Hyperthyroidism - Can a Certain Diet Help?

Named after the Greek word for "shield", the thyroid is a gland located near the lower part of the neck (right below the Adam's apple) which secretes hormones to regulate the body's metabolism. The speed and ability at which an individual burns calories - which in turn determines body temperature and weight gain or loss - is controlled by the thyroid gland.

When the thyroid is functioning properly, it absorbs the iodine found in many of the foods we eat and converts it into two kinds of hormones: T3 and T4. These two hormones are released into the bloodstream to control and monitor all the body's metabolic processes. However, if the thyroid produces too much of these two hormones, a condition known as hyperthyroidism occurs. This means the body's metabolism speeds up abnormally, which can lead to an increased heartbeat (or even heart palpitations), sweating, overheating, fatigue, swelling of the thyroid gland (goiter), hair loss, insomnia, and weight loss.

Hyperthyroidism usually occurs in people between the age of 20-40, as well as pregnant women or any individual undergoing a great deal of stress. One of the most common manifestations of this disorder is Grave's disease, in which the pituitary gland - the "master" gland located at the base of the brain which controls all the other glands in the body - mistakenly instructs the thyroid to release too many T3 and T4 hormones. The opposite of this condition is of course hypothyroidism, wherein the thyroid does not produce enough of the hormones required to maintain a proper metabolic rate. Ironically, however, many of the symptoms are the same in both conditions.


Although weight loss may seem to be the obvious correlation of an overactive thyroid, recent studies have shown that despite an increased metabolism, many people suffering from hyperthyroidism have in fact actually gained significant amounts of weight, and continued to gain weight after they were treated. This is most likely due to the increased appetite that results from a faster metabolism, in addition to an inability to burn off the extra calories because of weakness, apathy and depression - three other symptoms associated with this disorder.

Another possible explanation for the weight gain in an individual with hyperthyroidism could be that since the overabundance of T3 and T4 originally prevented the patient's body from ever regulating itself, the individual can no longer properly monitor his or her caloric intake, even with normalized hormone levels. Making a concerted effort to maintain a proper diet and a strict exercise regimen can help alleviate some of the weight gain experienced by people with hyperthyroidism.

While treatment of hyperthyroidism might involve the use of drugs such as radioactive iodine (or other forms of medication designed to slow down the production of T3 and T4 by the thyroid), or even having part of the thyroid removed surgically, some nutritional experts recommend a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C and calcium. Certain foods known to inhibit thyroid overproduction include cauliflower, beans, green leafy vegetables and soy. Herbs such as motherwort, turmeric and bugleweed have also been known to stabilize the thyroid gland, but of course one should always check with one's health care practitioner before attempting to diagnose or especially to treat an ailment of this type of severity.

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