Thyroid 101

Thyroid 101 is your thyroid making you fat Thyroid 101

[Note from Katie: I've gotten a lot of thyroid questions lately, so I asked a friend of mine, Christa Orecchio, a Clinical and Holistic Nutritionist who blogs at The Whole Journey, to provide some information on her experience working with clients with thyroid problems.]

Enter Christa:

Is it just me or are we hearing more often than not these days of many people who have thyroid disorders? I would say that at least half of my clientele has some kind of under-active thyroid situation that is adversely affecting their energy levels, weight, moods, and digestion.

The thyroid is one of the largest endocrine glands in the body. It’s located in the front of the neck. This gland, when it is not functioning optimally, can create havoc in our lives because it is responsible for making energy. I like to call it both the thermostat and the furnace of the human body.

It works hand-in-hand with our adrenal glands, the gas tank of the body.

This super important gland regulates metabolism, which keeps us at a healthy weight. It also keeps our moods happy and balanced, and helps us sleep deeply, and our digestion flowing. When any one of these things is out of whack, we simply don’t feel like ourselves.

The thyroid gland also controls how quickly the body makes and uses energy, makes protein and controls how sensitive the body is to other hormones – it also plays a critical role in our metabolism and ability to lose/gain weight

Today I want to tell you the signs and symptoms of an underactive thyroid and five key food groups you can consume to support it.

How do you know if your thyroid is underactive?

Unexplained weight gain even with proper diet and exercise
Depression & exhaustion
Cold feet/hands – tingling in hands/arms
Dry and/or pale skin, coarse, thinning hair and brittle nails
Puffy eyes
Memory loss and poor concentration
Constipation
Insomnia
Thinning on the outside of the eyebrows

What to do?

If you have any of these signs and symptoms, I’d suggest doing a two- week experiment of avoiding gluten and soy 100%. Gluten intolerance and autoimmune conditions of the thyroid gland are inextricably linked. In this situation when one eats gluten, the immune system gets the wrong signal to attack the thyroid.

Then there’s soy. I have written and talked a lot about soy and spoken out about it for years. Basically soy blocks the uptake of iodine, an essential mineral the thyroid needs. 60% of the iodine in our bodies is found in the thyroid gland. Iodine is also an essential mineral to protect us from breast and prostate cancer.

Next, add in these five key nutrient groups to support the thyroid…

How to Support the Thyroid:

Iodine Rich Foods
Promote thyroid to make more thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism, i.e. help with energy and weight loss/maintaining a healthy weight.

  • Kelp / Seaweed (found in the Asian aisle of the health food store)
  • Onions
  • Artichokes
  • Pineapple

Selenium
Selenium deficiency is a major factor in thyroid disorders. It maintains production of various thyroid hormones produced in the thyroid gland.

  • Pasture-raised eggs
  • Shellfish
  • Mushrooms
  • Garlic
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Brazil Nuts

Essential Fatty Acids – Omega 3s

  • Fish Oil (I like fermented fish oil the best) [From Katie: I take this one]
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Flaxseed
  • Chia seeds

Coconut Butter and Coconut Oil
Raw saturated fat that contains essential fatty acids that promote thyroid health. The fat in these foods is quickly converted to energy, which helps regulate thyroid function. This is why coconut oil and coconut butter can help you lose weight because they contain the good fats that help you burn the bad fats.

Copper and Iron Rich Foods

  • Cashews
  • Clams
  • Organ Meats
  • Oysters
  • Red meat
  • Beans
  • Leafy Greens

Food can be medicine or the slowest form of poison. Adding these five food groups in will give you thyroid the essential nutrients it needs to thrive and that translates for you to mental clarity, perfect digestion, a balanced weight, and abundant energy!

For more info, check out Christa’s site, The Whole Journey or say hi to her on Facebook.

Reader Comments

  1. Caitlin says

    Is brain fog related to thyroid? I found that I was tired all the time and exhausted mentally so I avoided gluten, sugar, dairy and bam I was better, I substituted with nuts but I messed up and experiencing the symptoms again.,….wah!

