If you have thyroid issues or suspect that you might have them, you are not alone. Because of my profession, as a naturopathic doctor, I am seeing so many people with thyroid issues. The health of the thyroid gland has implications on the health of the entire body as the thyroid gland supplies several hormones that help with proper digestion. Adequate digestion and assimilation support every function of the body. If you have digestive challenges, you may have a thyroid issue.
The pituitary gland works like a thermostat to tell the thyroid when to put out more or fewer hormones. Although hormones are often thought of in terms of sexual/reproductive function and support, they actually do so much more. Hormones are chemical messengers that send signals all over the body for various physiological functions such as helping with nerve function, pathways of digestion, brain function and respiration, just to name a few.
Specifically, the thyroid plays an important role in metabolism, especially in that of lipids (fats) and carbohydrates.1
High Thyroid (Hyperthyroid):
Hyperthyroid is a condition where the thyroid gland is producing too many hormones.
In terms of the digestion of carbohydrates and lipids, hyperthyroidism releases too many digestive hormones and, therefore, metabolism goes up. A higher metabolism means that calories are used up quickly. This is why people with hyperthyroid tend to be thinner and often feel hungry all the time.3 They can’t seem to eat enough to keep up with what they are able to burn.
Low Thyroid (Hypothyroid):
When a person is diagnosed with a hypothyroid condition, sometimes referred to as low thyroid, it means that their body isn’t producing the quantity of hormones needed to keep up with healthy functions. In this condition, digestion is reduced due to the low number of digestive hormones being secreted. For this reason, those with low thyroid are more likely to have high levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides.4 These people are also more likely to have a slower metabolism and therefore gain weight more easily. A properly functioning thyroid also promotes an increase in brown fat (high density mitochondrial rich fat that is health promoting as compared to white fat).2 Brown fat is associated with a higher metabolism when compared to white fat, which is helpful when a person needs to lose weight.
But where do these thyroid imbalances even come from in the first place? Most people aren’t born with them so understanding the root cause can give us some good help in regard to figuring out the best solutions.
Although there can be many causes, one of the primary reasons that people have thyroid issues (especially hypothyroidism) can often be related to a deficiency in iodine.5 In the standard American diet, iodine sources are pretty low. Some of the best sources are from sea vegetables (kelp, dulse, nori, arame, etc.). Since most people don’t eat these foods, it is most often necessary to supplement. I myself take and recommend to clients Xenostat, an iodine rich, kelp-based supplement. Of course once someone has a severe thyroid condition, there may be more needed than just adding in iodine… But adding iodine can play a role even in these conditions by keeping the person from getting more malignant forms of thyroid cancer.6
Many foods that are a regular part of the Standard American Diet (SAD) such as dairy, meat, processed foods and sugars are foods that I’d recommend people avoid anyway for many reasons, but mainly because although they may have iodine (which is often synthetic), they also have other components that are not health promoting at all (the SAD is associated with an increased risk for nearly all lifestyle diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.).
For those looking to “iodized sea salt” or white table salt to fill your iodine needs, think again. This iodine is not from a natural source and your body knows the difference. It is possible for a person, especially on the Standard American Diet, to be eating a ton of salt (especially in processed foods) but still deficient in iodine. It seems that many Americans get enough from the processed foods and dairy from the fortification to avoid goiters, but not necessarily for optimal thyroid health.7 This is a low standard for health. You and your family deserve better!
A vegan diet, as a form of health care, can be helpful for all aspects of health promotion. Specifically, a plant-based diet seems to show good results for helping support the health of the thyroid, specifically for hypothyroid conditions.8
Going back to its impact on digestion, there is more to digestion than the stomach, small intestine and colon. The thyroid plays an important role and must be well optimized as part of any holistically prudent healthcare program, especially if digestion is a concern.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the throat/thyroid area is energetically and emotionally associated with the idea of expression and saying what you need to say. If you regularly struggle to share your thoughts or feelings or if you have things that you need to say that you just don’t say for any reason (intimidated, shy, feel you won’t be heard, etc.), this can have an impact on the function of your thyroid gland. Ideally, say what you need to say! But if you simply can’t for whatever reason, pray it, journal it, talk to a friend or counselor about it. Whatever you do, don’t leave it trapped inside. That may be a new concept to you but I am telling you this can be a significant factor.
If you need help, especially for so many of you who have subclinical thyroid issues (in other words, lots of symptoms but your blood work still looks okay from a medical perspective), that’s the best time to work on this. As I always say, pay attention to the spark, before you have a full blown fire. I love helping my clients achieve radiant health and seeing them get healthy now… I love sharing the wisdom behind naturopathic health care. Perhaps it’s your turn!
1. Sanyal D, Raychaudhuri M. Hypothyroidism and obesity: An intriguing link. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2016. doi:10.4103/2230-8210.183454
2. Cicatiello AG, Di Girolamo D, Dentice M. Metabolic effects of the intracellular regulation of thyroid hormone: Old players, new concepts. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2018. doi:10.3389/fendo.2018.00474
3. De Leo S, Lee SY, Braverman LE. Hyperthyroidism. Lancet. 2016. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)00278-6
4. Ritter M, Amano I, Hollenberg A. Thyroid Hormone Signaling and the Liver. Hepatology. 2020;10(1002).
5. Leung AM, Braverman LE. Iodine-induced thyroid dysfunction. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2012. doi:10.1097/MED.0b013e3283565bb2
6. Zimmermann MB, Boelaert K. Iodine deficiency and thyroid disorders. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2015. doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(14)70225-6
7. Christianson A, Kaczor T. Nutrient Profile: Iodine. Nat Med J. 2011;3(4).
8. Tonstad S, Nathan E, Oda K, Fraser G. Vegan diets and hypothyroidism. Nutrients. 2011. doi:10.3390/nu5114642