Plant Based Diet Reduces Risk of Hypothyroidism

About 4.6% of the U.S. population age 12 and older has hypothyroidism. (1)  (That is roughly 12.5 million people! (6))

While a part of the increase in this number is due to the ever-changing diagnostic parameters (some labs and doctors interpret certain TSH numbers as low thyroid, while others will consider the same levels “normal” and won’t attempt a treatment until TSH gets closer to 10), this alone, however, does not hugely affect increasing rates of thyroid disease.

What is Hypothyroidism?

If you do not know what hypothyroidism is, it is a condition when thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone to meet the body’s needs. Thyroid hormones regulates metabolism—the way the body uses energy—and affects nearly every organ in the body. Without enough thyroid hormone, many of the body’s functions slow down. (2)

Hypothyroidism symptoms

Hypothyroidism symptoms are many and varied, but most common include:

  • infertility
  • amenorrhea
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • weight gain
  • thinning hair
  • cold sensitivity
  • join problems and muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
  • fatigue (feeling tired and weak)
  • impaired memory (feeling foggy)
  • brittle  nails
  • depression
  • dry skin

Unfortunately at one point I experienced all of these.

Whom does it effect and why?

Women are much more likely to develop hypothyroidism than men–one of the causes is abnormally high estrogen levels, which interfere with the proper function of many organs and glands, including the thyroid; another, in my opinion, is the fact that many women use birth control medications, which lead to hormone imbalances.

But there is even a bigger cause of this problem. The biggest culprit in thyroid problems, including hypothyroidism, is our diet!

If you have been following my story, this does not come as a shock to you, since I was able to fully reverse hypothyroidism with all of its nasty symptoms by changing to a (vegan) plant based diet.  For the longest time I felt like the lone voice crying in the wilderness that reversing hypothyroidism with diet is possible.  While I have heard from some Vegalicious readers, and those going through Body by Plants, that they were able to do achieve similar success, if they were diligent about their food intake, on a large scale I have not read anything in print or even found anything online to add to my message of hope. Thankfully, that is no longer the case!

hypothyroidism-diet

Plant Based Diet and Hypothyroidism

A recent study, which included 97,000 subjects, showed that a vegan (plant based) diet protects  against hypothyroidism. (3)

Diets eliminating animal products have rarely been associated with hypothyroidism but may protect against autoimmune disease.

The study showed that those eating a plant based diet were less likely to develop hypothyroidism than those eating an omnivorous diet, and that people eating a vegan (plant based) diet were better off than those eating a vegetarian diet. In fact, lacto-ovo diet was associated with increased risk of hypothyroidism. 

The same study also showed that being overweight or obese increased the risk of hypothyroidism.

Persons with obesity are prone to develop autoimmune hypothyroidism. 

This study points out that vegans have lower levels of inflammatory markers, and that plant based diets are useful in treating autoimmune diseases, which is great news for those who have autoimmune thyroid diseases, such as Hashimoto’s. (4, 5)

I found one of the pieces of this study quiet fascinating, since there is so much controversy about iodine supplementation. The study showed that,

  1. Subjects with hypothyroidism… (were) more likely to use salt.
  2. Increased salt use was associated with increased hypothyroidism; and
  3. Vegan diets which may be expected to lack iodine due to complete exclusion of animal products tended to be protective.

I was also delighted to see that those conducting this study were bright to see that soy and cruciferous vegetables do not show a significant causative effect on hypothyroidism–exactly what I have been talking about lately!

Conclusion

All factors of this study are well connected:

  1. the diet that causes people to be overweight/obese will lead to higher estrogen levels;
  2. being overweight/obese increases estrogen levels in women (increased estrogen levels interfere with the proper function of many organs and glands, including the thyroid);
  3. eating a (vegan) plant based diet (low in fat) results in lower body weight, lower estrogen levels, and improved thyroid function;
  4. enjoying organic soy products and cruciferous vegetables does not increase incidences of hypothyroidism;
  5. reducing iodized salt intake, and salt in general, leads to improved thyroid gland function;
  6. (vegan) plant based diet can be protective, AND can help to improve thyroid function in those who have already been diagnosed with thyroid disease;
  7. plant based diet is the best hypothyroidism diet

Suffer with Hypothyroidism? Here is what you should do!

