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Your thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland found in the front of your neck, is part of a larger network of glands and organs that make up your endocrine system. This system, including your thyroid, uses hormones, which are chemical messengers, to influence your reproductive health, growth and development, metabolism, and energy levels. (Source)
If your thyroid produces too few hormones (known as underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism) or too many hormones (known as overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism), it can cause a cascade of health problems, including those with an autoimmune connection. (Source)
In addition to genetic predisposition, medical history, and environmental triggers, diet and lifestyle can influence your overall thyroid health. In this article we’ll review thyroid function, supportive modifications designed to optimize your thyroid, and natural interventions to consider in tandem with treatment.
Your Thyroid Gland
Your thyroid produces three hormones: thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3), and calcitonin. While T4 and T3 affect metabolism and body temperature, calcitonin influences bone development by regulating blood calcium levels. (Source)
Your pituitary gland, which makes thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), is also a member of your endocrine system. The amount of TSH produced by your pituitary gland directly influences how much T4, and subsequently T3, your thyroid gland synthesizes. (Source)
When your thyroid is functioning optimally, it creates, uses, and replenishes its hormones continuously. If your thyroid’s health is disrupted in any way, it may underproduce or overproduce its hormones. In time, this can result in a variety of disorders including hypothyroidism (categorized by insufficient thyroid hormone production) or hyperthyroidism (excessive thyroid hormone production). (Source)
Thyroid disorders are relatively common, but often go undiagnosed. According to the American Thyroid Association, it’s estimated that approximately 20 million Americans live with thyroid disorders, and as many as 60 percent are unaware of their condition. (Source)
Hypothyroidism is diagnosed in part through laboratory tests, notably blood work measuring your hormone levels. Typically, if you have hypothyroidism your T4 level is lower than normal, and your TSH level is higher than normal. (Source)
Although hypothyroidism can develop during any point in your life, the likelihood of developing the disorder increases with age. Women are up to 8 times more likely to develop thyroid issues than men. (Source)
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. This autoimmune thyroid disease occurs when your immune system produces antibodies that mistakenly attack your gland and damage your hormone producing cells. Your thyroid, now impaired and inflamed, can become underactive. (Source)
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
If your Hashimoto’s is not treated in a timely manner, you can develop goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland), cardiometabolic issues (relating to your cardiovascular system and metabolic health), mental health issues (such ad cognitive dysfunction or depression), or impaired reproductive function (such as an irregular menstrual cycle). (Source, Source)
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s may differ between individuals, depending on how much the disease has progressed. Other symptoms include but are not limited to:
Hyperthyroidism is typically diagnosed through laboratory tests, notably blood work measuring your hormone production. In the case of hyperthyroidism, your T4 level and T3 level are higher than normal and your TSH level is lower than normal. Although hyperthyroidism can occur at any life stage, women are 10 times more likely to develop hyperthyroidism than men, usually between the ages of 20 to 40 years old. (Source)
Grave’s disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the United States, affecting 3 out of 4 people diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s disease occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid, damaging the gland to the extent that it overcorrects and increases hormone production. (Source)
Symptoms of Grave’s Disease
Symptoms of Grave’s disease vary based on the extent of disease progression. Some symptoms of Grave’s disease overlap with Hashimoto’s, including changes in mood, reproductive dysfunction, fatigue, or goiter development (enlarged thyroid gland). (Source)
Other symptoms specific to Grave’s disease include:
increase in heart beat
sensitivity to heat
eye issues (notably bulging eyes or double vision)
If you suspect that you have thyroid dysfunction, it’s important to speak with your health care provider to determine your path forward. In addition to running diagnostic tests including blood work, your provider may recommend an ultrasound of your thyroid, a radioactive iodine uptake test, and a physical exam. They will likely inquire about your family history and other health conditions. Depending on your results, they may prescribe you medication to correct your hormone levels. (Source, Source)
In addition to conventional medical treatment plans, supportive dietary and lifestyle changes can have a positive effect on your overall thyroid health. Natural interventions may vary depending on your official diagnosis, from personalized nutrition practices and stress management, to other complementary lifestyle interventions. Many of these can be used in tandem with the treatment provided by your care team.
