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What is a Hypothyroidism Diet?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hypothyroidism is an endocrine disorder that develops when the thyroid gland cannot produce enough thyroid hormone. This disease affects between 5 percent and 15 percent of the global population. While there is no medical hypothyroidism diet that can cure a thyroid gland disorder, careful attention to diet can alleviate some of the symptoms. In addition, because iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism, including iodine-rich foods in a hypothyroidism diet can be useful.

The main consequence of hypothyroidism is reduced metabolism. This manifests in many different ways, causing a wide variety of symptoms. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, low energy, weight gain, appetite loss, dry skin, hair loss, muscle or joint pain, depression, forgetfulness, reduced ability to concentrate, constipation, blurred vision and intolerance to cold.

Globally, the main cause of hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency. This cause is most prevalent in developing countries; in the Western world, it is more common for hypothyroidism to be caused by thyroid disease that reduces thyroid hormone production. In both instances, dietary modifications can be useful to alleviate symptoms or reverse the disease altogether.

In someone with hypothyroidism caused by iodine deficiency, an iodine-rich hypothyroidism diet can entirely reverse the disease, providing that no lasting damage has been done to the body. Iodine-rich foods include fish, shellfish, eggs, yogurt, cheese, sea salt and iodized salt. It also is best to avoid eating large amounts of so-called goitrogenic foods. These are foods that suppress thyroid function, and they include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, soy products, turnips, radishes and rutabagas.

When hypothyroidism is caused by thyroid disease rather than iodine deficiency, a hypothyroidism diet cannot provide a cure. People with thyroid disease generally must take a synthetic thyroid hormone supplement each day. Even so, dietary modification can be useful to help alleviate symptoms of hypothyroidism, particularly while medication is taking effect.

For someone who already has sufficient iodine in his or her diet, increasing this amount will not improve thyroid activity, but avoiding goitrogenic foods is often useful. Reducing salt in the diet can help reduce water retention and improve gastrointestinal bloating. People with constipation problems might consider adjusting the amount of fiber in their diet if it is low. Eating several small meals throughout the day, rather than three larger meals, can help with digestion and sometimes improve metabolism slightly. In addition, both cardiovascular exercise and strength training can help improve metabolism and reduce weight gain effects.

Anyone who plans to begin a hypothyroidism diet or start exercising should consult a doctor before doing so. This is important to ensure that the diet and exercise are healthy and will not cause hypothyroidism complications or other side effects. Working with a dietitian or nutritionist also can be useful, because a diet that restricts the intake of some foods has the potential to be nutritionally deficient, and professional nutrition advice can prevent this.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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