Read on to learn what hyperthyroidism is, the symptoms you may experience and nutrients to help support the optimal functioning of the thyroid. A dysfunctional thyroid gland may not cause noticeable symptoms in the early stage. Overtime, an untreated thyroid issue, can affect the all body and cause more health problems. A healthy thyroid = a healthy body and mind, so looking after your thyroid is key.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when thyroid hormones, specifically T3 and T4, are overproduced by the thyroid gland. Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism in every cell of the body. As a result, hyperthyroidism affects all bodily functions.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland found in the neck responsible for releasing two hormones known as free thyroxine (T4) and free triiodothyronine (T3).
The function of the thyroid gland is to take iodine within our food and convert it into our key thyroid hormones. Thyroid cells are the only cells in the body which can absorb iodine. These cells combine iodine and the amino acid tyrosine to make T3 and T4. Those two hormones are then released into the bloodstream where they are transported throughout the body to control metabolism (a process in which oxygen and calories are converted into energy).
The thyroid gland is under the control of the pituitary gland, a small gland the size of a peanut at the base of the brain. When the level of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) drop too low, the pituitary gland produces thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH) to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more hormones. Under the influence of TSH, the thyroid will manufacture and secrete T3 and T4.
T3 and T4 act much like the accelerator on your car. They determine how fast or slow your body’s metabolism runs.
The autoimmune disorder Grave’s disease compromises 85% of all cases of hyperthyroidism. Named after Dr Robert J. Graves, it is characterised by hyperthyroidism due to circulating autoantibodies.
Thyrotropin receptor antibodies (TRAbs) bind to and activate thyrotropin receptors, causing the thyroid gland to grow, and triggering thyroid follicles to increase synthesis of thyroid hormones. It is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease of the thyroid resulting in excessive production of thyroxine.
Common signs and symptoms of an overactive thyroid include:
– Nervousness, anxiety and irritability – A rapid or irregular heartbeat- Hypertension- Hand tremors and shakiness- Heat intolerance, excessive sweating and dehydration- Appetite and weight changes- Nausea and vomiting- Increase in blood sugar levels- Insomnia and night sweats- Fatigue, muscle weakness and spontaneous paralysis- Fertility issues and menstrual irregularities- Increased frequency of bowel movements- Thinning or grey hair and peeling nails- Shortness of breath, hyperventilation or difficulty breathing- Goitre, swollen neck and nodule formation
Risk factors for hyperthyroidism
1. Excessive iodine consumption
Consuming too much iodine can lead to a condition called iodine-induced hyperthyroidism. This usually occurs when people take iodine supplements to improve their thyroid function.
Physical stress has been known to trigger a thyroid condition called a ‘thyroid storm’, also known as thyrotoxic storm and hyperthyroid storm. A thyroid storm is usually triggered by a physically stressful event, such as an infection, heart attack, childbirth, diabetes or even thyroid treatments like surgery and radioactive iodine therapy.Stress can also be a factor for autoimmunity and has been recognised as a precipitating factor in the development of Grave’s disease.
Several autoimmune thyroid disease susceptibility genes have been identified, with some specific to either Grave’s disease or Hashimoto’s disease. Genetic factors contribute to approximately 20-30% of overall disease susceptibility.
Nutrients and dietary support for hyperthyroidism
This mineral is vital for thyroid production as it helps to protect the thyroid from damage caused by oxidative stress. The thyroid gland contains high amounts of selenium. A deficiency can therefore often result in thyroid dysfunction.
Foods rich in selenium include:
– Brazil nuts
– Whole grains, such as oats and brown rice
Tyrosine is an amino acid with an affinity for the thyroid gland and is also a precursor of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Deficiency of tyrosine is seen regularly in the plasma of those with hypethyroidism.
Dietary sources of tyrosine include:
– Soy products
– Dairy products, including cheese
Much like vitamin D, zinc is important in maintaining a balanced immune system and may play a role in T cell differentiation. Zinc is also required for thyroid hormone production. An optimal concentration of zinc is needed for healthy levels of T3, T4 and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
Dietary sources of zinc are:
– Grass-fed meat
– Shellfish such as oysters, crab, mussel and shrimp
– Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and beans
– Seeds such as pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds
4. Vitamin A
Vitamin A deficiency has been identified as one of the factors contributing to iodine deficiency. Increasing vitamin A intake been shown to consequently improve iodine status and therefore thyroid function.
Vitamin A rich foods include:
– Beef liver
– Cod liver oil
– Sweet potato
– Broccoli- Kale
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps to modulate the expression of immune cells, while maintaining a balanced immune response and decreasing the development of pro-inflammatory markers. Vitamin D also reduces autoimmune antibodies and decreases the body’s inflammatory response. While our body synthesises vitamin D from the sun, it can also obtain it from certain dietary sources. Surprisingly, vitamin D deficiency is still the most common nutrient deficiency in the world.
Vitamin D rich food include:
– Cod liver oil
– Egg yolk
– Beef liver
Because weight loss and low energy are common experiences of those with hyperthyroidism and Grave’s disease, eating plenty of protein can help to maintain muscle mass. Protein is an essential nutrient, helping you maintain your correct weight, build muscle and provide energy.
Sources of protein include:
– Nuts and seeds
– Fresh water fish and seafood
7. Cruciferous Vegetable
Besides being part of a healthy and balanced diet, some cruciferous vegetables contain compounds that decrease thyroid hormone production and may reduce iodine uptake by the thyroid. Both of those effects may be beneficial for a person with hyperthyroidism.
Sources of cruciferous vegetable are:
– Brussel sprouts
– Bok choy
Nutrients to Avoid
Caffeine can worsen some symptoms of hyperthyroidism, include palpitations, tremors, anxiety, and insomnia. Avoid coffee and black tea completely or reduce it to one regular cup per day.
2. Iodine rich food
Too much iodine can make hyperthyroidism worse by stimulating the thyroid gland to overproduce thyroid hormones. A person with hyperthyroidism should avoid eating excessive amounts of iodine rich foods, such as:
– Iodised salt
– Fish and shellfish
– Seaweed or kelp
– Dairy products
– Iodine supplements
– Egg yolk
– Blackstrap molasses
How can a Naturopath help with Hyperthyroidism?
Optimal thyroid function requires a specific combination of nutrients. Getting the balance right using the correct therapeutic dose of the vitamins and minerals the body is lacking, can make all the difference.
Due to the complex hyperstimulation system of a patient with hyperthyroidism, a comprehensive holistic treatment carefully curated by a Naturopath is necessary to re-establish the natural balance of the body.
A Naturopathic approach to hyperthyroidism and Grave’s disease may include:
– Decreasing the number of thyroid hormones flooding the body and triggering symptoms – Reducing symptoms by supporting the organ system most affected, often being the cardiovascular and nervous system- Supporting immune function and reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the thyroid gland to restore the integrity of the thyroid tissues
Serena Di Modugno, Adv Dip Nat, Adv Dip WHM, Currently studying BHSc Nutritional Medicine
Serena is a qualified naturopath with a focus on MTHFR, allergies, and anxiety
Learn more about Serena Here
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