Nutrition and Lifestyle Help for Hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease
Average reading time: 3.5 minutes
If you’ve been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease (autoimmune hyperthyroidism), you may be feeling like, “What about me?!” So much of the information out there seems geared towards hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.
To clarify, there is a reason for that. The goal of hyperthyroidism treatment is to slow down, permanently disable, or (less commonly) remove the thyroid in order to correct the overproduction of thyroid hormone. This often results in the patient ending up in the hypothyroid camp. When it comes to thyroid disease, most roads lead to hypothyroidism and supplemental thyroid hormone treatment. That’s why so much of the information out there is geared towards that population.
Nevertheless, we understand that hyperthyroid and Graves’ patients are underserved in the literature. So, I’m here to address your burning questions about hyperthyroid diet and lifestyle interventions:
- What should I eat?
- What supplements should I be considering?
- How does lifestyle affect me?
Before we dive in, we must first share these words of caution: Diet and Lifestyle Are NOT Enough.
They can be incredibly helpful, and important, but treating hyperthyroidism with food, supplements, herbs, botanicals, or lifestyle changes is not a do-it-yourself project. In fact, many natural and integrative practitioners will hesitate to treat your hyperthyroidism unless you are already being treated with antithyroid drugs. The concern is that the time it takes to respond to natural approaches may be so long that it allows hyperthyroidism to trigger a dangerous and life-threatening condition known as thyroid storm. Left untreated, hyperthyroidism can pose other serious health risks including heart, bone, muscle, and fertility issues.
Still, natural approaches can complement your hyperthyroidism treatment, and in some cases, reduce your needed dosage of antithyroid medication.
UP NEXT: Read Hyperthyroidism & Graves’ Disease 101
Nutrition Guidelines for Hyperthyroidism
If you have hyperthyroidism, you can use nutrition to enhance your overall health. There are two specific approaches to consider:
- To help counteract autoimmunity if your hyperthyroidism is due to Graves’ disease
- To help slow down your thyroid and/or relieve your hyperthyroidism symptoms
Here are the basic guidelines for the “Hyperthyroid Diet”:
- Eat a diet high in antioxidant-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, and go organic whenever possible
- Address gut inflammation (known as “Leaky Gut”) by including anti-inflammatory foods like fatty seafood (salmon is a powerhouse), good fats (like olive oil and other cold-pressed oils), and nuts
- Eat healthy sources of protein, such as wild-caught fish or pastured chicken/pork, Cornish game hens, free-range/grass-fed beef, buffalo, and game. (For some healthy protein ideas and recipes, check out nutritionist Teri Cochrane’s book, “The Wildatarian Diet.”)
- Avoid processed foods, trans fats, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup
- Use anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, like basil, rosemary, parsley, oregano, and turmeric
If you have Graves’ disease, you may want to consider the gut-friendly, anti-inflammatory approaches of the Paleo or Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diets. These approaches help reduce antibodies and inflammation and help balance your immune dysfunction.
You should include calcium-rich foods to help protect your bones, which can be weakened by hyperthyroidism. Some of these foods include broccoli, almonds, kale, sardines, green leafy vegetables, almonds, and, of course, dairy products for those who can tolerate them.
Foods high in magnesium can help calm heart-related hyperthyroidism symptoms, so don’t pass up the avocados, dark chocolate, almonds, cashews, leafy green vegetables, and fatty fish like mackerel and tuna.
Selenium can help calm the immune system and may even help lower antibodies. Brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium, and other selenium-rich foods include mushrooms, brown rice, sunflower seeds, and sardines. (Don’t overdo it on the Brazil nuts, however! Just one a day provides enough selenium. And make sure your selenium intake from all sources—foods AND supplements—doesn’t exceed 400 mcg per day, to avoid toxicity.)
For optimal immune health, include foods high in vitamin D, such as sardines, salmon, tuna, eggs, and mushrooms.
Note: if you have had radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment for your hyperthyroidism, you can enjoy goitrogenic foods, but they should be cooked or steamed so they don’t further slow your thyroid.
The Caution List
Gluten: There is a connection between gluten intolerance, celiac disease (an autoimmune inability to process gluten), and Graves’ disease. Gluten is a protein that is found in:
- wheat and wheat products
- brewer’s yeast
- grains such as spelt, kamut, farro, and durum
- Some processed foods, sauces, and condiments
If your hyperthyroidism is due to Graves’ disease, you should consider eliminating gluten from your diet, even if you have tested negative for celiac disease.
Iodine-Rich Foods: Iodine is a mineral that is used by your thyroid to produce thyroid hormones. There is some evidence that overconsumption of iodine (or iodine supplements) can be a trigger for thyroid problems, including hyperthyroidism. Iodine is found in high amounts in seafood, sushi, seaweed, kelp tea, kelp and other sea vegetables, iodized salt, bread, and dairy products.
