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The Thyroid Gland and Your Diet

Mohan is a family physician and a postgraduate associate dean working in the UK. He has a keen interest in self-regulated learning.



By far the commonest cause of Hypothyroidism across the world is Iodine deficiency. Though less common in civilized world due to the use of iodised salt, there still are a large number of people with underactive thyroid who have problems stemming from their diet.

There are a variety of foods available that can help or hinder the Thyroid Gland. In this hub we will look at those food items that can help the Thyroid gland to function better. We will also look at dietary items that could worsen thyroid function.

Thyroid problems can often be sub-clinical and don't get diagnosed until late. This is because many of the symptoms are non specific and easy to ignore. We often attribute tiredness, sleep disturbance, weight gain, stress, feeling cold to age and lack of fitness. It is always worth keeping in mind that excess or persistence of these symptoms can also be due to Thyroid problems. A simple blood test is all it takes to diagnose problems in Thyroid activity.


Causes of Hypothyroidism

Congenital: agenesis ( malformed or unformed gland)

Iodine Deficiency : Dietary

Drugs ( Lithium, Amiodarone, Interferon)

Thyroid Gland inflammation ( Pregnancy, Autoimmune)


Infiltration from a Tumor

Post Radiation

Surgery for Growths

Pituitary problems: TSH deficiency

The Pituitary Gland produces a Thyroid Stimulating hormone in response to how much active Thyroxine in running in our blood. This in turn switches the thyroid gland on and off to produce appropriate amounts of Thyroxine. Dietary Iodine is essential.

The Pituitary Gland produces a Thyroid Stimulating hormone in response to how much active Thyroxine in running in our blood. This in turn switches the thyroid gland on and off to produce appropriate amounts of Thyroxine. Dietary Iodine is essential.

If on Thyroid hormone replacement therapy, a 6-12 monthly Thyroid function Test is essential to monitor and maintain. Some patients may need lifelong thyroxine replacement.

What is the Thyroid?

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Ever since we began in the primordial ooze as single celled organisms, life on earth has spent a long time in the sea before slowly crawling into land. Our evolutionary origins in the sea means that our bodies and our cells still have a very strong connection with elements that have a strong presence in the sea : salt and iodine.

Our metabolism is the way we process our energy, grow and the way our body responds to various endocrine hormones and processes.The master controller of our metabolism is the butterfly shaped Thyroid gland that resides in our neck in front and just below of our voice box.

The Thyroid Hormone is essential to control our metabolic processes. When the gland works well there is a constant stream of this hormone circulating in our blood. The demands of the body are met by a steady production especially in times of growth spurts, stress, child birth and overactivity. Dietary iodine is essential to make the hormone and as long as we are eating a balanced diet rich in this ingredient, the gland works well, and we have no problems.

If for the reasons mentioned in the side box, the Hormone production slows and reduces, we are in trouble. The reduction may be slight or severe. This is what we call as Hypothyroidism.

Occasionally the Gland can overproduce the thyroid hormone and this can have an opposite effect on our metabolism. This condition is called Hyperthyroidism ( If you say them quick both conditions sound the same, so it is important to remember them as under and overactivity!)


The symptoms of under and over activity are listed above and can overlap with clinical depression. However, there are also symptoms unique to the problems and will give you clues as to which one it is likely to be.

Underactive Thyroid ( Hypo)Shared problemsOveractive Thyroid (Hyper)




Cold Intolerance


Heat Intolerance

Weight Gain

Weight change

Weight Loss

Slow Heart Beat



Dry, Coarse skin

Thryroid Swelling (Goiter)




Muscle Weakness





Mood Disorders


Heavy Periods

Period Problems

Loss of Periods

Escessive Sleepiness

Sleep problems


Coarse Hair

Skin and tissue changes

Thin Skin

Hoarse Voice


Muscle Weakness

Brittle Nails


High Cholesterol

Lipid problems

Low cholesterol


Bowel Problems


Foods that may cause Hypothyroidism









Peanuts ( Raw)

Soybean and Soy products


Strawberries and Peach ( in excess)

It is important to realise that these foods also contain many helpful nutrients and are by no means dangerous to normal individuals. Also many of these food items need to be eaten in very large quantities (and eaten raw) to cause problems.

