The thyroid is considered a “master gland.” In addition to producing crucial hormones, it helps control the process of turning nutrients from food into usable energy on which the body runs. Because the thyroid plays such a major part in your metabolism, dysfunction can affect almost every part of the body, including your energy levels and ability to burn calories.
If you're thinking about upping your intake of salty, processed foods just to fit more iodine into your diet, think again. More than 75% of our dietary sodium intake comes from restaurant, pre-packaged, and processed fare. (In fact, you'd probably be surprised to learn just how many foods are actually just hidden salt traps.) But "manufacturers don't have to use iodized salt in their products," says Ilic. And according to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, they "almost never" do. The upshot: You may be taking in too much sodium (which can set you up for high blood pressure, then heart disease), minus the iodine.
People with celiac disease—the autoimmune disease that's characterized by an intolerance to the gluten in wheat, barley, and rye—are also more likely to have higher rates of thyroid problems, according to a 2007 report by researchers in the United Kingdom. "Eating a gluten-free diet helps control the symptoms, which may also help protect the thyroid gland," says Ilic. But unless you have celiac disease—and we're not talking an L.A.-aversion to gluten, here — you might not want to avoid breads after all. In fact, thanks to some of the baking processes, bread can actually contain some iodine.
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Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t properly make or release thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland normally releases many crucial hormones that travel through the bloodstream to reach receptors found throughout the whole body. So a disturbance in thyroid function can cause widespread, noticeable health problems.
Why does this happen? The immune system mistakenly thinks that the thyroid cells are not a part of the body, so it tries to remove them before they can cause damage and illness. The problem is that this causes widespread inflammation, which can result in many different problems. 90 percent of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s that inflames the thyroid gland over time, but this isn’t the only cause of hypothyroidism.
Although relatively low serum T3 levels could contribute to these residual manifestations, the higher serum T4:T3 ratio should also be considered. This has been well-established for 4 decades (28, 50, 59), but only recently has it been recognized as a relevant measure given that higher serum T4 levels will impair systemic T3 production via downregulation of a deiodinase pathway (9). Thus, some emphasis has recently been directed toward establishing the clinical significance of this ratio (1, 5).
Since iodine is found in soils and seawater, fish are another good source of this nutrient. In fact, researchers have long known that people who live in remote, mountainous regions with no access to the sea are at risk for goiters. "The most convincing evidence we have [for thyroid problems] is the absence of adequate nutrition," says Salvatore Caruana, MD, the director of the division of head and neck surgery in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at ColumbiaDoctors.
An article published in May 2017 in the journal Endocrine Connections noted that hypothyroidism and celiac disease are often present together, and while no research has demonstrated that a gluten-free diet can treat thyroid conditions, you may still want to talk to a doctor about whether it would be worth eliminating gluten, or getting tested for celiac disease.
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