Diet to support hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Two words that are often confused are hyper and hypo. The prefix hyper means excessive or overactive. The prefix hypo means deficient or underactive. When we discuss thyroid conditions, hyper-thyroidism and hypo-thyroidism are at the opposite end of the scale.
This diet is about hyperthyroidism support – for the overactive thyroid.
The causes of hyperthyroidism include Graves’ disease (auto-immune hyperthyroidism), toxic nodules, excessive intake of iodine and certain medications.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include anxiety, tremors, rapid heartbeat, sleep difficulties, weight loss, bulging eyes, scant or irregular periods and/or enlargement of the thyroid gland.
Diet alone will not treat hyperthyroidism, so it is important to see your doctor for any necessary treatment. However, if you have hyperthyroidism, it is essential to avoid certain foods and worthwhile for you to eat specific foods.
A diet for hyperthyroidism is a great adjunct for your thyroid medication and treatment. For those who are told they have an over-active thyroid but don’t need pharmaceutical treatment at this stage, then this diet is super important to help prevent your condition from getting worse.
Check with your health care practitioner to see what underlying imbalances are causing your overactive thyroid.
Foods to avoid if you have hyperthyroidism are:
- Iodine rich foods such as kelp, seaweeds and iodised salt, as iodine reduces TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone)
- caffeine, sugar, dairy, grains (especially gluten grains and all sources of gluten)
- red meat
- any foods that you are allergic or intolerant to
- hydrogenated vegetable oils and alcohol
These foods and drinks can aggravate your thyroid in many ways.
A note on Iodine: there are some cases where iodine may be needed so it’s best to consult with a health practitioner and have a urinary iodine loading test done to detect any deficiency or excess of iodine.
The brassica family of vegetables, especially raw or only lightly cooked, help to reduce thyroid hormones by inhibiting the uptake of iodine which is great for an overactive thyroid (but not so good for an underactive thyroid).
These include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, turnips, watercress, radish, cress, kohlrabi, millet, mustard, mustard greens, peanuts and soy. Note: peanuts and soy are potentially allergenic and not good for people with an auto-immune disease such as Grave’s disease.
Other beneficial foods include sweet potatoes, peaches, mint, borage, basil, oregano, marjoram, pears, almonds, spinach and rosemary.
Lemon balm herb (Mellisa Officinalis) made as a tea is a great support for an over active thyroid as it calms raciness and overactivity. Your health practitioner can also provide you with some herbs and supplemental nutrient support to help stabilise your thyroid.
A diet for an overactive thyroid is one that uses foods to help calm your overactivity. The diet also includes foods that are anti-inflammatory and support gut health, because an overactive thyroid is commonly due to excessive inflammation and gut issues.
It has been said that the basis of all auto-immune conditions is inflammation in the gut, so please speak to your health practitioner about this in case you need extra support.
Gluten, dairy and sugar are removed from a hyperthyroid diet as they can induce inflammation in the gut and are drivers towards auto-immunity. As mentioned before, the brassica family vegetables are indeed useful for an overactive thyroid. Lemon balm tea daily can also help.
The idea is to eliminate foods considered detrimental and include foods that support your body to enable it to do its natural job of healing.
Important: Before you commence a new diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
Note: During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Client name and identifying information changed
Iris came to me many years ago, already on medication for her overactive thyroid but the drugs didn’t appear to make enough difference. She had also been diagnosed with Grave’s disease, an auto-immune thyroid condition. The doctors treating her recommended removing her thyroid if her body did not settle down by the next visit.
She came to me to see how to get things settled so she could hopefully avoid surgery. Apart from the risks involved in surgery she didn’t want to be on thyroid medication for life. But more importantly, she understood there must be something that was causing the imbalance and wanted to address it.
For many previous years, Iris had digestive problems. She was always getting constipated and bloated and reacted to many foods that she couldn’t isolate by herself. She would occasionally get a ‘tummy bug’ that would be treated with antibiotics. Iris also tried probiotics but these made her more bloated, as did fermented foods.
Then suddenly she started to get anxiety attacks, sleeplessness and lost weight rapidly, which she loved at first, but then it was too much and she also thought she was going a bit crazy in the head. All her prior focus and concern about her gut dissipated because she now had a new problem – her thyroid was out of control.
The tests I organised showed high inflammation, dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance in her gut), parasites and intolerance (IgG) reactions to gluten, dairy, soy, corn, chocolate and pistachio nuts. Her zinc and iron levels were very low and magnesium, selenium, B6 and B12 were sub-optimal (below a healthy range).
Iris had been eating different types of foods but mostly carbs as she feared losing more weight. Her anxiety made her feel like drinking lots of alcohol to try to calm down.
Essentially, her diet was not helping her condition and was no doubt making it worse.
While we waited for her test results to come back, I started Iris on a gluten, dairy, sugar and alcohol-free diet to see if her inflammation would settle down. When she came back for the results after a couple of weeks she was already feeling much better.
With the food intolerances now confirmed, I advised her to also remove the extra foods on her list from her diet, and continue to avoid gluten, dairy, sugar and alcohol. We started a gut healing protocol to get rid of parasites and change her ‘bad’ gut bacteria balance over to the ‘good guys’. A combination of supplements and the diet changes made a huge difference.
Part of the healing protocol was to use bone broths to restore the gut and help to further settle the inflammation. Iris was also instructed to eat foods rich in the nutrients she was deficient in, such as zinc, magnesium, selenium and vitamin B. These vitamins and minerals are crucial for a healthy functioning thyroid, along with vitamin D. (Iris’s vitamin D levels were fine as she loved getting out in the sun for her daily walk).
After only three weeks into the protocol, Iris was due to see her doctor and her blood tests showed no antibodies and her thyroid levels appeared normal. She was still on medication at this stage and after another six weeks on the hyperthyroid diet and avoiding foods she was intolerant to, she was starting to feel quite tired.
I asked her to return to her doctor even though she wasn’t due for another month. Her blood tests then showed underactivity of her thyroid, which was probably due to her medication that was not needed anymore. The doctor took her off her meds and kept a close check on her, re-testing every three weeks over a few months. Her levels have remained stable ever since.
Re-testing her gut also showed that all was good there and she no longer had any digestive issues. Her energy was good, with no more anxiety, she was sleeping well and back to feeling normal again.