    • Aimee Harper says

      Many times, thyroid problems contribute, but I’d also consider what folks call “fibro-fog”, basically, inability to concentrate, feel normal, etc. due to fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome. My mom suffered from pain, headaches and other symptoms,especially a sore/stiff neck & tension headaches for almost her entire adult life, till she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and put on a regimen that helps. The drugs aren’t fun, but being able to have less pain, more mobility and actually remember what someone said 5 minutes later make it worth it, for her. Something to consider…

      • Tracey Fidler says

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  2. cecilia says

    What if I’ve been doing all of that for about 1 year and am still having problems? I have been supplementing with “raw thyroid” as well, but still have a lot of the same problems. My brain fog/concentration problems subside some as well as the exhaustion, but not the weight gain or the lethargy

    • Joy Speights says

      I used to have brain fog something awful until a friend suggested I cut out soy and soy products. It worked like a charm!

    • Alyssa Campbell says

      Chlorine and fluoride will block the uptake of iodine as well as soy. I no longer swim in pools and I have the Berkey water filter that Wellness Mama advocates which comes with fluoride filters for water. Its important because even the small amount of extra iodine you get from food can easily be blocked so that you are not getting any.

  3. Nicole says

    I needed to read this today…bern thinking of having my thyroid checked. Thanks for these natural options to try.

  4. amyyoungmiller says

    I’ve been taking meds for an underactive thyroid over 30 years, since I was diagnosed with a simple goiter. I appreciate learning a bit more about how I can support my thyroid gland.

    • Valerie Plancon says

      Yes! Being treated by a homeopath now for thyroid issues myself. Seek out a classically trained homeopath, who will treat you with your constitution. It may take awhile but once your cured your cured for life. Therefor no need to take pharmaceuticals for years and years. Also whenever I get a cold or flu I can just take my constitutional and be over it in a day or so. It is truly miraculous. If you don’t see results right away stick with it. We have been so used to taking a pill to feel better. This is not like that. It shows your body how to bring itself Into balance. If your body has been out of balance for awhile it may take a year or so to fully heal. But every body is different. May take less time.

  5. Jennifer K. says

    I’m a little worried about this article… there are many other conditions for which the listed symptoms appear.

  6. says

    Thank you for this post, I’ve discovered two great sites in one search. I’ve really been dragging my heels on dropping gluten, but this article is a kick in the pants … I also have brain fog as Caitlin mentioned earlier, so that’s motivating to hear that it could be lifted. Thanks!

    • Caitlin says

      Yes, when getting rid of gluten or anything with sugar, bone broth and eating enough of food helps. Eating better will help regulate bowels, I found out constipation can cause brain fog (gluten, dairy, sugar are constipation causes).

  7. RebekahRandolph says

    Thyroid isn’t something to play around with, in my opinion… supplementing and changing diet can certainly help, but if it doesn’t, find a natural-minded doctor to guide you! My doctor ended up putting me on medication, after many attempts to support my underactive thyroid naturally, and I’m so glad he did. (I do take Armour Thyroid rather than Synthroid.)

    • Aimee Harper says

      Is it much more expensive? My doc has refused to increase my dose for 3 years now, and as I said in a comment on another post, if I don’t increase the med about every 1-2 years, I put on weight I simply CANNOT lose. The steroids they try to give me for my migraines & asthma, allergies, etc. when nothing else works (nothing they’re willing to prescribe, anyway!) make things worse, too. I’m trying to decide if it’s worth the money to see an endocrinologist, or just try to find a way to make my current dose of levothyroxine (the generic of Synthroid or Levoxyl) work ‘better’. I’m almost 40 now, and things will get more difficult, not easier as my body begins to permanently shuffle my hormones around. My poor mom went through almost 15 years of peri-menopause, menopause, and weird bleeding probs before they finally put her on thyroid med and did a procedure to get rid of “excess tissue” in her uterine lining. Even her migraines went away after she got that problem solved. They wanted to do a hysterectomy, but being a nutrition and health nut (sort of – when we were kids, anyway!) she absolutely refused. Good for her! Now she’s finally losing weight after more than 20 years obese. Amazing. I always prefer natural supplements to meds, but it’s not always an option when you have no job, no money, and no insurance – my parents, I love them!- take care of my meds and doctor visits, but I try to keep them to a minimum – ridiculously expensive. The other problem is that women, as they get older, are at higher risk for osteoporosis, and supposedly, thyroid meds can leach calcium out of your body/bones. I’ve always had calcium levels bordering on too HIGH, so I’m not worried about it, but my doc is! Ugh. Glad you found something that works for you! :)

