An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is one of the most undiagnosed and misdiagnosed health issues. The most common form of hypothyroidism in the U.S. is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which impacts an estimated 14 million people. Let’s learn more about the connection between Hashimoto’s and food.
BY: JESSICA PATEL, RDN, LDN
Hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid, is one of the most unrecognized health conditions in the world. It is an epidemic that is sweeping the globe, yet doctors are failing to recognize and diagnose it properly. Many patients are falling through the cracks of mainstream medicine, and left to suffer debilitating and even life-threatening symptoms.
Why is the thyroid important?
As small of an organ as it is, the thyroid plays one of the largest roles in regulating how well your body functions. The thyroid gland is responsible for producing thyroid hormone, which plays an essential role in regulating your body’s metabolism, mood, energy levels, heart health, and body temperature.
When it malfunctions, there are severe repercussions in your health. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease, a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its own thyroid tissues. Symptoms can manifest differently in individuals, but common symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Muscle aches
- Reduced exercise tolerance
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands
Some individuals can also experience gastrointestinal distress like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and nutrient deficiencies.
What causes it to happen?
Hashimoto’s tends to run in families and is believed to have a genetic component. Interestingly, women are affected by Hashimoto’s at a rate seven times more than men. Having another autoimmune condition, like Type 1 diabetes, is also a risk factor to developing Hashimoto’s.
While Hashimoto’s must be managed with medication to replace thyroid hormone, emerging research demonstrates other important ways to manage the disease and alleviate symptoms.
For those with gastrointestinal distress, repairing gut health is absolutely vital. Evolving research tells us that a phenomenon called “leaky gut” may play a key role in the onset of many autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s. A leaky gut is a condition affecting the lining of the intestinal wall, which has a tight protective barrier. However, the barrier becomes weakened when it is damaged, leading to gut distress such as abdominal bloating, excessive gas and cramps. Further symptoms can manifest as fatigue, food sensitivities, joint pain, skin rashes, and autoimmunity.
As a consequence bacteria, toxins, incompletely digested proteins and fats, and waste may “leak” out of the intestines and into the bloodstream. This may contribute to and trigger an incorrect immune system response that attacks the thyroid gland.
What dietary lifestyle changes are needed?
Because of its link to the gut and metabolism, managing Hashimoto’s requires a holistic approach with a nutrition focus to mitigate symptoms along with medication. In general, it is helpful to minimize foods typically found in the American diet. This includes foods that promote inflammation, including sugary beverages, sweets, and ultra-processed fast food and fried foods.
Although the evidence is limited, some suggest a gluten-free diet may help with management of autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s. Through a series of complex immune responses, gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye), may play a role in the development of leaky gut syndrome, thus triggering an autoimmune response.
Despite the restrictive nature of diets for those living with Hashimoto’s, I myself have still found ways to incorporate many delicious foods into my life. Choosing nourishing foods is incredibly important to help mitigate inflammation and reduce symptoms associated with Hashimoto’s. Incorporating more whole, antioxidant-rich foods is a great place to start, such as:
Healthy Fats: Wild-caught salmon, flax seed, chia seed and walnuts with Omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation
Fruit: Antioxidant-rich fruits like berries and pomegranate seeds
Vegetables: Dark leafy greens, and colorful veggies
Carbohydrates: Nutrient-rich carbohydrates like quinoa, sweet potatoes, wild rice, and beans
Super Foods: Anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and ginger
Hashimoto’s is a complex condition that requires individualized management. Before making a drastic change to your lifestyle or diet, it is necessary to work with a healthcare provider or qualified Registered Dietitian to get the guidance you need.
HEADER IMAGE: XAVIER SOTOMAYOR
Jessica Patel, RDN, LDN is a Chicago-based private practice dietitian who helps others connect with good food through simple, healthful cooking techniques. With a love for wholesome, natural food, Jessica uses a holistic-minded approach to nutrition to help her clients stay healthy through the healing power of nourishing foods. Visit her at Well Fed Nutrition.