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Thyroid: Is it purely genetic, or does diet play a role?

Your thyroid is the butterfly shaped metabolic organ at the base of your neck. It’s primary function is to secrete hormones responsible for regulating the body’s metabolic rate. This means heart, digestion, calories, brain, bone, you name it.

Two things can happen that mean your thyroid is out of wack.

  1. It can stop responding well, meaning that fewer hormones are released, slowing our metabolism, causing weight gain, fatigue, heavy menstruation and feeling cold.

  2. It can ramp up it’s production of hormones leading to weight loss, irritability, nervousness, sleep issues, heat sensitivity ( sounds like what happens when you have too much coffee to me.)

What can cause issues with the thyroid? Well it could be that you aren’t getting enough iodine (causing hypothyrodism), or possibly even eating too much (causing thyroid inflammation in genetically susceptible people). But also likely is that we are exposed daily to environmental agents or toxins that are causing our thyroid to not function at its peak ability. These agents may even go so far as to trigger autoimmune thyroid disease in genetically susceptible individuals, leading to Hashimoto's Thyroditis.

What are these compounds that have the ability to change our thyroid function?

You may also be predisposed to thyroid disfunction if you consume foods that are pro-inflammatory, or that create a gastrointestinal environment that is pro-inflammatory and compromise our immunity.

Pro-inflammatory foods and those that are linked to lower prevalence and diversity of good bacteria in the gut which is key for immunity are actually animal based foods like meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods.

This may be an underlying driver of Grave's disease, which causes hyperthyroidism from our immune system producing an antibody that overrides our natural regulation and leads to overproduction of thyroid hormones.

So while we don't know 100% from research that eating an anti-inflammatory plant-based diet can improve Grave's disease, we know that gut dysbiosis, or having poor gastrointestinal bacteria diversity, is related to poor immunity, and therefore possibly autoimmune conditions. And we know that eating high fiber and anti-inflammatory can make a big difference in building up a natural barrier and immunity in starting in our GI tracts.

So what is the cure here?

By switching to an anti-inflammatory plant-based diet, you can begin to see immediate returns to normal thyroid function! In fact, research among vegans and vegetarians found that the more plant-based the diet, the less risk of wonky thyroid function!

By eating more plant-based you will reduce your exposure to some environmental toxins that accumulate in animals and fish. You will supercharge your body and GI tract with fiber, antioxidants, and natural probiotics that can restore your immunity and reduce whole body inflammation, therefore improving your chances for your thyroid to heal itself.

Is there any risk associated with following a vegan diet for thyroidism?

Well, some.

Soy: One research article looked at soy consumption in the Adventist population who follow a more plant based diet and saw some elevated TSH in women with high soy consumption. According to PCRM, this is likely due to the fact that isoflavones in soy bind iodine, therefore leaving less for our body to use in thyroid hormones. So if you consume a lot of soy, you may need more iodine in your diet.

Iodine: Some vegans also cut out a lot of salt (or switch to pink salt or other versions that aren't fortified with iodine), and can therefore limit their access to iodine. So you would want to ensure you continue to use iodized salt, take a supplement, or eat seaweed on a consistent basis.

Selenium: deficiency of selenium is also associated with low-thyroid function, and may also be limited in a vegan diet.That can easily be remedied by a brazil nut every few days or a supplement.

Gluten: There's research indicating that having either Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance may play a role in the immune attack on the thyroid. If you have thyroid issues, you can always get tested for Celiac Disease (prior to cutting out gluten) or just do an elimination diet if you don't end up positive for Celiac or don't care about a formal diagnosis. However, if you end up eliminating gluten, it's important to still include a variety of whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, brown and wild rice, amaranth, sorghum, millet, and others as they provide fiber, and nutrients key to a healthy diet.

Losing Weight: We store toxins in our fat, so if you are losing weight, which does happen when switching to a plant-based diet, you may see your thyroid function diminish until your body finishes detoxifying itself. But once it does, you have a happy butterfly awaiting you!

Isn’t that lovely that despite these few considerations, eating an antioxidant rich diet can play a big role in preventing or managing thyroid conditions? There as so many stories about people reversing their thyroid disfunction by switching to more plant-based.

Don't wait ten years for all the research to 100% prove that this is an effective diet for thyroid conditions. Start now, and be part of the movement of people using whole foods, plant-based diets to treat thyroid conditions!

Hello, many of you may be new to my blog, so I just wanted to introduce myself. I'm Lucy, a registered dietitian with a Master's in Public Health. Because of my health degrees, I love to share my knowledge about optimal nutrition and lifestyle because I really believe nutrition information should be available to everyone. So I hope you help this blog very informative and helpful! If you are someone who wants to connect about how I can support and encourage you as you transition to a more plant-based diet, then I'd love to touch base about my Ditch-the-Disease Program.

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