      • RebekahRandolph says

        I don’t know if Armour is more expensive than Synthroid– I pay $15 a month for it, with my insurance paying the other half. I take 180 mg per day.

        It sounds like you may need to get in touch with a doctor who will look not only at your blood hormone levels– T3, T4– but also at your symptoms. My thyroxin levels are supposedly on the higher side (while taking this dosage) but because I don’t actually absorb all of it, I am still on the high dosage. If I cut it back my symptoms increase, and my doctor’s willing to overlook the official “test results” and prescribe what I need. I know that’s not easy to find, though.

      • Carrie says

        Hi Aimee. I would definitely go see an endocrinologist. Also, changing your diet, such as avoiding gluten will help with your asthma, allergies and migraines. I have hypothyroidism and had all 3-asthma, allergies and migraines. Once I changed my diet, all 3 went away. I only have some outdoor allergy issues when the season’s change, but can compensate for them nutritionally. Try Hyland’s Sinus tablets and Hyland’s allergy tablets and use a neti-pot with pure saline water. That is what I have been doing for years instead of taking allergy and asthma meds and have not had to be on a single med for the asthma, allergies or migraines. Seeing a chiropractor has also helped me. All 3 of those conditions can be aggravated or caused by subluxations of the spine. So that may be something you might want to try too. I am on meds for my thyroid but still have symptoms and would like to get off the meds. I think that the info in this article is a great place to start. Good luck!

      • ChelseaH says

        Aimee, I think you would benefit from seeing a naturopathic doctor (one who has a medical degree but focuses on “whole body” healing like they do in eastern medicine). I’ve had Hashimoto’s for 7 years and have been to many endocrinologists. I find that I typically know more about my body and my disease than they do! The laboratory guidleines for TSH levels changed about 5 years ago but some doctors still use the old range. Your TSH should be between 1-2.

        You may want to consider going on synthroid instead of the generics. I was initially put on generics and I constantly had to change my dosage (energy 3-6 months!). One of my endocrinologists finally put me on Synthroid and my #s have been STABLE for 2 YEARS.

        Also, with all of your other symptoms (asthma, allergies, etc.) it sounds like you are having an inflammatory response and an elimination diet would greatly benefit you to determine what triggers that response. A naturopathic doctor can help guide you through it. Good luck!

        • proudof3innj says

          Chelsea, are you a nurse practitioner? or a doctor? Honestly, I have been on many forums for the thyroid for quite a few years, and suggestions are made, but you are giving concrete advice here than can adversely effect one’s health. I have read every book out there. The woman on the forums are more educated in the real world.. than the doctors!! The TSH range has changed over the years but to say it should be between 1 and 2 is not true. Also, a good doctor goes by the patient’s symptoms, and this is an area where patients have all kinds of symptoms. Not only the basic handful, that also could be symptoms for pre menopause or many other health issues.
          I know my own TSH needs to be higher or I get “hyper”. Also, Most doctors, even endos, will test TSH and T4 only. There are other importants tests that need to be done to get the entire picture and treat the thyroid properly.
          I also was doing fine on the generic, until a doctor switched me to Synthroid. At which point I started gaining weight and my hair started falling out. I have not been able to switch back to the generic, or any other med since that time. Triggers are important to find and an elimination diet is a good route to take. Increased allergies, sensitivies is also one of the symptoms of hashimotos….. Everyone needs to find what works best for them. Not one med is better than the other. They may have different fillers. I have also learned from experience that even if from the same lab they are different from one drug store to another. I got Synthroid from Costco because their price was cheaper, but it was crumbling when i cut it…. not only that… I was getting annoying symptoms after taking it.. switched back to Rite-Aid Drug Store Pharmacy and I was fine… Same labs though! This was explained to me by the pharmacies… and a doctor….Synthroid is pushed by most doctors for reasons which I will not go into in writing.

