The immune system plays an essential role in our overall wellness and influences virtually every system in the body. As such, immune disorders, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, have the potential of causing widespread bodily dysfunction. Conventional treatment of Hashimoto’s typically relies on medications and hormone replacement therapies. However, research suggests that making improvement to your diet can significantly improve Hashimoto’s while also supporting overall wellness.
What is Hashimoto’s?
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or simply Hashimoto’s, is an autoimmune thyroid condition that causes the body’s own defenses to assault thyroid tissue. When functioning properly, the immune system identifies threats and produces the appropriate antibodies and protective agents to eliminate them. In the case of Hashimoto’s, the immune system misidentifies proteins in the thyroid gland as dangerous or invasive and releases thyroid antibodies that attack healthy thyroid tissue. Damage incurred during the assault impedes thyroid function resulting in irreversible hypothyroidism. This can cause a wide range of chronic symptoms including fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, weakness, and mood irregularities – get the full list of thyroid disease symptoms here.
Even though Hashimoto’s ultimately causes a decline in thyroid activity patient’s may also experience inconsistent hastening of thyroid function. As thyroid antibodies attack the thyroid, hormones escape from the destroyed tissue and enter the bloodstream. This causes a temporary spike in circulating thyroid levels resulting in symptoms similar to hyperthyroidism. Because patients with Hashimoto’s alternate between states of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, diagnosis and symptom management can be exceptionally difficult.
Treating Hashimoto’s Through Diet
One of the leading causes of autoimmune dysfunction, including Hashimoto’s, is an overworked immune system. Food sensitivities and allergies, nutrient deficiencies, and increased consumption of inflammatory foodstuffs all contribute to immune fatigue and the occurrence of Hashimoto’s. In fact, some experts argue that nearly all cases of Hashimoto’s involve some degree of food sensitivity that contributes to their condition. Fortunately, it may be possible to regulate factors of Hashimoto’s by adopting an appropriate diet.
The IgG component of our immune system regulates the body’s response to food sensitivities. In contrast to IgE immune responses, think allergic reactions to shellfish or nuts, an IgG reaction can take up to several days to develop and typically produce less severe symptoms such as itchiness, headaches, difficulty sleeping, etc. The Hashimoto’s immune response, responsible for thyroid damage, is also governed by IgG immunity. Because of this relationship, researchers believe that avoiding foods and substances that trigger an IgG reaction may help heal Hashimoto’s. To do this effectively, one must adopt an immune-conscious thyroid diet.
What is a Thyroid Diet?
The primary goal of a thyroid diet is to eliminate foods that elicit an autoimmune response while providing proper nutrition. Because Hashimoto’s is a highly individualized condition and everyone has their own food sensitivities, a thyroid diet must be designed to suit each patient’s individual needs. However, there are general guidelines that can be used to construct an effective thyroid diet.
When starting a thyroid diet, it is best to completely eliminate common autoimmune triggers such as gluten, dairy, grains, soy, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Most patients with Hashimoto’s experience a notable improvement of their symptoms after they remove these substances from their diet. Some people benefit greatly from eliminating unhealthy fats (such as those found in processed foods), and severely reducing their intake of carbohydrates.
Ultimately, the foods removed from your diet depends on individual sensitivities. You can discover what foods and substances are disruptive by taking an allergy test or simply listening to your body and identifying foods that trigger a negative response.
What Foods to Include in a Thyroid Diet
In addition to identifying and removing autoimmune triggers, a thyroid diet should include a healthy supply of nutrient-dense thyroid supporting foods. Below are some of the best foods for healing Hashimoto’s.
Bone broth is widely regarded as a gut-healing and nutrient-dense super food. This is because it contains collagen, proline, glycine, and glutamine, all of which support digestive restoration and healthy immune function. Because the gut houses most of the immune system, supporting its function can dramatically improve immune activity.
Animal proteins such as beef and poultry contain all nine essential amino acids, which are used in immune function and the building of structures throughout the body. Animal proteins also contain selenium, zinc, iron, and tyrosine all of which are needed for the construction, transport, and conversion of thyroid hormones. Salmon and other freshwater seafood have the added benefit of containing Omega-3s, which help reduce inflammation associated with Hashimoto’s. Eating nutrient-dense animal proteins may also increase cell receptivity to thyroid hormones.
Bacterial imbalances in the gut are major contributors to immune malfunction. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir contain a high volume of healthy bacteria known as probiotics that restore the intestinal balance of microflora. Increasing probiotic intake can help normalize immunity, relieve constipation, improve digestion, and even limit anxiety.
(Those with SIBO or similar intestinal issues should speak with their doctor before increasing intake of fermented foods. Learn more about SIBO and its connection to thyroid dysfunction here.)
Various berries including blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries contain phytonutrients with powerful antioxidant properties. Therefore, eating berries can help limit the oxidative stress and inflammation that can trigger an autoimmune flare up. Berries are also high in fiber meaning they do not increase blood sugar as aggressively as other fruits, which further reduces the risk of immune fatigue and malfunction.
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and other veggies in this family improve detoxification of the liver, which is a common concern for those with Hashimoto’s. Many of these vegetables also contain a high volume of B vitamins, which supports thyroid function and the immune system.
Helping Hashimoto’s Through Diet
Hashimoto’s is an incredibly impactful condition that requires patient-specific care. Fortunately, it is possible to improve treatment of Hashimoto’s by adopting an immune-supporting thyroid diet. The central elements of a thyroid diet include identifying and eliminating problem substances and replacing them with nutrient dense foods. Doing so can dramatically improve immune activity and thyroid function. Keep in mind that every case of Hashimoto’s is different, and each patient will have their own allergies and sensitivities. Support the healing of Hashimoto’s by following a thyroid diet that is optimized to suit your individual needs.
1. Izabella Wentz, PharmD, FASCP. “How to Use Food Pharmacology to Heal Hashimoto’s.” Hypothyroid Mom.
2. Izabella Wentz, PharmD, FASCP. “The Best Diet For Hashimoto’s.” Thyroid Pharmacist.
3. Amy Myers, MD. “7 Foods You Should Be Eating if You Have Hashimoto’s.” Amy Myers, MD.