Thyroid disease has become increasingly more common within the United States, as up to 12% of Americans will develop a thyroid disease throughout their lifetime. Women are 5-8 times more likely to develop thyroid disease than men. There are many forms of thyroid disease including goiter, thyroid cancer, thyroid nodules, and thyroiditis, but the two most well-known thyroid diseases are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, (1). As thyroid diseases become more common and more well-known, it is essential for both patients and practitioners to understand these conditions and what nutrition can do to assist with symptom management and treatment. Best practice recommends considering Thyroid Disease and Nutrition from a holistic approach.
What does the thyroid do?
The thyroid is a vital endocrine gland that is responsible for the body’s metabolic rate and is involved with growth and development of the body. The thyroid uses two hormones, thyroxine or T4, and triiodothyronine or T3, to regulate energy and metabolism throughout the body. These hormones are further regulated by the pituitary gland in the brain, which secretes another hormone, thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH, to signal the thyroid on when to release more or less of its own hormones, T3 and T4. Thyroid disease then occurs when T3, T4, or TSH are produced at abnormal levels.
What are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism?
The two most common types of thyroid disease are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when too much of the thyroid hormones are produced, causing the energy in the body to be used very quickly, which can cause an array of symptoms including fatigue, fast heartbeat or tachycardia, weight loss, anxiety or irritability, and vision problems or eye irritation. Around 1.2% of the United States population is affected by hyperthyroidism (2). The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ Disease, which is an autoimmune condition that may damage the thyroid gland. Hyperthyroidism may also be caused by thyroiditis or excessive iodine intake. Thyroiditis is inflammation of the thyroid gland. (3).
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones, which can also cause fatigue, result in weight gain, and affect the body’s tolerance to cold temperatures. The cause of this thyroid disease is relatively unknown, however, it can be genetic, caused by autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s, a result of thyroid inflammation or thyroiditis, or too little iodine intake. Additionally, if someone has diabetes or another autoimmune condition, they may be more likely to develop a thyroid disease (3). Hypothyroidism prevalence has increased, however, testing procedures to detect prevalence have also increased. Nevertheless, around 4.6% of the U.S. population has hypothyroidism (4).
How can thyroid disease symptoms be controlled and supported through nutrition?
The thyroid gland is closely linked with inflammation, therefore, following an anti-inflammatory dietary pattern may be helpful for those experiencing the effects of thyroid disease (5). Largely, this dietary pattern focuses on reducing inflammation throughout the body to assist the immune system functioning in protection, detoxification, and metabolism throughout the body. An anti-inflammatory diet favors fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, lean proteins, and foods high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids. It aims to limit the consumption of red meats, processed foods, and alcohol. The Mediterranean Diet and DASH Diet are examples of two well-known dietary patterns that constitute predominantly anti-inflammatory foods. These nutrition and lifestyle patterns have been extensively researched as being beneficial for other chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, irritable bowel disease, autoimmune conditions, cancer, and dementia.
Healthwise products can be of great assistance to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Not only are the shakes, smoothies, and meal replacements a great source of protein, but fruits and vegetables can be added to these products, which contain antioxidant power. An example is adding berries and spinach to Healthwise’s High Protein Wild Berry Splash Shake may assist in inflammation reduction. Similarly, additional protein and fiber can be added to Healthwise soups by including extra vegetables, beans, lentils, or whole grains like quinoa or farro to further emphasize decreasing systemic inflammation.
Emphasizing adequate levels of protein consumption can also assist in thyroid function. Because the thyroid gland is linked to metabolism, it is important for those with thyroid disease to maintain consistent calorie and protein intake throughout their day. Nutrient timing through small, frequent meals and snacks can help fuel the body for daily living and activities. By emphasizing protein intake at each meal, digestion is slowed, satiety is increased, and blood sugar and energy levels can stay constant. Additional protein will also assist with weight loss, which may also potentially lead to a decrease in inflammatory signs and symptoms. An example daily eating schedule using HealthWise products as a backbone for convenient healthy eating may look like:
- 8 AM Breakfast: High Protein Pineapple Orange Shake + frozen spinach topped with chia seeds
- 11:30 AM Lunch: High Protein Vegetable Chili with Beans Light Entree + sauteed zucchini
- 3 PM Snack: Divine Vanilla High Protein and Fiber Bar
- 6:30 PM Dinner: High Protein Chicken Soup with Pasta + Mirepoix mixture of carrots, celery, and onion
Supplementation and improvement of nutrient deficiencies can also improve thyroid functions. Nutrients of note include iodine, B Vitamins, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Zinc, Selenium, and Omega-3’s. These nutrients may assist the thyroid in the following ways:
- Iodine is necessary to synthesize the thyroid hormones T3 and T4
- B Vitamins support thyroid function
- Vitamin A helps regulate thyroid metabolism
- Vitamin D helps to support thyroid gland functioning
- Zinc and Selenium help synthesize thyroid hormones
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids are useful in fighting inflammation
What other lifestyle factors may contribute to thyroid disease?
