Diet & Weight Magazine

Your Guide to a Healthy Thyroid!

By Jennovafoodblog

Another exciting week on my end! After spending the weekend with my family in Windsor (I made my mom her own personal health cook book!), I returned to Kitchener with lots on the go! I was quick to get a few important meetings done for new contracts as well as finish a few writing assignments and then I was off. I returned to Lionshead this Friday and have been enjoying the brisk weather we’ve been having. My boyfriend also bought me a new bike for my birthday which I have already been thoroughly enjoying! I took a long bike ride into town yesterday and am really looking forward to having my new bike as my main mode of transportation in the city now that the warm weather is finally arriving.

Side note- Interested in a personalized e-book? Check out my consults page to learn more!

Here’s a picture of me enjoying a book on top of the look-out point in Lionshead!


Approximately 23% of the North American population are currently taking medications for low thyroid, and countless individuals are undiagnosed due to an inadequacy of the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test. About a quarter of American women (about a 2-fold higher risk than males) and about 10% of men have low thyroid, and many more may go for up to a decade before their condition is confirmed by a TSH test. Poor thyroid function is associated higher risks of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer, even when only at a sub-clinical level. While treatment of sub-clinical hypothyroidism is very controversial and is often only recommended to certain individuals (e.g. pregnant women, individuals at a higher risk of heart disease, osteoporosis or the progression to hypothyroidism or infertile individuals), it is important to improve thyroid health to prevent these associated risks. The following will be your guide to the thyroid, with tips on how to lead a thyroid promoting lifestyle!

The Thyroid: An Under-recognized Source of Disability

The thyroid gland, located at the front of the neck, is one of many glands of the endocrine system. It’s responsible for making and secreting a number of hormones such as triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). While T4 is the most abundant thyroid hormone, made from the combination of tyrosine and iodine, T3 is the bioactive hormone and has up to ten times the activity of T4. All of our T4 is produced directly from the thyroid while only about 20% of our T3 is produced there. The rest of the T3 is produced by the removal of iodine from T4 by other organs in our body, making T4 the pro-hormone of T3.

The thyroid is controlled largely by the hypothalamus, which produces a hormone that stimulates the pituitary to secrete thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which then acts on the thyroid to produce T3 and T4. The production of these thyroid hormones can then act on the hypothalamus to stop stimulating the pituitary. This intricate feedback system is responsible for keeping circulating thyroid hormones in check. Thyroid hormones have widespread functions, effecting metabolism, growth, and organ function, therefore small changes in their production can have significant health outcomes.

Thyroid Disorders: what are they and how do they affect our health?

Hypothyroidism is characterized by lower levels of T4 and T3 with higher level of thyroid stimulating hormone to compensate. Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, is characterized by low levels of TSH and higher levels of the thyroid hormones. Subclinical hypo- and hyperthyroidism can sometimes occur before symptoms appear but typically only result in abnormal TSH values. The major difference in risk factors between hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism is the amount of iodine intake; hyperthyroidism is more common in iodine-insufficient areas. While both hypo- and hyperthyroidism are debilitating disorders, I will focus on hypothyroidism in this article due to its prevalence compared to hyperthyroidism in the developed world.

Ninety-five percent of hypothyroidism cases are due to the thyroid itself and an impaired T4-to-T3-conversion in tissues outside the gland. Low thyroid is associated with higher risks of brain deterioration, weight gain, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer, miscarriage and foetal brain under-development. While most of these risks are modulated by the levels of T3, all are improved when TSH levels are normalized. Since thyroid hormones modulate every component of the cardiovascular system, when thyroid dysfunction is present, heart health should be immediately assessed and vice versa. Symptoms of low thyroid include slowed heart rate, hoarse voice, slowed speech, swollen and puffy face, drooping eyelids, higher incidence of infection, intolerance to cold, cold hands and feet, constipation, weight gain, scaly and dry skin, anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, high cholesterol, poor memory, slowed pulse and a lower metabolism. Do you suffer from any of these symptoms? If you do, it may be wise to test your thyroid!

How can you test your thyroid?