  8. Mariah says

    Thanks for the post! My sister is very overweight, had her thyroid taken out and is still struggling. I know there is a link between autoimmune disease and gluten, so I am going to share this article with her! Thanks!

    • Aimee Harper says

      Doctors consistently UNDER MEDICATE thyroid problems. If her thyroid is no longer present, she can’t make any thyroid hormones AT ALL! Try to get her doc to try titrating dose upward till she feels “good” or at least “better”. I find I have to increase dosage about every 1-2 years (and I still have my thyroid!) to “make up” for what is no longer produced in sufficient quantities. This is hugely important because, as early surgeons discovered, remove someone’s thyroid, and they get fat, then they die. Of course, that was before replacement therapy (such as levothyroxin). Yes, by all means, healthy food, supplements, etc., but I know from my own experience that if you don’t have enough thyroid hormone, everything in your body goes haywire. Even my EYESIGHT was worse before I got a diagnosis – 5 years AFTER I gained weight inexplicably after being 110 lbs for 5 years no matter what I ate or did or didn’t do! (It was the ‘hyper’ thyroid phase of a failing thyroid, when the part that still works tries to compensate, and ends up over-compensating, then, when it’s exhausted, you ‘flip’ over to hypothyroidism, and cannot get thin or even to a healthy weight without a huge struggle – sometimes you never can). My problem is due to a few probable factors: family history on both sides, allergies and asthma and migraines are life-long problems, family history of fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue AND exposure, while living in Italy (dad was in the military), to the radiation cloud from the Chernobyl disaster. We received warnings not to eat local food, etc. from the military, but nobody else was told a thing. Whole mountainsides of trees died – always the east side – the side facing Russia, of course! No proof that did it, but when you’re riding in the car headed home and the air is PINK, it’s not just smog/pollution. Something seriously wrong with that! But most docs don’t even want to hear it. So, I do my best to keep at the docs to keep my dose up to a level where i am ABLE to lose weight, and feel relatively ‘normal’ for me, anyway. It even affected my migraines – made them WORSE! I feel for your sister. So many look at the weight and ignore everything else until you lose it – which she, and I, most likely simply can’t do! I also have an Aunt who takes natural dried thyroid supplement from a Naturopathic doctor instead of the synthetic, man-made hormone replacement. Not sure if it’s better, or right for everyone – I can’t afford to go to a doc like that – no insurance and no money. But, it’s definitely worth a try!

      • Mariah says

        Aimee, Thanks so much for the reply. I failed to mention my sister IS on thyroid medication since having it taken out, but she’s still struggling with her weight. You have some great suggestions. I’m going to pass them on to her!
        Much luck to you too. You’ve been through a lot.

  9. P.J. Kielberg-McClenahan says

    Quite frankly, I am delighted that you folks are finally addressing the human body and the entire food spectrum in an unbiased manner. In my 70s, I know how I was raised, and I know why my mother fed us certain foods. She was always one of those “whole grains, barely-cooked veggies, lean meat folks. We were always fed fruit, vegetables, carefully selected proteins and minimal fats. And, on occasion, some sugar, on holidays. Still, we did not eschew organ meats; (liver, only) since mother read constantly about what was needed for the human body. She fed us what she thought we needed for optimal health. To this day, all of us are healthy; sound, in mind and body; and are intensively active, for our ages.

