The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck, under some cartilage tissue. It controls how the body responds to other hormones, and how fast the body uses energy. It influences body temperature, mood and metabolic rate, and also produces triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine and calcitonin. It is thus very important to overall health. An enlarged thyroid (also known as ‘Goiter’) is the most common problem, especially in women. There are several causes of goitre such as congenital hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s disease, pituitary disease, Graves’ disease, thyroid cancer, benign thyroid growths, and thyroid hormone insensitivity. Medical treatment may be required to handle these cases.
Diet is one way to reduce thyroid enlargement. Goitrogens (the name comes from ‘goitre’) are substances in food that reduce thyroid function and cause this enlargement, so people with such issues can get relief by smartly adjusting their diet: reducing the intake of high foods in goitrogens, such as cruciferous vegetables, and eating more of the other foods to compensate. See below for a list of such foods.
Cruciferous vegetables have other health benefits, so they should be part of the diet, but in moderation. Cooking reduces the effects of cruciferous foods, so it’s better to avoid eating them in raw form. Also, avoid eating several of them on the same day to avoid a cumulative effect. Eating iodine-rich foods along with goitrogenic foods offsets their effects, so they should behave taken along with some iodized salt.
This brings up another common cause of goitre - iodine deficiency. More than two billion people have iodine deficiency, worldwide – they do not get the daily adult minimum requirement of 150 micrograms. Iodine deficiency causes the thyroid to enlarge as it tries to extract the iodine it needs out of the bloodstream. Thus a diet rich in iodine can avoid goitre - the easiest way is to use iodized salt in cooking, but other foods can also help, especially for those who need to avoid sodium. See the table below.
Tyrosine deficiency is another cause of thyroid problems, so eating foods rich in tyrosine can also help. Animal-based foods are high in tyrosine as well as Vitamin B12 and selenium, which are also important for thyroid health. Ocean fish is high in tyrosine and Omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and can help with proper thyroid function. See Table below.
Smart changes to the diet as described above can ameliorate thyroid enlargement. It is not easy to be mindful at all times and in all situations to follow these dietary guidelines, and sometimes they may be violated, but one must try to follow them as closely as possible. A nutritionist may help in identifying specific food preparations and setting up a personal plan. At actual meal times, however, it is pretty much up to the individual to make proper eating decisions and follow them. Thus it might be even more helpful if an online nutritionist can provide real-time hand-holding and meal-modification advice.
(Inputs by Anand Subra, Chief Knowledge Officer, PurpleTeal Inc.)
Read more articles on Healthy Diet