A diagnosis of hypothyroidism is made when a TSH blood test shows that TSH levels are higher than 5.5 (normal ranges thought to be between 0.5-5.5), indicating that the pituitary is working harder to stimulate the production of more thyroid hormones. However, many labs are adjusting “normal” reference ranges to show that a TSH above 2.0 may indicate of low thyroid function. As a result, if you have TSH levels about 2.0, it would be wise to make diet and lifestyle changes that promote thyroid health. Another way to get an idea of your thyroid health is by checking your basal body temperature. Test your temperature the moment you wake up, before getting out of bed. Temperatures lower than 36.5 – 36.7°C may indicate hypothyroidism.

How can you support proper Thyroid health?

1) Get enough iodine!

Since iodine is so pivotal to thyroid health, having a good source of iodine would be an excellent step to promote better thyroid health. Good sources of iodine include seaweed products (e.g. kelp, nori, wakame) and seafood. Seaweed products are easy to incorporate and can be added to many sushi dishes or even found in delicious snack packs in a variety of flavours. Seaweed not for you? You can also take shots of kelp juice (or stick that shot into your smoothie), commonly found at many health food stores.

2) Include thyroid supporting foods!

Thyroid supporting foods typically contain copper, selenium, b-vitamins, tyrosine and manganese, important for the conversion of T4 to T3 as well as the production of these thyroid hormones. You can easily get these thyroid promoting nutrients by filling your plate with good sources of protein (e.g. nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs or good quality meat), fruits and veggies (especially greens!)! Starting the day off with breakfasts full of protein and without a lot of refined ingredients is another step to boost your thyroid health. Protein rich breakfasts can include a healthy omelet or a quinoa bowl with nuts for vegans (try adding baked apple and cinnamon for a delightful morning treat!). Since the liver detoxifies the body and helps convert T4 to T3, using ingredients that support the liver will also support your thyroid. These ingredients include lemons (try lemon water in the morning!), greens, beets, dandelion and milk thistle. Finally, make sure you drink lots of water each day!

3) Avoid foods that weaken your thyroid!

Avoiding foods that weaken your thyroid would be a smart next step. These foods include soy (reduces your iodine absorption to the thyroid), artificial sweeteners, refined sugars, processed meats and unhealthy oils. Opt for leaner, unprocessed meats and pure, cold-pressed oils such as extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, flax oil and coconut oil, which may directly promote a healthier thyroid and better metabolism. Lastly, be mindful that aspirin, birth control pills, prednisone and other drugs can weaken your thyroid gland. If your thyroid health is suffering, it may be wise to talk to your doctor about alternatives to these pharmaceuticals.

4) Get lots of exercise and sleep!

Daily exercise, stress reductions and adequate sleep are pivotal to thyroid health. Since exercise is important for stress reduction and promoting better sleep, it does a triple wammy in-terms of thyroid health. Getting enough exercise, approximately 20 minutes daily, doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal and can be met by making a few small changes. For example, take walks during your work breaks, opt for the stairs instead of elevators and maybe choose to bike to work instead of using your car. Yoga classes, rec. leagues, kick boxing, rock climbing, you name it, finding a fun hobby is another easy way to get enough exercise. Stress reducing practises can also include meditation and including a number of herbs. For example, ashwaganda is an herb that’s been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine to not only alleviate stress and improve adrenal health, but also promote thyroid health. This herb has been demonstrated to significantly increase the amount of T4 produced by the thyroid. Lastly, try to get to bed earlier to ensure a good night’s sleep of about 8 hours. Having trouble sleeping? Try dimming your lights towards night-time, avoiding computer screens a few hours before you try to sleep and try meditation to slow your mind down!

Since poor thyroid health puts such a damper on your daily routine and increases your risks to so many diseases, if you think you many have low-thyroid make sure you take it seriously! Get your thyroid tested and make the necessary changes to promote excellent thyroid health!

Iwen A et. al. (2013) Thyroid Hormones and the Metabolic Syndrome.

Kim Y and Park Y (2014) Prevalence and Risk Factors of Subclinical Thyroid Disease.

Grais I and Sowers J (2014) Thyroid and the Heart.

Leung A et. Al. (2012) History of U.S. Iodine Fortification and Supplementation

Chiasera J. (2013) Back to the Basics: Thyroid Giand Structure, Function and Pathoiogy

Taylor P. et. Al. (2013) Thyroid Function Within the Reference Range

Aggarwal N and Razvi S. (2013) Thyroid and Aging or the Aging Thyroid? An Evidence-Based Analysis of the Literature

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