Hyperthyroidism happens when there’s too much thyroid hormone in your body. This condition is also called thyrotoxicosis. An overactive or enlarged thyroid gland may produce more thyroid hormone.
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your neck. It produces thyroid hormones called T3 and T4. These hormones:
help your body use energy
help balance body temperature
help your brain, heart, and other organs function properly
Some types of hyperthyroidism may be genetic. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the United States. It’s seven to eight times more common in women than men. In some cases, thyroid cancers may also cause an overactive thyroid.
Hyperthyroidism can be easily confused with other health problems. Its range of symptoms includes:
sudden weight loss
anxiety, irritability and nervousness
fast heartbeat or pounding heart
fatigue or tiredness
hand tremor or slight shaking
more frequent or other changes in bowel movements
fine, brittle hair
enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
swelling at base of your neck
red, thick skin on upper feet and shins
Standard treatment for hyperthyroidism
Treatment is necessary if you have hyperthyroidism. High levels of thyroid hormones in your body can be toxic. Left untreated, hyperthyroidism may lead to heart problems, bone loss, fracture risk, and other issues.
Your doctor may prescribe antithyroid medications. These drugs help to balance an overactive thyroid gland. In some cases, treatment may include radiation therapy or thyroid surgery.
Certain foods can help keep your thyroid healthy and reduce some of the negative effects of this condition. Some minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients are necessary to balance thyroid function.
A low-iodine diet is usually prescribed prior to some treatments for hyperthyroidism. For example, you’ll need to follow a low-iodine diet before having radiation therapy to remove excess or damaged thyroid cells.
After treatment, it’s still important to balance iodine in your diet. Other foods help to protect your thyroid and reduce the long-term effects of hyperthyroidism.
Foods to eat if you have hyperthyroidism
The mineral iodine plays a key role in making thyroid hormones. A low-iodine diet helps to reduce thyroid hormones. Add these foods to your daily diet:
coffee or tea (without milk or dairy- or soy-based creamers)
fresh or canned fruit
unsalted nuts and nut butters
homemade bread or breads made without salt, dairy, and eggs
popcorn with non-iodized salt
Cruciferous vegetables and other types may stop your thyroid from using iodine properly. They may be beneficial for hyperthyroidism:
Vitamins and minerals
Several nutrients are essential for thyroid health and to balance thyroid hormone production.
Iron is important for many vital bodily functions, including thyroid health. This mineral is needed for blood cells to carry oxygen to every cell in your body. Low levels of iron are linked to hyperthyroidism. Get plenty of iron in your diet with foods such as:
green leafy vegetables
poultry, such as chicken and turkey
Selenium-rich foods may help to balance thyroid hormone levels and protect your thyroid from disease. Selenium helps to prevent cell damage and keep your thyroid and other tissues healthy.
Good food sources of selenium include:
meat, such as beef and lamb
poultry, such as chicken and turkey
Zinc helps you use food for energy. This mineral also keeps your immune system and thyroid healthy. Food sources of zinc include:
Calcium and vitamin D
Hyperthyroidism causes weak and brittle bones. Bone mass may be restored with treatment. Vitamin D and calcium are necessary for building healthy bones.
Calcium-rich foods include:
calcium-fortified orange juice
Vitamin D is found in these low-iodine foods:
vitamin D–fortified orange juice
vitamin D–fortified cereals
Fats that are from whole foods and largely unprocessed may help reduce inflammation. This helps to protect thyroid health and balance thyroid hormones. Nondairy fats are important in a low-iodine diet. These include:
unsalted nuts and seeds
Some spices and herbs have anti-inflammatory properties to help protect and balance thyroid function. Add flavor and a dose of antioxidants to your daily meals with:
Foods to avoid if you have hyperthyroidism
Eating too many iodine-rich or iodine-fortified foods may lead to hyperthyroidism or worsen it in some cases.
A teaspoon of iodized salt gives you 284 micrograms of iodine. Seafood has the most iodine. Just 1 gram of seaweed contains 2 milligrams of iodine. The recommend dose of iodine is about 1.1 milligrams per day. A low-iodine diet requires even less.
Avoid the following seafood and seafood additives:
Avoid other foods high in iodine such as:
milk and dairy
some food colorings
Some medications also contain iodine. These include:
medical contrast dyes
herbal or vitamin supplements
Chemicals called nitrates may cause your thyroid to absorb too much iodine. This can lead to an enlarged thyroid and hyperthyroidism.
Nitrates are found naturally in some foods. Processed foods may contain added nitrates. It may also be found in drinking water. Avoid or limit foods such as:
processed meats (sausage, bacon, salami, pepperoni)
In some people, gluten may harm the thyroid by causing inflammation. Even if you don’t have a gluten allergy or intolerance, it may be beneficial to restrict or limit gluten. Check food labels for gluten-containing ingredients such as:
While soy doesn’t contain iodine, it’s been shown to interfere with some treatments for hyperthyroidism in animals. Avoid or limit foods with soy such as:
Hyperthyroidism may not always be preventable, but it’s treatable. See your doctor if you have any of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Follow your treatment exactly as prescribed, including all dietary recommendations.
Talk with your doctor or dietitian about making short-term and long-term changes to your diet. This can help balance thyroid function and protect your body from the effects of hyperthyroidism.
Enjoy home-cooked whole foods on a low-iodine diet. Avoid restaurant, boxed or processed meals, and prepared sauces and marinades. These may contain added iodine.
If you’re on a low-iodine diet, it can be more difficult to get enough vitamin D and calcium. Talk with your doctor or dietitian about taking supplements for these nutrients.
Seek support from a thyroid support group. Most dietary restrictions will be temporary. Other dietary changes are part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle for better overall health and wellness.
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