Sleep is essential for our bodies to rejuvenate and function. Poor sleep affects brain function, hormone function, and overall health, therefore, thyroid function and dysfunction. Simple habits to improve sleep function include reducing screen time before bed, maintaining consistent sleep and wake cycles, and avoiding alcohol and sugar before bed.
Similarly, stress affects hormone levels including the thyroid. Stress maintenance is important for improving a majority of all chronic diseases. Easy practices to incorporate into daily living to improve stress levels include Box breathing, daily movement or exercise, daily exposure to sunshine, talking with loved ones, or seeking guidance from a licensed therapist.
Overall, the thyroid is a part of the complex endocrine system and greatly influences metabolism and energy levels. Nutrition content and timing can have a great impact on the thyroid and the diseases and disorders associated with its function. Utilizing whole foods and supplements can greatly help to prevent and support your thyroid.
- American Thyroid Association. Prevelance and Impact of Thyroid Disease. Accessed December 16th 2022. https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/#:~:text=Prevalence%20and%20Impact%20of%20Thyroid,some%20form%20of%20thyroid%20disease.
- Doubleday AR, Sippel RS. Hyperthyroidism. Gland Surg. 2020 Feb;9(1):124-135. doi: 10.21037/gs.2019.11.01. PMID: 32206604; PMCID: PMC7082267.
- Thyroid Disease. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed December 28, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8541-thyroid-disease#:~:text=Thyroid%20disease%20is%20a%20general,This%20is%20called%20hyperthyroidism
- Chaker L, Razvi S, Bensenor IM, Azizi F, Pearce EN, Peeters RP. Hypothyroidism. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2022 May 19;8(1):30. doi: 10.1038/s41572-022-00357-7. Erratum in: Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2022 Jun 10;8(1):39. PMID: 35589725.
- Liu N, Ma F, Feng Y, Ma X. The Association between the Dietary Inflammatory Index and Thyroid Function in U.S. Adult Males. Nutrients. 2021 Sep 23;13(10):3330. doi: 10.3390/nu13103330. PMID: 34684331; PMCID: PMC8540204.
By Katie Chapmon, MS, RD and Amanda Brainerd
About the Authors:
Katie Chapmon, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in Bariatric Nutrition, GI Issues and Hormonal Health and with 10+ years of hands-on clinical experience for leading medical providers. She is the proud recipient of the 2010 Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award and 2018 Excellence in Weight Management Practice Award through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
She spent the first decade of her career as the lead dietitian for Kaiser Permanente Southern California. For the past several years, she has been working with industry partners and consumers to improve nutrition education within the field and maintains a virtual private practice. In April 2021, she launched Bariatric Nutrition Pro – to provide healthcare practitioners education to start (or continue!) their bariatric career with the confidence and knowledge to succeed.
She is a past Chair of the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Integrated Health Clinical Issues Committee and Chapter author of the 3rd Edition of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Pocket Guide to Bariatric Surgery. She is a national speaker and enjoys time hiking and cooking in the kitchen.
Amanda Brainerd MS, CSCS is a Dietetic Intern completing her internship to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She holds a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics from Kansas State University and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. She received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science from Wartburg College where she was named the Outstanding Senior in the program and was a member of the Women’s Basketball team.
Amanda is passionate about helping others in all aspects of health and hopes to blend her expertise in exercise and nutrition during her career as an RDN. During her post-graduate education, she has worked as a personal trainer, fitness coach, and virtual nutrition assistant. Amanda enjoys cooking for friends and family, taking her dog on walks, and traveling throughout the country.