The thyroid, a little butterfly shaped gland in the neck, can have immense effects on our bodies if it’s not working properly. Dry skin, brittle nails, hair loss, weight-gain abnormal menstrual cycles, fatigue, impaired memory – are just a few of the symptoms related to thyroid deficiencies. Synthetic medications to combat these ailments are available (and were the route I ended up taking to rebound my hair loss), but they may not be the right path for everyone. Natural food therapies and supplements are alternatives available to support thyroid health, or can work to complement pharmaceuticals. To discuss this further, I’ve reached out to Christine Dionese, an integrative, epigenetic health and food therapy specialist whose practice focuses on the relationships between neuro-immune and endocrine wellness, to shed light on the relationship between food, supplements and thyroid health.
How do the foods we eat influence/affect the thyroid?
Because optimized digestive wellness is the cornerstone of thyroid health, the foods we consume influence all aspects of thyroid wellness. If gut permeability exists, aka leaky gut, this compromise creates a direct effect on the thyroid. Leaky gut causes inflammation and inflammation directly affects thyroid wellness, which is why I recommend foods that support a healthy gut to support a healthy thyroid!
Let’s break down leaky gut first since thyroid health is directly linked to gut health. Most people have a vision of the thyroid sitting nestled in our throat region while “the gut” sits down in our abdomen, but when thinking about thyroid health, it’s important to forego the idea of a compartmentalized little organ all on its own- yes, it may be located in the neck region, but it is a multi-systemically functioning organ.
Leaky gut is a functional condition (meaning that function can be restored to heal the condition) where inflammation is taking place in various regions of the digestive system because proteins that should be within the digestive system are literally leaking through inflamed, permeable tissues directly into the bloodstream. The immune system sees these proteins as foreign invaders, because they do not belong outside the digestive system, and “acts up” releasing cells to “attack” the invader. This causes two things to occur: direct inflammation to tissues, in this case, the thyroid, and, as a result of too much immunological cellular activity, increased inflammation in the thyroid.
Certain proteins can cause damage to the digestive lining because of food sensitivities and some proteins escape simply because of pre-existing permeability. Either way, both can cause inflammation to the thyroid.
Overall, the idea is fairly basic: The foods we eat will either feed and help the thyroid thrive or will make it suffer from inflammation and fatigue. Our food choices will always impact thyroid health directly, but with that being said, we can help heal the thyroid through food therapy!
What are the best foods to eat to support an underactive/overactive thyroid?
Whether the thyroid is over or under active, assess personal gut health, then focus on prebiotic and probiotic foods and broths to heal any permeability that may exist. Prebiotic foods I recommend include: leeks, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion, kimchi and sauerkraut. Kefir, natto, a variety of fermented vegetables, coconut yogurt, apple cider vinegar and brined olives are also easy-to-access sources of probiotics. And a mushroom, fish bone or land animal bone broth consumed regularly can also contribute to healing the gut as well!
Iodine-rich foods such as seafoods, sea vegetables like kelp, wakame and spirulina, eggs, strawberries and cranberries are also excellent choices to feed the thyroid since iodine-deficiency has been linked to an underactive thyroid. The only caveat is when the immunological thyroid condition Hashimoto’s is occurring. It has been shown that while iodine rich foods can help heal hypothyroidism, in the case of Hashimoto’s, it can make symptoms worsen.
What role can natural supplements play in supporting an under active/over active thyroid?
For almost two decades now, I have seen patients optimize thyroid health through the use of high quality, evidence-based natural supplements that can be just as supportive as pharmacological medications or complement them, like in the case of the thyroid medication, synthroid. This medication can significantly deplete the body of calcium making a whole food calcium supplement an ideal complement to avoid this potential deficiency.
When sourcing natural supplements, focus on superior, non-GMO verified ingredients. These types of high quality supplement companies create their products in accordance with research and also independently assess their ingredients to assure what you see on the label is actually in the product.
With patients who have thyroid deficiencies, it’s not uncommon for me to see vitamin and mineral deficiencies like vitamin D3, magnesium, calcium and especially selenium. I often suggest they supplement any deficiencies they may have with collagen peptides, multi-strain probiotics and digestive enzymes to address gut health, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, chromium and magnesium, since blood sugar regulation is often linked to fluctuating thyroid concerns.
The best way to assess your supplemental needs is to have personalized functional lab testing done to precisely understand which natural supplements will be relevant to your specific thyroid concern. This way the form and dosage of natural supplements can be personally determined based on the functional lab testing you obtain.
Supplements vs. food – is one more important than the other when supporting the thyroid?
I see using supplements and foods of equal importance. It’s important to use them together. The ratio of supplements to food therapies will differ from person to person based on the severity of their thyroid concerns, but used together they can accentuate the effects of the other.
A great example of this synergy between supplements and food is turmeric and black pepper; turmeric supplements reduce inflammation supporting the immune system and thyroid health, but when taken with black pepper, the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric are increased since black pepper contains piperine, an active compound shown to improve the absorption of turmeric.
Lifestyle is also important to consider when thinking about supplements. There are many foods that support thyroid wellness such as the ones we discussed earlier. However, for some people who are super busy and perhaps work in a fast-paced office environment, high quality supplements may be the best route to address their thyroid concerns versus someone with a more flexible schedule who has time to prep/cook an abundance of healing foods. In these cases, I recommend supplementing nutrients at home with superfood powders rich in vitamins and minerals that may be difficult to obtain in our daily diets. My main go-to source for superfood powders is Terrasoul Superfoods. Terrasoul carefully selects eco-clean, ethically harvested, nutrient dense superfoods. Below are a few I recommend to support thyroid health:
Red Reishi Mushroom: Terrasoul has a delicious, earthy red reishi mushroom blend that can be used to make a delicious broth base.
Ashwagandha: Try ashwagandha for endurance energy, stamina and to help quell brain fog that is often associated with thyroid issues.
Moringa Powder: This is another one I often suggest in my practice. Moringa powder helps regulate metabolism and rapid heartbeat often associated with hyperthyroidism.
Camu Camu Powder: Packed with vitamin C which reduces thyroid inflammation, camu camu is one of my favorites and tastes awesome in smoothies.
These superfood powders can be conveniently added to food and drink, contain high nutrient levels and bridge nutritional gaps.
But the bottom line is, as much as we’d all love thyroid-related health concerns to be straight forward, they often are not. Today, we’re just touching on a few of the many thyroid-related health concerns one can experience, but if you’re interested in exploring even more possibilities, I suggest this article for further discovery.
Christine Dionese, co-founder of flavor ID, is an integrative health & food therapy specialist + wellness, lifestyle & food journalist. She has dedicated her career to helping others understand the science of happiness and its powerful effects on everyday human health by harnessing the power of the epigenetic landscape. Christine lives, works and plays bi-coastally between southern California and upstate New York with her family.
Edited by Amy Chang, founder + editor; Main image photographed by Wing Ta