  1. Use (vegan) plant based diet as a treatment tool as soon as you are diagnosed with thyroid problems. The sooner you begin to practice an optimal, low-fat, plant based diet, the more likely you are to never have to get on medication.  (Practicing a vegan diet before such problems develop will help you to prevent them,–the sooner you start, the better you are off.)
  2. If you are on medication, the sooner you adopt a plant based diet, the more likely you are to completely heal, reverse hypothyroidism and come off medication.
  3. Even those who have been on thyroid medicine for a long time can still largely benefit from a low fat plant based diet–thyroid function can be improved, as overall health improves, and thyroid medication might be reduced.
  4. Lose weight–weight loss will help to decrease estrogen levels. Fortunately a low-fat plant based diet will make weight loss and added bonus to improving your health.
  5. Exercise–exercise will help you to lose weight and also flush extra estrogen from your body.

Not sure where to start?

Let’s get you going by watching a free training on thyroid and hormone health.

 

References

1) Golden SH, Robinson KA, Saldanha I, Anton B, Ladenson PW. Prevalence and incidence of endocrine and metabolic disorders in the United States: a comprehensive review. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2009;94(6):1853–1878.

2) Definition taken from National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service (NEMDIS)

3) Tonstad S, Nathan E, Oda K, Fraser G. “Vegan diets and hypothyroidism.” Nutrients 2013;5:4642-4652

4) Paalani, M.; Lee, J.W.; Haddad, E.; Tonstad, S. Determinants of inflammatory markers in a Bi-ethnic population. Ethn. Dis. 2011, 21, 142–149.

5) Kjeldsen-Kragh, J.; Haugen, M.; Borchgrevink, C.F.; Laerum, E.; Eek, M.; Mowinkel, P.; Hovi, K.; Førre, O. Controlled trial of fasting and one-year vegetarian diet in rheumatoid arthritis. Lancet 1991, 338, 899–902

6) http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk

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  • sio

    Hi there
    i have been on a gluten free, salt free, sugar free, alcohol free, caffine free, pescatarian, non processed food diet for 5 weeks now. I stopped taking my armour thryoid medication 3 weeks ago and was just tested (i started to experience symptoms of low thyroid again over the last week). my TSH was 75! i was told to go back on my medication asap. i wonder if you have any advise about how long it takes to get to a place where you can start to lower medication intake?

    • Sio, it all depends on your personal health history. I would need to see your history, diet, etc., to make proper comments and recommendations. You can schedule a consultation with me. OR even attend a live webinar which will take place this Thursday. Here is the link for it: http://www.elena.easywebinar.com/event-registration-2/

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  • Kerry

    Elena, do you think removing all grains, in addition to gluten, is necessary for Hashimoto’s reversal? I’m VERY confused by the proponents of the autoimmune paleo diet who say they didn’t start to experience remission of symptoms until they reintroduced animal products into their diets.

    • Kerry, not all grains, just gluten containing grains. The confusion comes at this point: paleo will have people exclude most grains, which would include gluten grains, so, when that happens, the person will feel better in the beginning. In the long run, however, things will get worse with such a diet. So, it is not introduction of animal products, but rather exclusion of gluten grains and processed junk that will have some experience initial relief from autoimmune disease symptoms.

      Hope this helps to clear it up.

      • carissa

        I’m curious, why would u charge to help some1 with info for their thyroid condition?!!? Can’t u just be kind enough 2 share ur diet wen u had thyroid problem “s instead of making money of people?,!!,…Isn’t the goal is to ” Help” people…

        • Certainly help doesn’t mean free. Doctors help people but you wouldn’t fathom to ask them to do it for free. I paid thousands of dollars to get helped, because I understand that anything worth having is worth paying for. And, just like other professionals, I work hard to earn my living.

          Can you imagine how proposterous it would be for me to come to your place of employment and ask that you gave me things for free because I “need help.” Would that be considered theft if you did something like that?

  • Eloise

    Hi Elena,
    so Im planning to set up an appointment with my primary care doctor to discuss the endless symptoms I ve been having that point to hypothyroidism. I have just about every symptom that you listed above. I wanted to be informed and prepared for my doctors appointment and wanted to know if there’s any specific test that i should ask for, or any questions that I should ask my doctors to be well informed regarding my thyroid health.
    thanks!

    • Eloise, ask for the thyroid panel–TSH, T3, T4, etc. S/he should know what that is.

  • Kylie

    Hi Elena,
    Just wondering – do you also avoid gluten which is advised with Hashimoto’s? Great site by the way – always very informative.
    Kylie

    • Kylie, thanks! No, in my case I do not have to, while you are correct, those who have Hashimoto’s should. Hashimoto’s is much like the Celiac disease, although expresses itself differently. If you avoid gluten and adopt low-fat, plant based diet you can either dramatically improve your condition, or even reverse it, if caught early.