  10. UpBeet Health and Wholefoods says

    I have been learning about the relevance of Thyroid and heavy metals. You’ve got to ask the question…why is my Thyroid so sluggish? I have been batting at this for a year and have uncovered Mercury toxicity…and the importance of going off high thiol foods. Then the Copper connection…. It’s important to look at these 2 as all the foods I thought were the best for me, turned out to be the worst! Kale, Quinoa being 2 on the list of high Thiol foods. This, in my opinion is important to get out there.

  11. Michelle Stewart says

    Wondering if you believe these same dietary principles would be helpful for HYPERthryoidism as well. Thank you!

    • Cindy M says

      I was wondering the same thing. I rarely see anything on hyperthyroidism. Someone once tried to tell me that hyperthyroidism is more common than hypothyroidism, but I can rarely find anything on hyper, so I don’t believe that is true. I do know that things in the cabbage family slow it down if they are eaten raw. Also, peaches will do the same thing (also raw). I have to thank God for peaches when I was pregnant with my second daughter. My thyroid was very overactive and the endocrine doctor had me on a dosage that the maternal-fetal health doctor felt was way too high. I worried a lot about my baby and prayed about what to do. We contacted a naturopathic doctor, who gave me a list of foods that would slow down my thyroid and some supplements. Since it was August, we loaded up with a bushel of fresh peaches and I ate a lot of them daily. At my next appointment, my thyroid levels had evened out with no assistance from the medication. My daughter was born a few months later and was healthy. After that, my husband thought that juicing veggies from the cabbage family, beets, carrots etc., might help, but I didn’t see any difference even though I drank a lot of the fresh juice daily. They seemed to me effective when eaten whole. That’s just my experience.

  12. Amber Hansen says

    My entire life I have struggled to maintain a healthy weight…but not because I’m overweight. instead, it’s nearly impossible for me to gain weight (except when I’m pregnant apparently). It’s been confirmed that I have Hoshimoto’s. My thyroid levels fluctuate. Sometimes my TSH levels will be in normal range and other times they’re high, but they fluctuate so much and so often (have gone from high to normal in a week) that I haven’t been put on any meds. I went gluten-free about 6 months ago and have been soy free for a while because I get a physical reaction to it, and yet I still can’t gain weight. I’ve even been denied life insurance before because my BMI was too low. Have you ever heard of anything like this or run across this sort of thing? I’ve seen several doctors, ob/gyns, midwives, an endocrinologist, and a naturopath. And still I can’t gain weight. Help!!

  13. Mona says

    I am a 56yo female. I just received test results from my doctor that indicate my TSH at 9.70 with good HDL, but other cholesterol elevated. I am scheduled for ultrasound on my thyroid gland this week to rule out tumors, etc.

    Not sure why I never considered thyroid issues. I have battled being chunky all my life, but only in the last few years has it become impossible to lose any significant weight.

    Thank you for providing valuable information. I plan to use your site to complement whatever course of treatment my doctor prescribes.

  14. Whitewitch says

    I have had thyroid issues for a very long time…struggled for years to get a doctor to even check and then when they did voila! that was the problem. So next, I have gone gluten free – well grain free actually – and now they are having to reduce my thyroid meds…so I am thinking there must be a corrolation between the two. Not to mention since going grain free – I feel much happier, way less tired and generally more fit. And I am 57…so I have years of experience to go on. Wish I had known about gluten years and years ago.

  15. scotty says

    the cure for thyroid problems is to,, ”have it out”.. i have’nt had one for 24 years!!! 175ibs,, hair to my waist,, stronger then i have ever been.. young people cant keep up with me and im happier then anyone i know…note:: im also missing other parts inside,,”you dont need them”.. sooooo, my total surguries, 20… oh,, im 55 years old.. ”i think god has a mission for me” but i still dont know what it is..