The following list provides an overview of therapeutic foods and lifestyle changes studied for their ability to reduce inflammation in cases of autoimmunity and to support overall thyroid health. As hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism present differently in the body, certain interventions may pertain only to one disorder and will be noted.
#1. Nutrients: Assess Your Iodine Requirements
The mineral iodine is required for thyroid hormone synthesis. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for men and women is 150 mcg of iodine per day. Dietary allowances are guidelines designed to ensure sufficient amounts of nutrients are consumed by a healthy population. Allowances can differ based on gender and life stage (such as during pregnancy). Dietary sources of iodine include seafood and seaweed, dairy products and eggs, chicken and liver, and iodized table salt. While insufficient iodine intake may lead to hypothyroidism, this is not typically a problem in the United States. (Source, Source)
Consuming adequate amounts of iodine can be health promoting for the general population. However, if your thyroid disorder has an autoimmune component, too much iodine intake can aggravate Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease. Depending on your unique health history, your health care provider may advise you to limit iodine in your diet and help determine your required amount. (Source, Source)
#2. Nutrients: Ensure Adequate Selenium Intake
The mineral selenium is also required for thyroid hormone synthesis. The RDA for men and women is 55 mcg of selenium per day. Dietary sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, poultry, shellfish, beef, and legumes. Your thyroid gland stores selenium and uses a form of the mineral as an antioxidant (a compound with anti-inflammatory properties) that can influence your immune system. (Source, Source)
A small 2021 randomized controlled trial, published in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, found that selenium supplementation in people with Hashimoto’s had a positive effect. The mineral reduced thyroid autoantibodies (proteins that develop when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing inflammation), and TSH levels. (Source)
A 2022 randomized controlled trial, published in Frontiers in Endocrinology, found that newly diagnosed patients with Grave’s disease typically had low blood levels of both selenium and vitamin D. Supplementation with both nutrients increased the early success of newly introduced medication to combat the disease. (Source)
#3. Nutrients: Consider Antioxidant Rich Foods
Consuming a variety of whole foods can help increase your intake of antioxidants and other nutrients that support thyroid health. Given the anti-inflammatory effect of antioxidants, many plant foods can help reduce inflammation levels associated with autoimmune diseases. (Source, Source)
In a 2020 review published in the European Thyroid Journal, researchers found that antioxidants such as quercetin (found in apples and onions), vitamin C (found in citrus and bell peppers), and beta-carotene (found in yellow and orange plant foods as well as dark leafy greens) play a protective role in those with Grave’s disease with orbitopathy, also known as thyroid eye disease. This subgenre of Grave’s disease is characterized by painful swelling of eye tissues that create a bulging effect. (Source, Source, Source, Source)
#4. Diet: Try an Autoimmune Friendly Diet
Beyond specific supportive nutrients, elimination diets may have a health promoting effect on thyroid diseases.
The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet, which removes possible allergens and inflammatory foods while increasing anti-inflammatory foods, has been studied for its ability to improve quality of life for those with Hashimoto’s. A small 2019 study published in the journal Cureus found the AIP elimination diet improved symptoms for middle-aged women diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. (Source)
In a 2023 systematic review published by the Journal of the American Nutrition Association, the paleo diet was found to have a positive clinical improvement for both Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease. The paleo diet removes many of the same food groups as the AIP diet, but is less restrictive. In this study, in addition to dietary changes, the program also incorporated supportive supplements, exercise, and mindfulness meditation practices. (Source)
#5. Diet: Support Your Overall Gut Health
Issues with your digestion can lead to reduced absorption of nutrients that are important for thyroid hormone production. Disrupted digestion can also lead to reduced absorption of your thyroid medications designed to curb symptoms. Gut disorders, notably small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, and Helicobacter pylori infections are commonly clustered with thyroid disorders. (Source, Source, Source, Source)
Depending on your unique health history, your care team may recommend a variety of gut health protocols, from elimination diets to digestive enzymes, probiotics, anti-inflammatory supplements, and lifestyle changes.
