It's estimated one in twenty people suffer from a thyroid condition, but the actual figure is believed to be much higher as many people are unaware they have a thyroid condition. Women are much more likely to suffer than men, with as many as one in eight for women developing a thyroid condition in their lifetime. Here we explain thyroid conditions, who is at risk of thyroid problems and the best foods for thyroid health.
What are thyroid conditions?
The thyroid is the gland in the front of your neck that moves when you swallow. The thyroid is responsible for releasing thyroid hormones which control your metabolism, and it is your metabolism that determines how much energy you have and how you store fat, so the thyroid plays a big role in our health. It is also involved in cognitive function, cell growth and healing.
There are a few health conditions that can affect the thyroid. The main condition to affect it is autoimmunity to the thyroid gland, called 'Hashimoto’s disease', where the immune system attacks and damages the thyroid gland and in most cases causes an underactive thyroid. There is another type of autoimmune disease against the thyroid, called 'Graves disease' which causes the thyroid to become overactive.
Always consult with your Doctor before taking supplements if you have an existing thyroid condition or you're taking prescribed medication.
The thyroid may also become underactive due to a lack of Iodine in your diet. Thyroid hormones are created from Iodine, so a lack of it causes the thyroid to slow down.
Iodine deficiency can also cause the thyroid gland to enlarge and develop into a goitre. Thankfully this is quite rare now, however it does still occur in some developing countries and some studies show Iodine deficiency is more common among those on a vegan diet. An increasing number of plant-based milk alternatives are now fortified with Iodine so it's useful to opt for these.
Other types of thyroid diseases include thyroid-nodular disease, where nodules grow on the thyroid, and thyroid cancer which is fortunately quite rare.
Underactive vs Overactive Thyroid
The thyroid can be underactive or overactive for a few reasons.
An underactive thyroid is known as hypothyroidism and is the most common thyroid issue.
Hypothyroidism comes with a range of symptoms, including tiredness, sensitivity to the cold, weight gain, constipation, depression, slow movements and thoughts, muscle weakness and cramps, dry and itchy skin, weak nails, loss of libido, pain and numbness in the hands and fingers, and irregular and heavy periods.
If the thyroid is overactive (also known as hpyerthyroidism) then you can experience a range of symptoms including weight loss, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, sensitivity to heat, swelling of the thyroid gland, twitching and trembling.
Who is at risk of suffering from thyroid conditions?
Anyone can suffer from thyroid conditions, however they affect women more than men. There is also a strong genetic link with thyroid conditions, so if you have a close family member who has a thyroid disease, you are more likely to have experience thyroid issues.
One of the biggest causes of thyroid conditions in Third World countries is the lack on nutrients in diets, especially Iodine.
Best foods for thyroid conditions
Here we explain the best nutrients and foods for an underactive thyroid and supporting healthy thyroid issues.
Iodine is an essential nutrient as it is used directly for the production of thyroid hormones. The thyroid makes the hormone T4. T4 then travels to the liver and some of the T4 is converted into T3, another type of hormone. T3 is more potent than T4. For this conversion to happen, the liver requires other nutrients we list below. Severe iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism.
You might enjoy our Baked Chilli Tofu with Kale and Noodles recipe
Always consult with your Doctor before taking supplements if you have an existing thyroid condition or your taking prescribed medication.
Good sources of Selenium: Brazil nuts, beans, broccoli, spinach, potatoes, white meat, fish, shellfish and eggs.
Try our Creamy Spinach Soup recipe.
Zinc & Copper
Good foods for Zinc: oysters contain more Zinc per serving than any other food, and red meat and poultry are other good sources. Lentils, beans and chickpeas, nuts, seeds and oats are all high in Zinc.
You might enjoy our Chickpea and Coriander Falafel recipe.
Good foods for Copper: wholegrain foods such as wholewheat spaghetti, quinoa and brown basmati rice, nuts such as peanuts, cashews and walnuts, sees including sesame and sunflower seeds, and pulses.
Try our Fresh Pesto Pasta with Toasted Cashews recipe.
Magnesium is a mineral superhero, involved in over 300 processes in your body, and one of these is helping enzymes in the body that convert T4 into T3.
Great foods for Magnesium: kale, spinach, dry beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, black-eyed peas, tempeh, beans and tofu.
Try our Rainbow Salad with Tofu recipe.
B Vitamins are essential in the production of all thyroid hormones.
Vitamin D is essential for a normal immune response. In the majority of thyroid conditions, the thyroid glad does not produce enough T4 as it has been damaged by the body’s immune system, so maintaining your immune health supports your thyroid health.
Good foods for Vitamin D3: The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight and unfortunately Vitamin D is only found in a small number of foods, mainly of animal origin, such as oily fish, meat and egg yolks. Breakfast cereals and plant-based milk alternatives are often fortified with Vitamin D. The most effective source of Vitamin D is Vitamin D3 from vegan-friendly plant sources such as lichen.
Around 20% of the conversion of T4 to T3 occurs in the gut, and probiotics are directly involved in this conversion.
Try our Raspberry Smoothie Bowl with Bananas recipe.
Remember, if you have an existing health or thyroid condition, or you're taking prescribed medication for a thyroid condition, always consult with your Doctor before taking supplements.
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