  16. Alyssa Campbell says

    I was having countless problems. All thyroid, or adrenal gland related as my Google searches went. I had hair loss from discontinuing the birth control pill, I was having troubles sleeping (sleep paralysis, night terrors!!, or just simply not sleeping ALL NIGHT LONG) and being very tired in the am and afternoon. I also has very bad acne, oily scalp and seborrheic dermatitis. I slowly began adding different vitamins and subtracting different bad habits. I now eat 95% organic, I always look for soy, and have reduced my wheat/gluten to almost 0. I eat little starch, and always good fats. I take iodine in very high quantities, 8333% of the daily value. I have read multiple times that the daily value is too low, and that many people are iodine deficient because chlorine, fluoride, and soy all replace or block iodine in the body, and are all common in food and water. Since taking increased iodine (2 weeks!!) I have all ready noticed my acne is clearing, scalp is less oily, and sleep is easier! The adrenal, thyroid, and gonads are all very closely related, if one is having troubles all three will have troubles. I would recommend extra iodine to anyone.

  17. ChelseaH says

    Wow, I can’t believe you are telling people to just jump right into an elimination diet before determining not only IF they have hypothyroidism but whether or not its autoimmune as well. A simple blood test determines both of these things (full thyroid panel- TSH, Free T3, Free T4 plus antibodies).

    I have had Hashimoto’s disease for 7 years (a thyroid autoimmune disease) and am working with a naturopathic doctor to do an elimination diet to determine what triggers an inflammatory response in my system. So, I completely agree with everything you said that people should do but they need to get a blood test done and go on thyroid meds first.

    • proudof3innj says

      I’m sorry, but I can’t believe you are giving the advice you are giving as well.
      I have Hashimotos as well. I believe my problems started because I was put on meds first thing! There were so many other things I could have done naturally first. Whether with diet or supplementing. Taking gluten out of my diet would have been big… I think having the meds pushed on me caused some of the problems I am still dealing with… 11 years later.
      Everyone is Different. I was seeing natriopathic, biochemist and a hormone specialist…. The endos were not as knowledgable as some of my family practitioners. They just want to bandaide a problem… treat with meds… and half the time, that doesn’t do anything for patients. But they are definately not puzzle solvers and really don’t address addrenals or leaky gut.. absorbtion issues… like others…
      I came on here for ideas suggestions, learning from other’s experience that may apply to my situation… things to try, look into… but you are giving advice in a context that can be confusing to many…. That’s really ashame.

  18. DEBBIE says

    Hi, Katie, What happens when your already doing this diet,except for the red meat and organs. and still no energy?????HELP PLZ…

  19. Joan says

    very interesting… I feel like I’m in a fog.. and very forgetful :( it is very frustrating.. I just got my thyroid under control (225mg-synthroid) I still feel like something is off.. the more I read the more I realize I need to go gluten free..

  20. says

    I need my problem to be diagnosed properly as my health is goin from bad to worse.
    I am 37 years old now. At my 2nd pregancy in September 2010, my gynae put me on thyroxin 25mg to start with-tellin me that it was jus a pecautionery measure so that thyroid is stable. According to her I had normal count but was given the dose. Gradually, the dose was increased, at full term pregnancy was takin 100mg. Once delivered, the count came to normal but the dosage was messed up at the time of withdrawal. Now the doc i see says i have to be on thyroxin for lifetime-I don understand this. I am jus dragged into this sickness for the last 3+years. I was a cool, calm, patient, healthy person now I am opposite n goin through a lot of mood swings, temporary memory loss,my whole self is gone haywire. So my family relationships. I wanna be out of this synthetic stuff/pills. Please help me with diet, etc. Awaiting your earliest response. At present, m takin 75mg dose of thyroxin. Thanks

  21. says

    Thanks Katie, can you pls give me the details of the book, the author, can i have it as ebook/download, any link that can take me to the info that you have refered me to.

  22. Stephanie J says

    Hi I was just diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s disease and insulin resistant PCOS. I honestly did not know how many thing could wreck my thyroid. I have been on 75mg of syntharoid for a little over 2 months and metformin 2000mg for about 2 weeks. I am very unhappy about having to take medication, I would rather a natural route. Your blog has helped me so much I see a big improvement in only 4 days of drink red raspberry leaf tea! Thank you so much. I would love to see some information on PCOS if it isn’t asking to much. I just think it affects so many woman who don’t understand it. My doctor really didn’t explain it to me.

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