Foods That Can Cause Thyroid Problems

There are a handful of foods that may cause or aggravate thyroid underactivity. This could be problem for people with already low thyroid function and those who have genetic predisposition to Thyroid problems.

It is important to realise that these foods also contain many helpful nutrients and are by no means dangerous to normal individuals. Also many of these food items need to be eaten in very large quantities and often eaten raw in order cause problems. Well cooked items may lose many of their thyroid disturbing property.

Soymilk and Soy substitutes do represent a problem for many women who may use them as natural substitutes during the menopausal stages. Though they do help in hot flushes, their anti-thyroid property can reduce hormone production during the crucial menopausal age when thyroid activity does decrease.

Women are more vulnerable to Hypothryoidism during puberty, pregnancy and menopause.


Foods That Help Thyroid function

Very high Iodine

Sea Vegetables: Kelp, Arame, Kombu

Sea Salt


Moderate Iodine

Seafood: Fish, Mussels, Shrimp

Organic Yogurt

Milk & Cheese

Navy Beans



Rich in Tyrosine



Sesame Seeds



Dairy products

Foods Rich in Iodine and help Thyroid Gland

There are many dietary items that contain varying levels of Iodine and help production of Thyroxine. The main source of dietary iodine is of course sea or table salt. The salt in most civilized countries is now iodized during production. However as we increasingly go for a salt free diet, there is a danger we may lose the Iodine supplementation as well.

Foods that contain the amino acid tyrosine are also vital as this combines with the dietary iodine in helping the Thyroxine hormone production.

The main sources of Iodine rich food are Dairy products such as cheese and Yogurt, Sea vegetables, Sea Food, Certain Fruit, Ground vegetables such as Potato, Cranberries and Strawberries and Sea Salt.

Just as taking anti-thyroid diet can reduce thyroid activity, overindulging in iodine ( taking supplements, Herbal remedies) can cause an imbalance also. Moderation in the key here.

Sea Vegetables such as Kelp, Kombu,  Arame, Wakame and Nori are high in Iodine and Vitamins and often overlooked in Western cuisine.

Sea Vegetables such as Kelp, Kombu, Arame, Wakame and Nori are high in Iodine and Vitamins and often overlooked in Western cuisine.

Top Dietary Tips to Help your Thyroid

  • A Balanced normal Diet should contain enough Iodine for our daily requirement
  • Sea Food has high Iodine content. Seaweed such as Kelp should be used but not overindulged
  • Sea Salt is always a good source of Iodine
  • Foods that affect Thyroid function such Broccoli etc do so more in raw state. Well cooked and they are not harmful. They also contain many important vitamins so no need to eliminate them completely
  • Soy substitutes such as Tofu can really reduce thyroid function and need to be used with caution
  • Always check before randomly buying herbal Iodine supplements They may be harmful if used without medical advice
  • If properly diagnosed as underactive thyroid you do need treatment with thyroid hormone. This is prescribed according to your needs. Diet alone will not help.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2012 Mohan Kumar


Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 04, 2016:

Very useful and informative article and it is very well presented!

I found some of your points about foods to eat/ or to eat with caution very helpful.

Thyroid has become a very common problem and your hub will definitely help many who are affected.

Thanks for sharing!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on October 04, 2016:

thank you Rajan. Appreciate it. Hope it is of some help.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on October 04, 2016:

Very informational article Docmo. I sent it to my daughter who has hypothyroidism. Sharing this as well.

Beautiful Garbage from Louisiana on August 28, 2014:

Thanks! I have hyperthyroidism. and graves disease. I had looked up the dif foods I could eat to help slow it down. This is all good and true. Thanks for writing and sharing this information. I have like all the symptoms except goiter for the hyperthyroidism. its crazy how much one little thing in the body can affect.

Steve Mitchell from Cambridgeshire on May 01, 2013:

Docmo, I was diagnosed with under active thyroid about 6 years ago. That little pill, thyroxine is a wonder pill. It have me my energy and get up and go back. Interesting facts about foods. Thanks for this.