#6. Diet: Go Gluten Free
Autoimmune conditions often come in pairs, especially when rampant inflammation in your body causes widespread issues affecting multiple organ systems.
In adults, thyroid disease is often followed by the development of other autoimmune diseases if treatment options are ignored. In children, developing celiac disease increases the chance of developing Hashimoto’s soon after. The interplay between intestinal diseases and thyroid diseases can be understood by a phenomenon known as “leaky gut.” This occurs when a damaged intestinal tract lining makes it easier for bacteria and other antigens to pass into your bloodstream and cause immune reactions. (Source, Source)
Clinical research studying the effects of a strict gluten free diet (prescribed for those with celiac disease) has been found to improve both thyroid hormone lab markers and reduce symptoms associated with Hashimoto’s in particular. (Source)
#7. Lifestyle: Stress Management Techniques
Chronic stress and the development of autoimmune diseases are closely intertwined. Given that depression and anxiety are commonly reported by those with thyroid diseases, especially in women, lifestyle interventions that target mood and stress may be a welcome addition to help improve overall quality of life. (Source, Source)
In a 2020 cohort study published by JAMA, over 100,000 people with a stress related disorder were compared with over 1 million participants without a stress related disorder. Those with the disorder were more likely to develop multiple autoimmune diseases. It’s important to remember that observational studies like these often show correlation (a relationship), not always causation (one factor directly influencing another). Still, the detrimental effect of chronic stress on immune response has been widely documented and is acknowledged by the American Psychological Association. (Source, Source, Source)
Moreover, a small 2019 randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry found that stress management interventions for women with Hashimoto’s resulted in reduced thyroid-related antibodies (inflammatory proteins that develop when the immune system attacks the thyroid) and reduced rates of reported depression and anxiety. (Source)
#8. Lifestyle: Yoga and Mindful Movement Practices
While there are many ways to manage stress, yoga and mindful movement practices may improve daily life for those with thyroid disorders.
A small 2011 clinical trial published by Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that practicing yoga for 1 hour daily for a month improved quality of life scores for women diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Another small 2016 study published by the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine found that a 6 month yoga practice for women in India with hypothyroidism resulted in reduced need for medication. Both studies are limited by sample size, so further research is needed to increase confidence in the data. Still, given evidence linking yoga practices to stress reduction, incorporating mindful movement and breathwork into your daily routine is considered to be health promoting. (Source, Source, Source)
#9. Lifestyle: Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Disrupted sleep can have negative effects on anyone, but it seems to be more commonly reported in those with thyroid disorders.
A 2019 Chinese population study, published in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy Journal, found that people with subclinical hypothyroidism experienced poor sleep quality. Subclinical hypothyroidism is an early stage of disease when TSH is elevated but thyroid hormones are still normal, and there is risk of developing clinically apparent hypothyroidism. (Source)
Hyperthyroidism and its associated symptoms of overactivity, anxiety, and depression can also lead to sleep disruption or insomnia. (Source)
Practicing good sleep hygiene, including maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, limiting evening light exposure, and avoiding heavy meals or alcohol before bedtime may help improve your sleep quality. (Source)
The Bottom Line on 9 Simple Ways to Heal Your Thyroid Naturally
Poorly managed thyroid disorders can cause chronic inflammation over time and reduce your quality of life. Introducing natural interventions to support your thyroid gland can help reduce uncomfortable symptoms, improve hormone levels, and enhance your overall health. Specific nutrients, dietary protocols, and lifestyle changes have been shown to have a positive influence on both Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Grave’s disease, the two most common thyroid autoimmune diseases.
Our WellTheory membership offers both the integrative guidance and community support to help you determine the best practices to optimize your thyroid health and ensure your unique bio-individuality is being addressed.