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5 Surprising Foods That Could Be Making Your Hashimoto's Worse

We’ve gone into a number of anti-inflammatory foods worth keeping up your sleeve to strengthen your defences against the symptoms of Hashimoto’s, but there are also a number of ingredients worth steering clear of. Here are 5 you know about. 

With an estimated 850, 000 Aussies living with Hashimoto’s disease, affecting a whopping 1 in 8 women, this autoimmune disorder specifically strikes the thyroid, and it comes about when our immune system targets this butterfly-shaped gland in our neck. Here's where the problem arises: this thyroid inflammation can result in a leak, which then leads to the overproduction of hormones – this is what’s known as hyperthyroidism – but with Hashimoto’s, we see a table-turning change over time. The thyroid eventually struggles to produce adequate levels of hormones, causing the development hypothyroidism. Let’s take a look at foods known to exacerbate the symptoms of this often-debilitating condition.

Gluten 

Gluten, found in wheat and related grains, can trigger an inflammatory response in some individuals with autoimmune conditions. For those with Hashimoto's, gluten consumption may contribute to thyroid dysfunction. But why? Let's take a look at what's happening behind the scenes: 

Molecular Similarity: Gluten, a protein found in wheat and related grains, has a protein structure that shares similarities with the proteins present in the thyroid gland. In individuals with autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto's, the immune system may mistakenly identify gluten proteins as a threat, leading to an autoimmune response not only against gluten but also against thyroid tissues.

Molecular Mimicry: This phenomenon, known as molecular mimicry, occurs when the body's immune system confuses similar-looking proteins. In the case of Hashimoto's, the immune system may attack both gluten and thyroid tissues due to their structural resemblance. This cross-reactivity can contribute to inflammation and damage to the thyroid gland.

Increased Intestinal Permeability: Gluten consumption may contribute to increased intestinal permeability, commonly known as "leaky gut." Leaky gut allows substances, including undigested gluten proteins, to pass through the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream. This can trigger an immune response and inflammation, potentially affecting the thyroid gland in individuals predisposed to autoimmune conditions.

Activation of Immune Response: For some individuals with Hashimoto's, gluten consumption may activate the immune system, leading to an inflammatory response. This inflammation can contribute to the progression of autoimmune thyroiditis and may exacerbate existing symptoms.

Impact on Nutrient Absorption: Gluten-containing grains are also associated with certain anti-nutrients that can affect nutrient absorption. Nutrient deficiencies, such as selenium and zinc, are common in individuals with Hashimoto's and are crucial for thyroid function. Impaired nutrient absorption may further compromise thyroid health in susceptible individuals.

Individual Sensitivity: Sensitivity to gluten varies among individuals. Some people may experience significant improvements in Hashimoto's symptoms by adopting a gluten-free diet, while others may not exhibit the same response. Identifying individual sensitivities often involves a process of elimination and careful observation of symptoms.

Potential for Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: While individuals with celiac disease must strictly avoid gluten due to an autoimmune response, some people may experience gluten sensitivity without having celiac disease. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity may still contribute to inflammation and autoimmune processes in susceptible individuals.

Dairy 

Dairy products, particularly cow's milk, contain proteins that mimic thyroid tissue. In susceptible individuals, this molecular mimicry can lead to an autoimmune response and exacerbate Hashimoto's symptoms.

Soy 

Soy contains compounds known as goitrogens, which can interfere with thyroid function. While moderate consumption may not pose a problem for everyone, those with Hashimoto's may want to monitor their soy intake. Goitrogens are substances found in certain foods that may interfere with the normal functioning of the thyroid gland. While most people can consume goitrogenic foods without issue, individuals with thyroid disorders, particularly hypothyroidism, may want to be mindful of their intake. They may disrupt the production of thyroid hormones or interfere with the utilisation of iodine, a key element required for the synthesis of these hormones. They are found in various foods, with cruciferous vegetables being a notable category.

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower also contain goitrogens. These compounds can inhibit the uptake of iodine by the thyroid gland, leading to a potential decrease in the production of thyroid hormones. However, the impact of cruciferous vegetables on thyroid function is generally mild and is more relevant for individuals with an existing thyroid condition. The goitrogenic effect of certain foods can be reduced through cooking. Heat can help inactivate or break down goitrogenic compounds. Therefore, lightly cooking cruciferous vegetables may be a strategy for individuals concerned about their thyroid health. 

Processed Foods

Highly processed foods often contain additives, preservatives, and unhealthy fats that can contribute to inflammation. For individuals with autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto's, reducing processed food intake is crucial for managing symptoms.

Excessive Iodine 

While iodine is essential for thyroid health, excessive intake can be problematic for those with Hashimoto's. High doses of iodine, often found in supplements or certain foods, may trigger or worsen autoimmune thyroiditis. Here's an overview of the effects of iodine on Hashimoto's and the connection between the two: 

Iodine and Thyroid Function: Iodine is an essential component of thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4), and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones are crucial for maintaining the body's metabolic rate, energy production, and overall growth and development. 

Iodine and Autoimmune Response: In individuals with Hashimoto's, the relationship between iodine and the autoimmune response is complex. While iodine is essential for thyroid hormone synthesis, excessive iodine intake may trigger or exacerbate autoimmune thyroid conditions. High iodine levels can potentially stimulate the immune system and worsen inflammation in the thyroid gland.

Iodine Deficiency and Hashimoto's: Conversely, iodine deficiency can also influence Hashimoto's. In regions with insufficient iodine in the diet, supplementing with iodine may be beneficial. However, it's crucial to strike a balance, as excessive iodine intake in iodine-deficient individuals could potentially worsen autoimmune thyroid conditions. 

Foods rich in iodine include: 

  • Seafood (e.g., fish, shellfish)
  • Seaweed and kelp
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Iodised salt

Understanding the impact of specific foods on Hashimoto's is a crucial step toward managing symptoms and promoting overall well-being. It's essential for individuals with Hashimoto's to work closely with healthcare professionals or nutritionists to develop a personalised dietary plan that supports thyroid health and minimises inflammation. By being mindful of food choices, individuals can take an active role in managing their Hashimoto's and improving their quality of life.

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