Rfordin from Florida on October 21, 2012:

I've always thought I had a thyroid issues because I suffer from many of the symptoms you lsited but my blood work always comes back low normal to normal. I think it's important to mention that blood work may not always be the best test for diagnosis. I think a combination of symtpoms as well as blood workd should be considered before ruling out a thyroid disorder. This is great info..... I wish my Dr. listened to me more rather than lying soley on my blood test results. Thanks for sharing!!


jenbeach21 from Orlando, FL on August 30, 2012:

So useful Docmo. I was diagnosed with Grave's Disease a few years ago but was lucky enough to put it in remission with medication. Since then, I have really tried eating a more balanced diet so I won't have to go through that again. The list is very helpful.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on June 20, 2012:

Glad you found this hub informative, suzette, thanks for the feedback. I so agree with you on the ability of a Doctor to LISTEN to the patient ( I mean active listening not just nodding their head and blanking out) is so important in clinical medicine. I don't think it is a gender issues but more a training and attitudinal issue. I teach post grad doctors and drum it into them to listen to the patient's narrative first and take it seriously as their stories are rich with clues to the diagnosis! I am glad you found a doctor now who listens to you! Many female Doctors have these skills built in due to the female curiosity and empathy- its the maternal instinct you see. The males are still in hunter-gatherer mode!

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on June 19, 2012:

Thank you for a most illuminating article packed with useful information for me. I have had a thyroid problem all my life. I went from hyperthyroid to hypothyroid in a matter of months . The dietary info is so helpful for me. I actually had to tell my doctor to humor me and test my thyroid. When the test came back hypo he was stunned. I have since switched doctors. You cannot imagine how difficult some male doctors can be. I now have all women doctors and I have ever felt better. Your article is so helpful. Thank you! (By male doctors I mean American male doctors)

lmlynde from Nevada on May 30, 2012:

Wow....great information! Thanks Docmo! I have read on many websites like WebMD that says the same information you told me:

"There have been some people who may have developed liver problems after using black cohosh, the specifics of which are still being investigated. Nonetheless, people with pre-existing liver problems, or those taking any other medication/substance that affects the liver, should either avoid black cohosh or check in with their health care provider prior to use."

I just hope that down the road that is not true because it sure helps my hormonal activities....or maybe I just think they do?

I really appreciate you sharing your great knowledge with myself and others!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 29, 2012:

You are welcome. The reason I said is that black cohosh has been reported in some circles to adversely affect the liver, while milk thistle has beneficial properties on the liver. However, research evidence of both claims need to be validated further so you will probably be fine by using both at the same time.

The main problem with herbal meds is not the herb itself (as it often has long history of anecdotal usage) but the modern contamination when turned into extracts or capsules and uneven validation by FDA on the actual compound. As you know herbal substitutes escape validation as they fall under supplements which do not need the same rigorous trials as standard meds by FDA. Best wishes.

lmlynde from Nevada on May 29, 2012:

Docmo, Thanks for your reply on the soy substitutes. As for the black cohosh, I take it since it really helps my PMS and menopause symptoms to go away! As for the Milk Thistle, this herb is known for it's rebuilding and cleansing of the liver caused by the Depakote damaging properties. I remember my Dr saying the same thing as you which is to wait for the next blood test thyroid level reading before taking any actions. Thanks again!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 28, 2012:

lmlyde, I am afraid it is all soy substitutes that have the effect on thyroid if they form a major part of the diet, including tofu. 4.7 still falls at an acceptable range. repeating the test in 3-4 months and noticing the trend will help. If it creeps up then you may need to consult the Doc to see if you need replacement. The liver is a very robust organ and you nee d to double check if you really need the black cohosh and milk thistle to counter depakote. Sometimes the more we add to the body the more the liver has to handle!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 28, 2012:

Jools99 glad this gave some answers you were looking for. Hope everything goes well with your daughter as prompt diagnosis and early treatment sorts the problem out. It is worth noting sometimes treating overactive thyroid means we may have to knock the thyroid way down and initiate replacement as it makes patients hypo eventually. It is easier to manage underactivity safely.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 28, 2012:

Anjili -thank you. As I say in the hub, those foods only affect the thyroid if eaten excessively and mostly in uncooked format. Thanks for the visit!

lmlynde from Nevada on May 28, 2012:

Hi Docmo, I find that I have to read good articles like this one many times to get all of the great information. I just had a quick questions about Soy Milk . It's not a soy substitute like Tofu...right? I enjoy the Vanilla flavored Soy Milk, and I wanted to make a double check on that since my last blood test had a 4.720 thyroid level reading when the normal region is 0.300 - 3.700. The herbs I take daily with my vitamins and omega fish oil are ginger, black cohosh, and milk thistle for my liver since I have to take Depakote for my grand mal seizures. After doing the research on this drug, I found out it is very hard on the liver. So...that's enough for now! Thanks again for your great educational article!

