This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid, affects millions of people in the U.S. and many go undiagnosed. The effects of thyroid deficiency range from weight gain, allergies, insomnia, low energy, dry skin, depression and joint pain, to heart disease and heart failure, when left untreated.
It’s more common in women over 40 and when diagnosed is treated with thyroid medication for life.
If you suspect you may be suffering from low thyroid, it is important to get diagnosed and work with your physician to bring your thyroid back into balance. There is a lot of controversy surrounding thyroid health and finding the right path for you may take time and patience.
Although there are few definitive answers as to what you can do to avoid thyroid dysfunction as you age, there are some natural ways to keep this important gland functioning optimally.
Here are 8 natural ways to maintain healthy thyroid function:
#1: Get enough iodine. Your body needs iodine to produce thyroid hormones, and an iodine deficiency can be a cause of hypothyroidism. In countries like Japan, with a diet rich in seafood and sea vegetables, the incidence of thyroid dysfunction is very low. The Japanese, on average, get 83 times more iodine in their diets than Americans, about 13.8 mg a day. (Note: Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease, both autoimmune diseases, may not improve with iodine and may even be exacerbated.)
While iodized salt can prevent frank iodine-deficiency hypothyroidism (goiter), it may still not be enough to prevent subclinical problems, especially for those on low salt diets or those who avoid eating iodized salt or shellfish. If you’re already on thyroid medication, be sure to work with your doctor because getting optimal levels of iodine may mean reducing or eliminating your medication over time.
#2: Take a multivitamin. Selenium, vitamin A and iron are all essential to proper function of the thyroid. Many do not get enough selenium in their diets. Iron may be a problem for some, so you should talk to your doctor or nutritionist concerning dosage.
#3: Consider coconut oil. Many holistic practitioners recommend experimenting with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil a day to restore proper thyroid function, as well as promote weight loss and immune function.
#4: Take vitamin D. Research over the last 20 years shows that people with low thyroid levels also have low levels of vitamin D. If you are already known to be hypothyroid, be sure to have your vitamin D levels tested. Those who live in northern climates are particularly susceptible to vitamin D deficiency during the fall, winter and early spring. We recommend 1,000 to 2,000 IU daily. More may be necessary if levels still remain low.
#5: Watch the soy. While eating natural, fermented soy products like tofu and miso may not be a problem, eating foods or taking supplements high in soy isoflavones, may depress thyroid function. Check labels. Supplements for hot flashes and other menopause symptoms are most likely to contain high doses of soy isoflavones.
#6: Avoid consuming raw cruciferous veggies in excess. Goitrogenic foods like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kale, turnips and cauliflower can have a negative impact on thyroid function if eaten raw in large quantities. However, cooking reduces that effect. Eating reasonable amounts, even raw, is probably not a problem. These foods appear to be a problem only if you are also iodine deficient.
#7: Avoid refined sugars and starches. Reducing junk food has become a global recommendation for good health, as it feeds the body without supplying essential nutrients that whole foods do, many of which may support thyroid health.
#8: Exercise regularly. Overall health is maintained by good blood circulation, and exercise is essential to aging well. Keep in mind that one exercise session a day is not the only ultimate goal. Resisting a lifestyle that keeps you glued to a seat all day long is important. Make sure you get up and move regularly throughout the day.
Note: If you are taking thyroid medication, be sure to take any calcium carbonate supplement at least 4 hours and possibly 12 hours later. Calcium can affect the your body’s ability to absorb the thyroid hormone. Many juices contain calcium supplements and should also be avoided when taking your medication.