Over 20 million people in the United States have some form of a thyroid condition, with women being more likely to develop a condition than men. In fact, many people are not even aware they have a thyroid condition until it becomes dire. Many people ask me how to naturally improve thyroid health, but the thyroid is not always that straightforward. Patients can vary between an underactive to an overactive thyroid condition and often, medication is needed to feel their best.
I always encourage patients to find an integrative and functional medicine practitioner to get the right kind of help and perspective for a thyroid condition. Here are a few tips on what to avoid if you're looking to improve your thyroid health:
Excessive cruciferous vegetables
Avoid large amounts of cruciferous and brassica vegetables (cabbage, turnips, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, broccoli, cauliflower, and bok choy). Although healthy and full of nutrition and essential vitamins and minerals, they can be goitrogenic (form goiters in the thyroid) for some patients when consumed in excessive large amounts.
Try to make sure you're getting about 30 grams of brassica a day and not any more. Steaming or cooking these foods briefly to reduce their goitrogenic effect is a good idea, too, instead of eating them raw. For those who enjoy juicing, be mindful about how many different cruciferous vegetables are in there.
Carbs do get a bad rap, but some people may not be getting enough. To my paleo and ketogenic friends, you can actually worsen your thyroid function when you strictly limit your carbohydrates. Your body perceives you are in starvation mode and the thyroid is the first hormone that becomes jeopardized. Just remember you need to eat all food groups in moderation. Excessively limiting carbs has its consequences on your thyroid.
Isoflavones found in soy may hinder thyroid function. Large amounts of soy products can aggravate hyperthyroidism and iodine deficiency in adults. My vegetarians get in trouble with this when they replace meat with numerous soy products: soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu this, tofu that. After a while everything is processed and can slowly negatively affect your thyroid if you already have genetic predisposition. If you are on thyroid medication, be sure to take it on an empty stomach and make sure if you do eat, wait 30 minutes to an hour.
Too much or too little iodine
Many of my patients no longer use iodized salt and use sea salt or Himalayan salt instead, which is actually a common trigger for hypothyroidism and too much iodine can trigger hyperthyroidism.
I encourage eating fresh ocean fish, seaweed, and sometimes even supplementing with iodine if needed to my hypothyroidism patients. However, excessive iodine in supplement form can cause havoc to your thyroid. This is especially important to my moms who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant; you need some iodine but not a lot! There's a quick test that can be done by a doctor to see if you are iodine deficient.
Gluten-free really isn't a fad. Gluten-containing foods increase inflammation in the body and by limiting this exposure you are therefore decreasing the overall inflammation that your body is exposed to. It can help improve Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid condition. It's common that when people have one autoimmune condition like celiac, they are at risk for another autoimmune condition like Hashimoto's.
I have personally seen patients with thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TBO) improve symptoms and actually feel much better after following a strict gluten-free diet. It's much easier be gluten-free today than it was 10 years ago. Everything is readily available and there are tons of apps to see whether something has gluten in it. Just be mindful not to overindulge in too many gluten-free processed products as they can cause a spike in your sugar levels.
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who studied family medicine at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia. She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Georgia with a bachelor's of science in biology and psychology in 2004 and her doctor of medicine at American University of Antigua College of Medicine in 2010. She completed an integrative medicine fellowship at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil. She is also currently working on her functional medicine training with the Institute of Functional Medicine. Her interests include integrative, holistic, and functional medicine; women's health; preventive medicine; international medicine; and health care reform. She's also a certified yoga instructor and Reiki master. She enjoys writing and educating everyone on important health matters.