The number of people detected with thyroid disorders is on the rise. This of course could be a result of increased testing and recognition of the condition but there certainly seems to be more to it.
Mostly auto-immune in nature with underlying genetic predisposition, thyroid disorders may have something to do with the way we eat and live. Some of the common causes could be heavy metal exposure, poor gut health, chronic stress and food intolerance.
Food traditionally implicated to impact thyroid function, also called goitrogens, include soy, turnips, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts rutabaga (Swedish turnip), kale (form of cabbage) and kohlrabi (German turnip or knol ko
hl). Goitrogens are known to suppress the function of thyroid gland by interfering with iodine uptake, which can, as a result, cause an enlargement of the thyroid, known as goiter. In other words, goitrogens inhibit thyroid hormone synthesis. However, the goitrogenic effect of these food is destroyed on cooking. Also, their effect is relevant if goitrogenic food are taken in large amount as staple food.
Several studies done on goitrogenic food have demonstrated insignificant effects on metabolism. However, a recent study (2010) reported that catechins (flavonoids) in green tea extracts were goitrogenic and had an anti-thyroid effect when consumed in high doses. Dietary sources of iodine include sea water, iodised salt, seaweed and shellfish. Breast milk contains iodine to provide for infants’ requirements and lactating women require extra iodide in their diet.
A relatively newer association is seen between auto-immune thyroid disorders (both Hashimoto’s and Graves’) and food intolerance. This happens when the body reacts to certain food negatively, which can then cause an abnormal immune response. This response can lead to a cascade of events, including inflammation, difficulty in absorbing nutrients, fatigue, mood disturbances, hormonal imbalance and even auto-immune disorders. Food intolerance can disturb thyroid function and is often related to auto-immune thyroid disorders. Several scientific studies confirm an increased prevalence of auto-immune thyroid disorders in celiac population.
A recent scientific study published in the Journal of Paediatrics in 2009, conducted on about 325 children, reported that auto-immune thyroiditis was strongly associated with celiac disease. It is suggested that individuals with auto-immune thyroid disorders be screened for gluten intolerance and those with gluten intolerance to be screened for auto-immune thyroid disorders. Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, rye and oats.
A study published in 2001 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology reported that following a gluten-free diet helped in the improvement and recovery of auto-immune thyroid disease in some cases.
Minimising exposure to heavy metals, taking care of digestion and managing stress through yoga and meditation can all be useful in managing thyroid health. A word of caution – treatment or diet should not be modified without consultation with your physician.
Author is a clinical nutritionist and founder of http://www.theweightmonitor.com and Whole Foods India