If you have an underactive thyroid gland, what you eat may affect your thyroid disease, including the absorption of your thyroid medication. Here we explore how veganism may or may not impact hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Disease.
Veganism, sometimes called “strict vegetarianism,” is popular as of late. A vegan diet abstains from all animal meat and dairy products, and is heavily plant based, adding more whole fruits and vegetables to the diet.
Research suggests that a vegan diet has a variety of health benefits including weight loss, improved kidney function, 11-19% lower risk of cancer, and a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.
While there’s no conclusive evidence that a vegan diet will definitely prevent or treat hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s, eating a healthy vegan diet will likely benefit your health in general. Research does find veganism to be a useful tool to protect against autoimmune disease.
If you try a vegan diet, keep a close eye on your iodine intake! Iodine is a vital nutrient in the body and essential for thyroid hormone production. Since animal products tend to be rich in iodine, vegans can be at greater risk of developing iodine deficiency.
An additional concern is that soy products, which often serve as an easy protein replacement for meat, may adversely affect thyroid function by interfering with the absorption of synthetic thyroid hormone medications. Hypothyroid patients do not necessarily need to avoid soy products - in fact, they have many health benefits, including potential anti-inflammatory effects - but it’s worthwhile to make sure your intake of iodine remains adequate.
Hashimoto’s Disease is an autoimmune disorder in which a person’s antibodies attack their thyroid and cause inflammation, and it is the number one cause of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s can become more severe over time, so taking action at the first sign of symptoms is beneficial and can possibly slow the progression of the disease.
While diet and nutrition are an important aspect of any treatment plan for Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism, it can be argued that vegan (or vegetarian) diets are not be the best choice for those who are trying to heal from Hashimoto’s, specifically. This carbohydrate-heavy diet can exacerbate blood sugar issues, can prevent the healing of intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”), and can contribute to nutrient deficiencies that may trigger Hashimoto’s.
Hashimoto’s relationship with iodine, specifically, can be confusing and somewhat contentious. Research suggests that too much iodine may actually be a trigger for Hashimoto’s disease.
With this knowledge, whether or not you adopt a vegan diet, you should aim for 150-400 micrograms (mcg) of iodine per day from a combination of foods, fortified foods, and supplements. Supplements containing up to 150 mcg of iodine are found to be tolerated by people with Hashimoto’s without increasing thyroid antibodies, though you should have a lab test to confirm your iodine levels.
The data available about the health benefits of a vegan diet are inconclusive. We recommend you focus on foods that make you feel your best, instead of strictly sticking to one diet or another simply for the sake of it.
Incorporating more nutrient-rich plant-based foods into your diet certainly won’t hurt.
If you’re inclined to try this diet, you want to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Avoid sugary and ultra-processed foods. (Oreos are vegan, but an all-Oreo diet probably won’t do you any favors!) Continue to use appropriate levels of iodized table salt, and consult your doctor if you believe your iodine levels are low.
Research suggests increasing the amount of omega 3s you consume through nuts, flaxseed, or supplementation, and eating an anti-inflammatory diet that is high in vegetables and whole grains and low in ultra-processed foods.
Your health plan should include diet and nutrition in addition to medication. Stay on any medications you are currently prescribed.
Paloma Health offers personalized dietary guidance and health coaching. Whether you need help jump starting weight loss, wading through the sea of diet options, or just need a bit of encouragement, they are available to guide you to success.
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