It is estimated that between 30 and 50 million Americans have hypothyroidism, and many don’t even know it. Women are more affected than men. The classic symptoms are weight gain, fatigue, thinning hair, cold hand and feet, dry skin, constipation, and brain fog. Less obvious symptoms include high cholesterol, infertility, heavy periods, puffy eyelids/fluid retention, and heart palpitations.
Your thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, regulates nearly all your metabolic processes. Thyroid hormones impact brain function/cognition, female hormone balance, fertility, GI function, body temperature, cardiovascular function, and lipid/cholesterol metabolism. Thyroid hormones regulate other hormones including insulin, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Primary hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone to meet the body’s needs, and everything slows down, which is why you may initially notice weight gain, fatigue, and constipation. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism: over 90 percent of underfunctioning thyroid cases are due to Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the thyroid gland, causing inflammation and rendering it unable to produce enough thyroid hormone.
Hashimoto’s is more complex than primary hypothyroid because it is autoimmune in nature, so the overactive immune system must be addressed. Click here to read more on Hashimoto’s. Primary hypothyroid is most typically due to family history, adrenal fatigue, iodine deficiency, or previous treatment with radioactive iodine.
The most common conventional treatment for hypothyroidism is synthetic thyroid hormone replacement such as synthroid, which provides T4, one of your 2 main thyroid hormones. Natural thyroid replacement such as Armour, Nature-throid, or WP thyroid (what I take and recommend) provides both active thyroid hormones, T4 and T3.
The good news is that you can support your thyroid with healing foods that provide nutrients to boost thyroid function. In this post, I talk about foods that harm the thyroid, so be sure to read that for more information about what to avoid. Include as many of these foods as you can on a daily basis to boost thyroid function and to provide your body with the raw materials it needs to make thyroid hormones. Food is medicine!
10 Foods to Heal Hypothyroid
Note that these foods support thyroid health, but please stay on your meds if taking thyroid replacement. The good news is I’ve seen many people drop the dosage of their meds by changing diet and lifestyle.
- First prize goes to the powerhouse and the star of the hour, coconut oil. We’ve been hit over the head with information about how coconut oil is a superfood. And why not? As a medium chain fatty acid, it is burned quickly for energy and therefore boosts metabolism. Studies confirm it enhances weight loss. It’s also a plant based saturated fat that your body needs to build hormones. Click here for my directions on how to use coconut oil.
- Just 5 Brazil nuts provide you with the daily recommended amount of selenium, an important antioxidant that’s essential for the conversion of T4 to T3 hormone (the active form of thyroid hormone your body needs). Selenium has also been shown to reduce the inflammation that’s present with Hashimoto’s. Fish (especially salmon), shellfish and liver are good sources too.
- No discussion of antioxidants and inflammation would be complete without mention of turmeric. This super root has incredible medicinal properties: it quells inflammation, reduces tumor growth, and aids in liver detox. A happy liver is crucial for proper thyroid hormone conversion. How to use turmeric? Make a tea! It’s easy: Just combine 1/2 tsp ground turmeric with the juice of a lemon in a mug. Cover with hot water, stir, then add honey and cayenne to taste. Or, try my golden turmeric milk.
- Wild salmon (and any deep sea wild fatty fish), sardines. Salmon and sardines pack a double punch: they are good sources of the protein needed to transport thyroid hormone to all your cells, AND they are rich in the anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids that quell the inflammation that accompanies Hashimoto’s. Choose wild only though. Read here why you should avoid farmed fish at all costs.
- Our next thyroid-boosting gift from the ocean is sea vegetables. Kelp, wakame, nori, kombu and dulse are some of the best sources for the trace minerals that are so lacking from our diets today. These minerals are needed for ever enzymatic reaction in the body. Sea veggies are also the riches sources of iodine that can be a contributing factor to hypothyroidism. So eat up! My favorite ways to use sea veggies is in stews, sprinkled on salads or root vegetables, or as a quick snack, like these easy nori roll-ups.
- Ashwagandha isn’t really a food, but an herb that is excellent for thyroid function, anxiety, and restful sleep. Read my post on it and how to use it here.
- Did you know that 20 percent of thyroid function depends on a sufficient supply of healthy gut bacteria? That’s why you need a daily supply of probiotic foods. The best bang from your buck comes from raw kraut and cultured veggies. They are most often made with raw cabbage, which can suppress thyroid function if eaten raw, though I have read conflicting accounts as to whether the fermentation process deactivates the goitrogenic properties. You can make the kraut with liver cleansing raw beets and carrots or turnips or anything that appeals to you. Also include probiotic beverages like kvass, or coconut water kefir. (I LOVE this one).
- Speaking of liver cleansing and beets, I have added beets to this list because they are such a great liver detoxer. And we learned above the importance of a happy and well functioning liver for thyroid hormone conversion. Beets are a rich source of betaine, which strengthens and protects liver cells and bile ducts. This liver detox formula is excellent too.
- Speaking of the liver, did you know that liver is a thyroid superfood? Considered nature’s multi-vitamin, it is high in vitamins D, A, B vitamins, iron, zinc and protein, ALL of which are crucial for a well functioning thyroid. If you’re squeamish, you can make your own frozen liver pills, or read my article on the best way to eat liver.
- Oysters. Ah, raw oysters are a delight with some lemon and horseradish, no? My mouth is watering. They also happen to be the richest form of zinc, necessary for immune health. Without the presence of zinc, the thyroid gland cannot transform the inactive hormone T4 into the active hormone T3. Oysters are a good source of vitamin D, which we know is crucial for thyroid function and immune health. Other zinc rich foods are beef and lamb. Zinc is very difficult to obtain from a vegetarian diet, but pumpkin seeds are a source.
Wait! One More Thing!
Do You Want to Learn Even More about what your thyroid numbers mean?
Check out my fabulous little resource guide, 3 Steps to Heal Your Thyroid. It’s only $12.99 and you can download it with a couple clicks to gain immediate access to all this wonderful information.
This e-book goes in depth about testing for overcoming hypothyroidism:
- how to order your own labwork (with a 10% discount!) to test your thyroid hormones
- my 3-step plan for healing hypothyroid
- detailed supplement protocol, including my 5 thyroid rockstars
- plenty of diet recs
- my favorite thyroid-healing recipes to help get you started.
- And it’s only 25 pages!
Please note: this is an ebook, which means you will not receive a hard copy. You will receive an email with directions on how to immediately access the book via download. Please do not download to your phone. Files are best downloaded to your laptop or desktop.
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.