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on May 28, 2012:

Docmo, very interesting hub and just the job as I've just discovered my daughter has an overactive thyroid so we're searching the web in search of answers - found some here, thanks!

Voted up, etc.

Anjili from planet earth, a humanoid on May 25, 2012:

I’ll now ensure my family eats less of cabbages, kales and spinach in favour of Bananas, Avocado, Sesame Seeds, almonds, oats, potatoes, fish, yoghurt and dairy products to ward off thyroid problems. I’ve book-marked the hub for future consultations. A very informative hub you got here. Voted up and useful

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 25, 2012:

@ Bedbugs, Debby and tillsontitan- thank you all very much for your visit and comments.Much appreciated.

Mary Craig from New York on May 25, 2012:

I am among the hyperthyroid crowd and found this very interesting and informational. You did a great job hear and I'm sure it will be helpful to many! Voted up and useful.

Debby Bruck on May 19, 2012:

Fantastic collection of facts and helpful information for the millions with under and overactive thyroid gland today. With so many potential causes for dysfunction, we must study this page well. Blessings to you Doc

Melody Collins from United States on May 08, 2012:

My mom has hypothyroidism and it is no laughing matter. If you can do anything to prevent it yo should! I knew a woman who started to get migraines and it turns out it was because she had cut salt out of her diet due to her husbands heart attack. Of course when she cut the salt out she cut the iodine out too. Luckily, she figured it out before there was permanent damage.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 08, 2012:

Thank you, girtalksshop, for your visit and comments. I am glad this was useful.

girltalksshop on May 08, 2012:

Very helpful hub! : ) Found it to be useful and interesting. I love strawberries and tolerate cranberries. (such as in the drink form). Good advice and knowlegde you have shared here!

lmlynde from Nevada on May 07, 2012:

Thanks again Docmo for your information and responses! Hopefully I will not acquire any more ailments. I did find out what Monocytes were in the blood family since my reading was 14.1 with a normal range of 1-9. Monocytes are WHITE blood cells that increases during a variety of conditions including severe infections. It removes debris and microorganisms by the process in which a cell, such as a white blood cell, ingests microorganisms, other cells, and foreign particles. article really helped me to learn many things! Thanks! Lori

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 07, 2012:

@Derdriu, thank you for your visit and comments. I do appreciate your feedback very much.

Derdriu on May 07, 2012:

Docmo, What a helpful, informative, user-friendly discussion of the life and times of the thyroid gland! In particular, you do a really great job of defining terms -- "hyper-" versus "hypo-" -- and comparing/contrasting how the over-/under-active thyroid condition manifests itself. Also, it's most welcome how you identify food items which can or cannot be problematic.

Voted up + all (except funny).

Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing, Derdriu

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 06, 2012:

@Vinaya- what a coincidence. I hope your uncle is better now he has a diagnosis. People do tend to feel much better once treatment is initialized. Thank you for your visit and comments.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 06, 2012:

@lmlynde. Thank you for your visit. Your TSH levels are not unduly high as you say, the reference range is 0.5 to 4.5 although 0.5 to 5.0 is acceptable. When I find my patients have a TSH at the higher end, I do repeat them periodically ( perhaps once a year) to notice the trend. IF the TSH creeps up it is an early sign of hypothyroidism.

lmlynde from Nevada on May 06, 2012:

Thank you for your super informational article about the Thyroid and it's functions and disfunctions in our bodies. I just turned 50, and my blood test TSH was 4.720 ulU/mL when the normal range is 0.300 - 3.700 ulU/mL. I have to do extensive blood tests because of my post-traumatic epilepsy, raynaud's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis conditions. I got lucky and have a very intelligent doctor who is very knowledgeable in many areas, and he said we will keep an eye on this since it is not in the alarmingly high range. Thank you for your wonderfully written informative article about the thyroid's activities and functions in our bodies.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 06, 2012:

@Angelme- thank you very much for your visit and comments.

