On the Menu: Treat your thyroid to some home cooking
Many people discover they have thyroid problems after battling expanding waistlines for many years
Butternut squash with provencal vegetables. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Cauliflower soup. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland. It secretes two specific hormones: thyroxine (also called T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which help regulate how your cells and organs work.
The production of the thyroid hormones is controlled by another hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), produced by the pituitary gland in the brain.
Together, T3 and T4 regulate your body’s metabolism, everything from digesting food, breathing and repairing cells. They control how efficiently your body burns energy and have a direct impact on your weight.
Your thyroid function not only affects your waistline but also how much you sleep. It appears that chronically poor sleep patterns can disrupt other hormones like ghrelin and leptin which have adverse effects on your appetite and satiety. So you may end up nibbling between meals, but fail to feel satisfied, so you nibble some more.
Low levels of thyroid hormones or hypothyroidism can slow down the body and leave you feeling constantly tired, sensitive to the cold, and even depressed. You may notice other symptoms too, such as muscle cramps, dry skin and hair, and poor concentration levels.
A visit to your GP and a simple blood test for TSH, T3 and T4 can reveal an underlying problem. Clinical hypothyroidism is identified by an abnormally high level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and abnormally low levels of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4).
For many, the GP appointment is made after unsuccessful efforts have been made to manage an expanding waistline.
Despite people’s best efforts to increase their activity and restrict their calories, a sluggish metabolism and basal metabolic rate can persist without the appropriate medical treatment.
The good news is that treatment with synthetic thyroid hormone is usually safe and effective once you and your doctor find the right dose. Bear in mind that treatment doesn’t result in an immediate recovery. It may take months for symptoms to improve and even longer to feel better and lose weight.
While weight gain may be the most common complaint, hypothyroidism can also lead to a higher blood lipid profile, increased blood pressure, and elevated levels of homocysteine and inflammatory marker C-reactive protein. These risk factors collectively raise your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. So stick with it.
Diets that are both too low and too high in iodine are associated with hypothyroidism. Iodine is found in table salt and the guideline intake of 6g per day provides sufficient iodine.
Seaweeds like Dulse, which are naturally high in iodine, may be useful as a snack or in cooked dishes if you have hypothyroidism, but this is beneficial only for people who are deficient in iodine.
The thyroid gland contains more selenium by weight than any other organ. This trace element selenium is necessary for the activation of thyroid hormones. You may benefit from having your levels tested and including healthy selenium-rich foods into your diet, such as Brazil nuts and seafood.
Certain foods known as goitrogens (broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones and worsen symptoms. However, this is only a concern if you are iodine deficient, or if you eat vast amounts of these cruciferous vegetables.
Soya is another potential goitrogen. Isoflavones in soya can inhibit an enzyme involved in the production of thyroid hormones. The general advice is that raw goitrogenic and soya foods should be consumed in reasonable portion sizes, and not with thyroid medications.