Diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis? How Your Diet Can Have an Impact
Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can feel overwhelming or even terrifying. Given this, it’s important to know the role that you can play as you embark on your journey back to health. You might be feeling confused about what this diagnosis even means, it’s implications on your current and future health, and if there is anything you can possibly do - in addition to standard treatment protocols - to halt or diminish the progression of this disorder. The good news is that there is, and it all has to do with the food on your plate.
What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Hypothyroidism?
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid gland (the small, butterfly-shaped organ at the base of your neck). The thyroid gland is the endocrine gland responsible for spreading important hormones throughout the body such as T3, T4, and calcitonin. These hormones control a variety of functions including, cognitive function, mood, digestion, energy metabolism, reproduction, bone metabolism, heart function, and muscle function. As such, you can probably imagine that a normal functioning thyroid gland is pretty important to one’s overall health. Hashimoto’s disease occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, creating thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO). Overtime, the continuous assault of these antibodies on the thyroid gland can cause hypothyroidism, a condition that is most often caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, resulting in the decreased production of thyroid hormones. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism that may include, but are not limited to: weight gain, hair loss, depression, menstrual irregularities, fatigue, brain fog, constipation, and even miscarriage.
The Importance of a Healthy Gut Microbiome
Research surrounding the gut microbiome and its effects on one’s overall health is relatively new, and there are still a lot of things we don’t understand. However, the research that does exist is quite compelling regarding the link between intestinal dysbiosis (the imbalance of bacteria in the gut) and the development of autoimmune disorders. Over the last 5-10 years, we’ve learned that the over 100 trillion bacteria in our gut perform countless functions that can benefit our bodies in remarkable ways. In particular, research has shown that the gut microbiome population has the ability to influence our risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, etc. as well as various auto-immune disorders that include but are not limited to: arthritis, celiac disease, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, allergies, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
What exactly is some of the science behind developing an autoimmune disorder like Hashimoto’s disease? The thought is that most healthy people (those without chronic disease) possess an ideal microbial panel. While many factors can affect the diversity of the bacteria that live in our gut, the most influential factor is our diets. A diet that consists of a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, fermented foods, healthy fats and protein, and resistant starches feeds the “good” bugs that make our microbiome diverse and allowing for optimum health. However, a diet that consists of refined grains, highly processed or hydrogenated oils, added sugars, trans fats, and artificial flavors feeds the “bad” bugs, causing them to flourish. This creates an imbalance of bacteria that leads to dysbiosis. The reason this all matters is because these “bad” bugs create toxins that break-down the intestinal wall and lead to a condition called leaky gut. A healthy gut microbiome does not allow for this, as the diversity creates competition within the gut ecosystem that keeps the “bad” bugs at bay. When leaky gut occurs, food antigens (certain proteins from our food) and bacteria from the gut can permeate the gut lining and enter the bloodstream. When this happens, inflammation occurs and the immune system goes into over-drive, destroying all foreign bodies that have emerged from the leaky gut. Over time, the immune system becomes de-sensitized due to this constant battle. As a result, the line between self and non-self becomes blurred and the immune system starts to attack its own tissue cells, causing an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
At this point, you may be feeling like this is a doomsday diagnosis. Not to worry, that isn’t the case. Let’s get to what you can control: your diet. Chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland is one of the main characteristics of Hashimoto’s disease. The ideal diet for somebody with Hashimoto’s disease is one that reduces the associated inflammation and targets the root of the problem by feeding the “good” bugs, thereby helping to restore the integrity of the gut lining.
The basis of an anti-inflammatory diet is the reduction of highly processed foods, refined grains, added sugar, trans fats, and oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (ex. vegetable oils) and the inclusion of high-fiber pre- and probiotic foods such as fruits and vegetables, fermented foods, whole grains, fatty fish, lean meats and plant proteins, and oils high in omega-3 fatty acids (ex. olive oil). Prebiotics are high-fiber foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) that feed the “good” bugs. Probiotics are foods containing bacteria cultures (mostly fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut) that add diversity to your gut microbiome. If you’re committed to making a change, the first thing you should consider doing is cutting out the deli meats, candy, potato chips, and soda. Instead, replace these go-to snacks with anti-inflammatory substitutes like fruit, kale chips, roasted nuts, and seltzer water. Enhance the anti-inflammatory properties of your meals by cooking with garlic, olive oil, herbs, and spices. Finally, make an effort to include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, etc.), leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, etc.) in your daily meals. Below is a short list of some anti-inflammatory foods to include and some inflammatory foods to avoid:
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring)
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula)
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries)
- Green tea
- Whole grains and resistant starches
- Dark chocolate
- Refined grains
- Red meat and deli meats
- Added sugars (desserts and fruit juices)
- Anything fried in or containing oils high in omega-6 (corn oil, safflower oil, vegetable oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil)
The most important thing to keep in mind throughout this process is to view this diagnosis as an inspiration to make a positive change in your diet and health rather than a reason to create anxiety or stress.
-Iman Albader, Nutrition and Wellness Practicum Student