Don’t worry…you don’t need to skip a trip to your favorite seafood or sushi restaurant! The issue is excessive iodine. It’s not easy to overeat something like kelp, but pay attention to your iodine intake, and unless you have been tested and shown to have an iodine deficiency, you shouldn’t be taking high doses of supplemental iodine or iodine-rich supplements like kelp or bladderwrack.
Anything Artificial: Artificial flavorings and dyes are chemicals that frequently cause toxic reactions. Cut them out of your diet. Perhaps most important are artificial sweeteners (such as sucralose, saccharine, and aspartame), which have been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease.
Hormones, Pesticides, and Genetically Modified Foods: Lowering your toxic load is a key goal for anyone with hyperthyroidism. That means doing your best to eliminate hormones, pesticides, and genetically modified foods. Choose hormone-free dairy products, organic produce, and stay away from GMO soy.
Caffeine: As a stimulant, caffeine can aggravate many hyperthyroidism symptoms, making heart palpitations, insomnia, and elevated heart rate and blood pressure worse.
We don’t always get everything we need from our diet, so talk to your healthcare provider about comprehensive micronutrient testing and, when appropriate, incorporate supplements for thyroid and immune health. Common recommendations include magnesium, selenium, vitamin D, B vitamins, probiotics, fish oil, and zinc.
Finally, the supplement L-carnitine is frequently recommended by integrative practitioners to help reverse and prevent hyperthyroidism symptoms.
Herbs and Botanicals
A variety of herbal and botanical remedies may be able to help block thyroid hormone production, block the conversion of T4 to T3, or help resolve related symptoms, such as an elevated heart rate. These include:
- Lemon Balm
- Indian Gooseberry
- Gromwell (also known as Lithospermum and Stoneseed)
- Prunella Vulgaris
Consult with a knowledgeable health care provider to explore whether any of these herbs and botanicals are right for you.
Get Enough Quality Sleep: This is easier said than done when you have hyperthyroidism-induced insomnia, but it’s crucial. That means at least 7 hours for most of us. If you are in the throes of active hyperthyroidism, you may want to consider natural sleep aids to help fall asleep and stay asleep.
UP NEXT: THE IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP AND SLEEP HYGIENE FOR THYROID PATIENTS
Manage Stress: When your system is in overdrive from hyperthyroidism, it’s essential to manage your stress. Do what you can to eliminate major stressors, even if that means making an overdue job change, or cutting off high-stress people in your life.
Learn to say NO to more of the many requests for your time. Most importantly, you should practice—daily!—some form of active stress reduction. This means you need to find a “Relaxation Response” activity that physiologically reduces your heart and respiration rates and lowers your stress hormones.
(Just remember: Laying on the couch eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in front of the television may be relaxing, but it’s not a “Relaxation Response” activity!) We are talking about meditation, breathwork, prayer, Tai Chi, Qigong, gentle yoga, needlework, or even the popular trend of adult coloring books.)
Check out these great Relaxation Response activities on Thyroid Refresh:
- Qigong for Your Thyroid and Adrenals
- 🔒 Simple Meditation to Release Tension and Practice Mindfulness
- 🔒 Heal Yourself with Breathwork: A Guided Exercise
Exercise Appropriately: While you should always check with your doctor, don’t assume that you can’t exercise when you are hyperthyroid. When you are actively hyperthyroid, your doctor may recommend that you switch to something that doesn’t raise your heart rate too much (walking and yoga come to mind). But there are many things you can do to keep moving.
For some low-impact workouts, check out the links below:
- Realign and Stimulate: A Lying Down Workout by Maryann Berry
- 🔒 Strength Training for Glutes, Legs, and Arms by Andrea Wool
- 🔒 Restorative Evening Yoga Sequence by Fern Olivia
Quit Smoking: Here’s yet another reason to quit smoking! Smoking aggravates the thyroid and makes treatment for hyperthyroidism less effective. If you have Graves’ disease, smoking also increases your risk of developing Thyroid Eye Disease (TED) and makes treatment for TED less effective. Stub it out!
Hyperthyroidism, while treatable and not typically life-threatening, is a serious condition and can have serious consequences. Again, treating hyperthyroidism with food, supplements, herbs, botanicals, or lifestyle changes is NOT a do-it-yourself project. Going off antithyroid drugs entirely in favor of “natural” approaches is something even highly trained integrative practitioners don’t recommend.
Instead, they will work with you to carefully add in complementary approaches that can help calm your thyroid, relieve symptoms, and may enable you to gradually lower your dosage of antithyroid drugs over time. It’s imperative that you find the right practitioner who is well-versed in multiple therapies for your condition, and follow their guidance to create a safe and targeted treatment plan.