The thyroid gland is located at the base of your neck and is shaped a bit like a bow tie or a butterfly that bends around the bottom of the throat. It is a very important gland, producing thyroxine, a hormone that helps regulate your metabolism, your heart rate and in children, their growth and development. Imbalances in your thyroid can result in an under-functioning or overactive thyroid. You can support your thyroid’s function with proper diet, exercise, and rest and by minimizing the stress in your life.
Eating the Right Foods
1Understand the link between nutrition and thyroid function. The thyroid depends on good nutrition to get the iodine, selenium and vitamins it needs to function properly. Without the proper nutritive balance, the thyroid cannot do its job properly.
- Make time for nutrition. While it is not always the simplest thing to do, you will be doing you and your family a great service by making your own food and encouraging everyone in your family to follow a healthier diet.
2Limit the processed and pre-packaged food that you eat. Processing in general adds sugar to foods. This can worsen any thyroid problems. It takes a bit of practice and planning, but the closer you can get to cooking from scratch, the better. Using whole foods that have not been processed keeps most of their original vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
- One general rule of thumb is that if the food is too white, such as white bread, white rice, white pasta, it has been overly processed. Eat whole grain bread, brown rice and whole grain pasta instead.
3Increase the vegetables and fruits in your diet. Whenever possible, choose to eat local, seasonal, organic produce, the fresher the better. Don’t worry too much about sourcing the vegetables. Any produce is better than no produce, even frozen fruits and vegetables can benefit your health.
4Limit your meat intake. Try to eat less meat, particularly red meat. If you do eat meats, make sure any beef is lean (preferably grass-fed, since this has a more natural ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fats), and any poultry is skinless.
- All meat you consume should be raised without hormones or antibiotics. Most meat will specify on the packaging that it is hormone-free. If it doesn’t specify that it’s hormone-free, it’s probably not. Check the organic section for hormone-free meat options.
5Boost your fish consumption. Fish is good quality protein and often has high amounts of the healthy omega-3 fats. Fish is usually lean and can be fairly easy to prepare.
- Use caution when selecting fish. Fish that is high in mercury may be bad for your thyroid function.
6Include beans and legumes in your diet. Legumes include foods like lentils and contain many of the vitamins and minerals needed by the thyroid to make thyroid hormone. They are also a good source of protein for individuals who have limited or given up meat consumption.
7Reduce your sugar intake. To keep your sugar levels low, choose complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains. Avoid sugar and sugar substitutes. Simple sugar, either as granulated table sugar or as high fructose corn syrup, is much like an addictive drug. Try using the herb stevia as a sugar substitute if you have a hard time giving up sweets.
- Diabetic patients need to have their thyroid checked. Thyroid patients need to have their blood sugar monitored because comorbidities (people who have both diabetes and thyroid problems) are very common.
8Get enough iodine. If you eat a diet that includes moderate amounts of salt and some red meat, you probably get plenty of iodine. But, if you have given up salt in order to try to control your blood pressure, make sure you have an alternate source of iodine. The thyroid needs iodine for proper function. If needed, get a high quality supplement that contains at least 50% of the iodine daily requirement. You can also supplement your diet with some of the following sources of iodine:
- Brownish Sea vegetables (kelp, wakame, dulse)
- Seafood and fish
9Ask your doctor about other supplements. Speak with your healthcare provider about the advantages of supplementing with zinc and selenium, minerals necessary for proper thyroid function. Also, ask about supplementing with Vitamin D3 (2000 IU every day). Autoimmune disease is correlated with low Vitamin D levels.
10Drink plenty of water. Always be sure to stay hydrated with water. It helps your body function properly and will keep you feeling healthy in general.
Getting Exercise and Rest
1Understand the importance of exercise to thyroid function. Exercise for 30 minutes every day. Your exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous or take place at a gym to be effective. 30 minutes of brisk walking a day can be enough to make a difference to your health. You can increase either the speed or the length of your walking if you feel that you need to intensify your exercise regimen.
2Try a fitness class. If you have trouble motivating yourself to exercise, try engaging in group fitness. There are some approaches to wellness, such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong, that are excellent choices to be active and also protect the thyroid gland.
- Exercise keeps the blood flowing. This lets the thyroid hormone reach every cell.
3Reduce your stress levels. Identify areas of stress in your life and work to reduce their effect on you. You may have to make some tough choices about obligations that you’ve agreed to in the past for the sake of your health. Learn meditation techniques like breathing, visualization, or counting breaths.
4Visualize using the chakra system. Sit quietly and visualize a blue light entering your body at the site of the thyroid. Every time you breath in, the light gets brighter and more blue. As you breath out, it dims a bit. Keep this visualization in mind for as long as you can, but try it for at least 5 minutes every day.
- In the ancient chakra energy system, the thyroid gland is at the 5th chakra (Vishuddha) and is characterized by a blue color.
5Give yourself time to rest. Make sure you get enough sleep at night and enough down time during the day. The thyroid is very sensitive to stress because it is one of the glands that responds to stress. Because of this, your thyroid needs time to “re-boot.” Rest and relaxation gives the thyroid the time it needs.
Understanding Thyroid Function
1Learn about hypothyroidism, or under-functioning thyroid. Hypothyroidism can be caused by viral infections, radiation damage, some medications, pregnancy and other rarer causes. Most often, too little iodine in the body can cause hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is diagnosed by symptoms and lab tests (eg High TSH). Symptoms of an under-active thyroid include:
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
- Dry, coarse hair
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Disturbed sleep cycle, usually sleeps a lot more
- Intolerance to cold
- Decreased heart rate
- Swelling of the thyroid gland (goiter)
- Unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight
2Learn about hyperthyroidism, or over-active thyroid. Hyperthyroidism is most commonly seen as Grave’s disease. It can also be caused by thyroid nodules, which are small growths in the thyroid. Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed by symptoms and lab tests (Eg. Low TSH). Untreated or poorly treated hyperthyroidism can lead to heart problems, bone problems and a very serious condition called a thyroid storm. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased respiratory rate
- Frequent and loose bowel movements
- Fine hair that may be falling out
- Unexplained weight loss
- Nervousness, irritability, a feeling of high energy
- Intolerance to heat
- Reddish skin which may be itchy
3Know when to see a doctor. If your thyroid symptoms seem to be worsening, or you’re still having symptoms after 4 to 6 weeks of trying to heal your thyroid naturally, seek medical assistance. See your general practitioner first. Then, you may need to go to a thyroid specialist.
- If you are hypothyroid, your doctor will most likely prescribe thyroid replacement hormone (levothyroxine). If you have hyperthyroidism or Grave’s Disease, there are a number of options including radiation therapy, medicines which act to inhibit the thyroid, drugs to treat any irregular heartbeats (beta-blockers) or surgery.
4Continue your wellness practice. If you need medical treatment, you should still follow the diet, exercise, and rest recommendations given here to support healthy thyroid function. Be certain to discuss these steps with your doctor.