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Vegan, with a thyroid condition?


Are you a vegan with a thyroid condition? Want to keep your symptoms at bay?

Read below to find out how the food you eat impacts your autoimmune condition.

What does the thyroid do?

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland found in the neck, below the Adam’s apple. Its main function is to create thyroid hormones, T4, and T3. To convert calories into energy the body releases these hormones.  Each cell in the human body has receptors for thyroid hormones.

Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone.  Symptoms of hypothyroidism are sensitivity to the cold, weight gain, constipation, muscle cramps, and aches and slow movements (NHS, 2017).

How plant-based diets affect the body

There is increasing awareness that a plant-based diet decreases morbidity and mortality within a range of chronic diseases. Veganism does not include the consumption of animal meat or dairy products.

Vegan and vegetarian diets may cause those who have thyroid include exacerbated blood sugars.    Animal products are a rich iodine food source. Non-meat protein sources such as legumes, dairy, grains, soy, and nuts may prevent the gut from healing, especially leaky gut. These foods are found to be reactive and can perpetuate the intestinal permeability.

Many studies indicate those who follow a vegan diet are more likely to develop hypothyroidism, as well as nutritional deficiencies iron the main one. Iron is essential for thyroid hormone production as it converts T4 to T3. Beef, chicken liver, and shellfish are all excellent sources of heme iron, a form of iron that is easily absorbed by the body. On the other hand, iron-rich plant foods, e.g.spinach, contain the non-heme form of iron, which is less readily absorbed and utilized by the body. Many vegans find it hard to absorb the required amount of iron from plant foods, putting them at greater risk for thyroid disease. A study looked at the effect of low iron in young women and found participants with lower iron levels had higher amounts of T3/T4 suggesting an impairment in thyroid metabolism.

Can too many vegetables be a bad thing?

Cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and bok choy may affect thyroid of getting enough iodine. The presence of thiocyanates in this food group can affect iodine consumption. Eating too much of these vegetables could be a problem for people with too little iodine and selenium in their diet.  A lack of both of these minerals can increase the risk of hypothyroidism.

If you have hypothyroidism or family history, you can minimise the risk of developing this condition by:

  1. Mixing up your choice of vegetables so you aren’t eating a lot of the same vegetables every day,
  2. Cooking your vegetables and chewing them thoroughly which helps to break down some of the active substances.
  3. Lightly steaming these vegetables can deactivate the thiocyanates.

Most of us are at minimal risk of vegetable induced hypothyroidism.  A study concluded there was no adverse effect on thyroid function from consuming cooked Brussel Sprouts every day for four weeks.

Some experts claim eating these cruciferous vegetables could be beneficial. If you have autoimmune hypothyroidism,  thiocyanates may slow the absorption of iodine. This is particularly important for those who eat a Western diet of fast food, processed products, or are heavy-handed with the salt shaker. However, the isoflavones in soy-based products (e.g.tofu, soy protein, tempeh, and edamame) inhibit thyroid peroxidase (TPO), an enzyme involved in the production of thyroid hormones. Tests for autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s measure levels of TPO. 

Should I just stop eating cruciferous vegetables?

Eliminating whole food groups or specific food groups (soy, gluten, or cruciferous vegetables) is not the answer to thyroid health. There is insufficient evidence to suggest ‘fad-diets’ are beneficial for overactive or underactive thyroids. Those with thyroid-related should eat a well-rounded, balanced diet and avoid any unnecessary dietary restrictions. Nonetheless, it is crucial that you are not having too much iodine as well as not being deficient. For those with dietary restrictions, such as vegans, we recommend 150 mcg of iodine.

What will help my thyroid?

In effect, there is no specific diet or single vitamin/mineral supplement that will eliminate or ‘cure’ thyroid conditions. If you would like more guidance on the right diet to meet your individual needs, consider working with a registered Nutritionist or Functional Medicine Practitioner. We can guide you with the right foods to maintain your condition and keep symptoms at a minimal. 

If you want to discuss your recent dietary changes, take advantage of our 15-minute sessions with a Nutritionist or Functional Medicine Practitioner.

This article was written by our team of specialist therapists at Perfect Balance Clinic. If you would like more specific advice about how our team can help you with this condition or symptoms you may be having, please complete the contact form below and one of the team will get back to you shortly.

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