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When we find any unusual lump or bump on our organs, it raises a considerable alarm. Yet, almost 50 percent of people with thyroid diseases like Hashimoto's disease or hypothyroidism have thyroid nodules. Fortunately, the majority of cases are benign. And the good news is, with the proper treatment and, surprisingly, the right diet, you can help shrink many of these benign nodules. Ahead, the basics of thyroid nodules and some tips on the best foods to shrink thyroid nodules.
Thyroid nodules are lumps that develop within your thyroid, and they can be either solid or fluid-filled. Most thyroid nodules are benign, meaning they do not cause any symptoms and are not problematic. Only about 5% of thyroid nodules are cancerous. However, because there is that risk that a nodule may be cancerous, any lump should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.
Most thyroid nodules don't cause symptoms, but in some instances, symptoms of thyroid nodules may include difficulty swallowing or breathing or the feeling of fullness, pain, or pressure in the throat or neck. Some people may experience rapid unintended weight loss, feelings of nervousness, or an irregular heartbeat.
Most people will not even know they have a thyroid nodule until their doctor feels their thyroid. To examine your thyroid, your doctor will place their finger gently on the nape of your neck and rub them over where the thyroid is located. It is usually in this examination that we discover nodules. However, some people may find them on their own as well. Sometimes, nodules become so large they can be seen or even press on the airway or esophagus, making it difficult to breathe or swallow.
Additionally, some nodules may produce thyroxine (T4), the thyroid hormone that helps control your metabolism. Thus, some people may experience hyperthyroidism because they have too much thyroxine in their system.
When it comes to cancerous nodules, again, they are rare. But, they are often slow-growing, and it is difficult to diagnose without testing to confirm or rule out cancer. Although rare, aggressive nodules can grow quickly and are firm and fixed to the thyroid.
There are several reasons why a person may develop a thyroid nodule:
- Normal tissue overgrowth - For reasons unknown, you can experience non-cancerous tissue overgrowth in specific organs (called a thyroid adenoma). Usually, it only becomes problematic if it bothers you because it is large or noticeable or compresses surrounding tissues.
- Chronic inflammation of the thyroid - Nodules can appear in people with Hashimoto's, an autoimmune condition that causes chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland.
- Thyroid cyst - Cysts are fluid-filled cavities that often show up after a thyroid adenoma begins to break down. These are usually non-cancerous.
- Goiter - Any enlargement in the thyroid gland is referred to as a goiter and may be due to a thyroid disorder or iodine deficiency. Sometimes, people develop a multi-nodal goiter with multiple distinct nodules, and the cause remains unclear.
- Iodine deficiency - Iodine deficiency is now rare in most developed countries because of iodized salt. Still, some people who do not get enough iodine through their diet can develop nodules.
- Thyroid cancer - Nodules that are large and hard or painful are a more worrisome sign of thyroid cancer.
Because there is always a risk of cancer when a lump presents on the thyroid, your doctor should order a series of diagnostic tests to rule out thyroid cancer. Indeed, if there is a positive family history of thyroid cancer or you have a history of radiation exposure, it may increase your risk.
Your doctor should perform several diagnostic tests to rule out cancer in any nodules that show up on your thyroid:
- Physical exam - your doctor palpates your thyroid to feel for any abnormal growths or lumps
- Thyroid function blood tests - measures your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Thyroid antibodies are also valuable for diagnosing autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto's disease that can cause inflammation.
- Ultrasound - shows what the thyroid looks like and can help identify if lumps are cyst, solid, and if multiple nodules are present.
- Fine-needle biopsy - withdraws cells from the nodule to be tested for cancer.
- Thyroid scan - another method of evaluating nodules using radioactive iodine and a special camera to see if a nodule produces excess thyroid hormone (which means it is usually non-cancerous).
The appropriate medical treatment for nodules depends on the type of thyroid nodule you have. Sometimes, the answer is simply to observe it. However, as most nodules are benign and many are due to chronic inflammation from diseases like Hashimoto's, most people will benefit from dietary measures to reduce inflammation. And certainly, if you have hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) caused by Hashimoto's, thyroid medication is usually indicated to help your body maintain adequate levels of thyroxine as well.
There are several approaches to shrinking thyroid nodules with your diet.
Test for nutrient deficiencies
Firstly, you will want to address any nutrient deficiencies by checking your iodine, selenium, and vitamin D levels. Ironically, too much iodine can be just as problematic in Hashimoto's as too little iodine, so you will want to find the right balance with that essential mineral. If you have any nutrient deficiencies, you will want to correct those with nutrient-dense foods and supplements.
Eliminate inflammatory foods
Next, you will want to eliminate any inflammatory foods from your diet. Foods that trigger inflammation can differ from person to person. Still, there are common dietary triggers that many people with Hashimoto's experience, including:
- High-fat dairy
- Processed and packaged foods
Many people with Hashimoto's can benefit from the Paleo or autoimmune protocol diets. The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet can be beneficial if you are trying to figure out what you can tolerate and what causes your symptoms to flare. In general, your thyroid nodules will likely not shrink if your diet contributes to inflammation of the thyroid gland.
Sometimes, it's easy to get caught up in what we shouldn't eat. However, a simple shift in mindset can have significant benefits for your thyroid health. Indeed, no diet or specific supplement can cure thyroid disease. However, a well-rounded diet rich in wholesome foods and involves plenty of vegetables and protein geared to improving your overall health and well-being is ideal.
Here are some of the best foods to shrink thyroid nodules and improve thyroid inflammation:
- Foods high in zinc and B vitamins like spinach, cashews, lamb, grass-fed beef, chicken, eggs, mushrooms, and asparagus
- Foods high in selenium like brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, cashews, spinach, halibut, salmon, and oats.
- Foods rich in vitamin D like egg yolks, mushrooms, and certain fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon.
Consider adding in supplements
Thirdly, some studies show that certain supplements may help shrink thyroid nodules. For example, taking spirulina-curcumin-Boswellia helped reduce the size of benign thyroid nodules. The study's authors concluded that it was likely a combination of this cyanobacterium's antioxidant effects and anti-inflammatory action that helped shrink nodules in the study participants. Similarly, ashwagandha may also improve thyroid function by decreasing inflammation.
A note from Paloma Health
Each of us is unique with individual needs. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating a thyroid condition, including thyroid nodules. Before adding any supplements or making significant changes to your diet, consult your thyroid doctor and a thyroid nutritionist. And remember, diet is not a cure-all for thyroid diseases. It is an essential component to managing your condition and improving your overall health and well-being.