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on May 06, 2012:

Coincidentally, today my uncle was diagnosed with thyroid problems.

I found your hub very useful.

TotalHealth from Hermosa Beach, CA on May 05, 2012:

Well written and good use of diagrams and photos to help illustrate. Thanks.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on May 05, 2012:

Another great article Docmo. I have two sisters with hypothyriodism. I am fortunate not to have the problem. Thank you for a very informative share...

Angelme566 on May 05, 2012:

A very very comprehensive article . This supplies all we need to know about Hyperthyroidism ,

A well worked hub , worthy to be read and to be shared .

Useful , Voted Up !

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 05, 2012:

@Genna - you always make my day with your generous, appreciative comments. Women tend to get passing 'hypothyroidism' in times of great metabolic need- Puberty and teens could be one of them as is pregnancy and menopause. Sometimes this does revert back to normal once the stage is passed. Appreciate your visit and comments.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 05, 2012:

@Shimmering - I've had patients like that where the tests don't reveal until late. We call this 'subclincial hypothyroidism' and a subtle replacement regime will help the symptoms . Thanks for sharing and your comments.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 05, 2012:

@drbj- I am sure you know a lot more than you give yourself credit, fellow polymath ;-) I ma glad to have given some new info here. Thanks again for your visit and comments.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 05, 2012:

@ Becky- Sorry to hear about your Grave's Disease- it is much more dangerous to have hyperthyroidism as it is hard ot control unless we knock off the thyroid gland. Replacing the knocked out Thyroid is easier and safer for the body. However, we miss those gentle nuances of self regulation where the thyroid gland automatically increases or decreases the hormones according to our needs. Taking a fixed dose means we may feel great one day and not so the other. Perhaps future treatments will bring in an element of self regulation as we 're doing with insulin pumps. Really appreciate your visit and comments.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 05, 2012:

@Denise - I am privileged to have such good fellow hubbers like yourself who read and give me feedback.I always value all your comments. Soy milk came in as a substitute for lactose intolerance but does carry some contraindications itself. Really appreciate your visit!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 05, 2012:

@ssiddhanta- thanks for your visit and support.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 05, 2012:

@Shelly McRae- thanks to your question as it made me write this hub. Glad it was useful. Appreciate your comments.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on May 04, 2012:

Beautifully written, and expertly crafted, Doc. Your hubs are always among my favorites. I had hypothyroidism when I was a teenager, and had to take supplements. I eventually “grew out it,” or at least that is how my physician explained it to me. Up, interesting, and useful.

Dawn on May 04, 2012:

Interesting and useful. I have had all the symptoms for years, but the tests did not reveal that I have hypothyroidism. After much consideration (actually for a couple of years) my physician put me on thyroid medication and I am much better. Thanks for sharing. Have a blessed day.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on May 04, 2012:

I thought I already knew quite a bit about the thyroid gland and hypothyroidism, but reading your hub, Docmo, I realized how little I really knew. Thank you for bringing me up to speed with this interesting, informative hub, graphics and useful tips. Voted up.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on May 04, 2012:

I have Graves disease, which generally starts with hyperthyroid. They killed my thyroid because it is much more dangerous to have hyper than hypo. I now have no thyroid and I take a pill every day to replace the necessary hormone. It is a pain and I still have symptoms of hypothyroid. Much better than the hyper though. That was a nightmare. I have my levels checked yearly so that they can adjust the dosage, if needed.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on May 04, 2012:

I always find your hubs so useful and interesting, Docmo, and this one is no exception. It especially interests me on a personal level. I do take a substitute and have experienced the sx's you've mentioned here. I used to drink soy milk until someone brought the contraindication to my attention. I'm surprised at how many products list soy as one of the ingredients, though! I'ce learned to read the package ingredients very carefully.

Your presentation, and especially the detailed chart, was clear and helpful. Thanks for sharing another great hub of information. Rated up.

ssiddhanta on May 04, 2012:

Great information. Thanks for sharing us. :)

Shelly McRae from Phoenix, Arizona on May 04, 2012:

Excellent hub. The information is well presented and comprehensible. Thanks for sharing this.

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