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Which foods/herbs are especially beneficial for a person with hyperthyroidism?

First, it's important to point out that an overactive thyroid is not caused by nutritional deficiencies or excesses (with the somewhat rare and not always predictable exception of excessive iodine intake). So unlike other chronic health conditions, you cannot directly create an overactive thyroid by the way you eat. And also unlike other chronic health conditions, you cannot cure an overactive thyroid by the way you eat either.

Since thyroid hormones require the presence of iodine, some healthcare practitioners encourage consumption of goitrogenic foods that can interfere with our body's use of iodine as a means of lessening the impact of hyperthyroidism. Goitrogenic foods include cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts; dark green leafy vegetables like kale; and root vegetables like turnips and rutabagas. All of these foods contain thioglucosides that can interfere with iodine metabolism. Other foods like casava, sorghum, and millet contain cyanogenic glucosides which can also block iodine availability. Soybean is another food that is typically considered goitrogenic. Although goitrogenic foods may be able to partly offset the effects of an overactive thyroid, our view of the research is that they definitely cannot be relied on to bring complete improvement here.

Depending on the percent increase in your thyroid activity over what it used to be, you may need a greater quantity of nutrients to help offset your increased metabolic activity. As always, we would encourage you to stick with the basic principles of a natural, whole foods diet when trying to increase your supply of nutrients. You will also want to steer clear of diuretic beverages like coffee that can cause unwanted excretion of nutrients.

There's some evidence that an overactive thyroid can partly deplete the zinc in your body, including your red blood cells. In this case, it would be helpful for you to make sure that foods rich in zinc were part of your weekly meal plan. There's also evidence that another mineral - calcium - might have its metabolism altered in the case of an overactive thyroid, and you may want to be sure that calcium-rich foods were also plentiful in your meal plan.

The antioxidant vitamins C and E have been used in several studies to help offset the oxidative stress that can result from hyperthyroidism. But once again - and exactly like the focus on zinc and calcium in this condition - we're talking about trying to offset some of the problems caused by an overactive thyroid (rather than stopping the thyroid from remaining overactive). Coenzyme Q10 and carnitine are two oxidative stress-related nutrients that also seem to be useful in helping offset some of the symptoms caused by an overactive thyroid.

Vitamin A is a final nutrient that we would like to mention here, since this vitamin has been effectively used in some research studies. However, this vitamin A use has involved fairly large amounts that would not only require dietary supplements but would also require the advice of a licensed practitioner before proceeding.

There would certainly be nothing wrong in reviewing your weekly meal plan to make sure that zinc, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and E were plentiful in your diet. However, you may or may not find changes here reducing some of your hyperthyroid symptoms, and you should not expect your thyroid's overactivity to be reduced by these food changes.

Many botanical medicines have been used in treatment of an overactive thyroid. Some of these herbs are known to block the cell receptor sites that are used to latch on to thyroid hormones. For more information, you should consult with a licensed healthcare practitioner who has experience with botanical medicine.

References:

Adali M, Inal-Erden M, Akalin A, et al. Effects of Propylthiouracil, Propranolol, and Vitamin E on Lipid Peroxidation and Antioxidant Status in Hyperthyroid Patients. Clin Biochem. 1999;32(5): 363-7.

Benvenga S, Ruggeri RM, Russo A, et al.. Usefulness of L-carnitine, a naturally occurring peripheral antagonist of thyroid hormone action, in iatrogenic hyperthyroidism: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001;86(8):3579-94.

Bianchi G, et al. Oxidative stress and anti-oxidant metabolites in patients with hyperthyroidism: effect of treatment. Horm Metab Res. 1999;31(11):620-4.

Dirican M, Tas S. Effects of vitamin E and vitamin C supplementation on plasma lipid peroxidation and on oxidation of apolipoprotein B-containing lipoproteins in experimental hyperthyroidism. J Med Invest. 1999;46(1-2):29-33.

Seven A, Tasan E, Inci F, et al. Biochemical Evaluation of Oxidative Stress in Propylthiouracil Treated Hyperthyroid Patients. Effects of Vitamin C Supplementation. Clin Chem Lab Med. 1988;36(10): 67-70.

Videla LA, Sir T, Wolff C. Increased Lipid Peroxidation in Hyperthyroid Patients: Suppression by Propylthiouracil Treatment. Free Radic Res Commun. 1988;5(1): 1-10.