www.thyroid.org/hypothyroidism/.
- “Best Diet for Hypothyroidism: Good Foods, What to Avoid, and Meal Plan.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 17 Nov. 2021, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324819.
Ashuni Pérez is a writer in the culinary, as well as health and wellness industries. With a background in teaching and digital media, she loves to learn and help others discover more about their food, where it comes from, and how best to prepare it. A foodie through and through, she is always searching for new recipes and the freshest ingredients.