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The thyroid gland is small, yet it has a mighty impact on every cell in your body. It secretes hormones that influence metabolism, bone growth, temperature regulation, mental clarity, and more.
Unfortunately, thyroid dysfunction is extremely common—experienced by approximately 20 million Americans. Many cases go undiagnosed. Symptoms can range from fatigue and weight gain (from an underactive thyroid) to irritability and insomnia (from an overactive thyroid). Thyroid dysfunction can contribute to conditions such as infertility and autoimmune disease. Doctors frequently prescribe medications for thyroid disorders, but there are also lifestyle and nutritional remedies that can help. Here are five ways to balance your thyroid, but make sure to work with your doctor to determine the best approach for you.
1. Manage Your Stress
Stress contributes to a plethora of health-related challenges, so it may come as no surprise that it can negatively affect your thyroid, too. Stress may be a contributing factor to the onset of thyroid autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Grave’s disease. Take the time to breath, pursue a fun hobby, or meditate—it could go a long way in protecting your thyroid.
2. Exercise Regularly
Exercise not only helps regulate your thyroid by decreasing stress levels—it can also stimulate the secretion of thyroid hormones and increase tissue sensitivity to the hormones. A study published in Neuroendocrinology Letters showed that moderate-intensity exercise (reaching a 70 percent maximum heart rate) and high-intensity exercise (reaching a 90 percent maximum heart rate) can increase the levels of circulating thyroid hormones in your body. You can calculate your maximum heart rate (the highest rate your heart beats per minute) by subtracting your age from 220.
3. Minimize Exposure to Toxins and Radiation
Minimize your exposure to the following foods and products, which have been shown to disrupt thyroid function.
- Unfiltered tap water, for both drinking and bathing (pesticides and heavy metals)
- Inorganic meat and dairy (hormone and antibiotic residues)
- Fish, especially large fish such as tuna (mercury)
- Cleaning products (chemicals)
- Processed foods (additives)
- Inorganic cosmetics (chemicals)
- Dental x-rays (radiation)
- Fire retardants (chemicals)
- Cigarettes (chemicals)
4. Increase Specific Nutrients
Vitamins and minerals that are important for thyroid hormone production and utilization include iodine, selenium, zinc, and A, E, C, and B vitamins. The following foods are high in these nutrients.
- Iodine: Seaweed, shrimp, salmon, sardines, oysters, eggs
- Selenium: Brazil nuts, seafood, organ meat
- Zinc: Oysters, ginger root, brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, sardines
- Vitamin A: Leafy greens, cantaloupe, nectarines, peaches, cod liver oil (Note: Orange and yellow vegetables like carrots contain an important precursor to vitamin A.)
- Vitamin E: Peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, olive oil, wheat-germ
- Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, strawberries, leafy greens, red chili pepper
- Vitamin B2: Brewer’s yeast, eggs, organ meat, milk, green vegetables
- Vitamin B3: Brewer’s yeast, salmon, tuna, chicken, liver, mushrooms
- Vitamin B6: Brewer’s yeast, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, tuna, salmon, liver
Whole foods are the optimal choice, but supplements can also help boost vitamin and mineral intake if your levels are extremely depleted. Check with your doctor before starting any new supplement.
A note on iodine: While iodine is imperative for thyroid function, consuming too much of it can actually inhibit your thyroid. Be careful if you’re eating foods high in iodine in addition to supplementing with iodine—which is often included in a multivitamin.
A note on brazil nuts: Brazil nuts are extremely high in selenium and can lead to selenium toxicity—which causes serious symptoms and, rarely, death—if eaten too frequently.
5. Limit Goitrogenic Foods
Some healthy foods can suppress the function of your thyroid. These foods are categorized as goitrogens, and they inhibit iodine utilization. If you have a thyroid concern, limit your consumption of the following foods. (Note: If your thyroid is healthy, the nutritional value of these foods far outweighs their effects on the thyroid.)
- Soy products (tofu, tempeh, soy milk)
- Brassica vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts)
- Peanuts and pine nuts
- Strawberries and peaches
Studies have shown that boiling brassica vegetables may reduce their goitrogenic affects; however, boiling also reduces their nutritional value. Steaming the vegetables may be a healthier alternative.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.