The term “goitrogenic” means something that causes “goiter,” or swelling of the thyroid gland. The goitrogens provided in certain foods can accomplish this by interfering with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. When the restriction causes a shortage of available iodine, the thyroid cannot produce sufficient levels of thyroid hormones T4 and T3. The hypothalamus senses low T4 and releases the TSH-releasing hormone, which then triggers the pituitary gland to produce TSH. The thyroid gland responds to TSH by making more hormones. If it can’t keep up with demand, it grows bigger trying and you will commonly see people with what appears to be a “fat neck”.
So is it best to just avoid those foods that contain goitrogens?
Before we answer that, let’s take a look at the healthy foods that you would have to live without: cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, spinach, radishes, and turnips.
Also several other common foods like sweet potatoes, strawberries, peanuts, peaches, mustard greens, flax, millet, pine nuts, canola, and collards.
It is even harder to avoid these common foods when you realize that there are three types of goitrogens: goitrins, thiocyanates, and flavonoids and that third category (flavonoids) is commonly found in berries, teas (green, white, and oolong varieties), almonds, cherries, apricots, bamboo shoots, pears, plums, soy, and red wine!
Now let’s be clear; we can all give up soy and collards, but don’t even try to take away my red wine--right?
Also, as if Mother Nature wasn’t already throwing you curveballs with some of your favorite foods, there are also chemicals and medications that are classified as goitrogenic.
Amiodarone is a medication used for irregular heartbeat and Lithium and benzodiazepines are commonly used for depression and anxiety, while NSAIDS are the most prescribed medications for arthritis.
If you smoke (and we sure hope you don’t!), thiocyanate is an ingredient in cigarettes and we all know how prevalent antibiotics and pesticides are in today’s society. There are more man-made things to avoid, but let’s just focus on foods and how they relate to thyroid issues and Hashimoto’s disease.
So what’s a person to do if they are concerned about thyroid function?
After all, thyroid health is crucial for a well-functioning body, including your metabolism, aging processes, and even your mood.
If you enjoy eating cruciferous vegetables do you have to give them up? Remember, cruciferous vegetables are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients that protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease, so if your diet is managed properly the health benefits should far outweigh and risks of eating them.
How do you properly manage your cruciferous vegetable intake?
That’s easy--cook them.
Studies have shown that by cooking your cruciferous veggies you reduce the goitrogenic properties, although you do lose some of the phytonutrients in the process, but that’s how it is with cooking. Many thyroid specialists say to avoid raw juicing them because that allows the chemical components to be absorbed more quickly and in higher concentrations than by just eating them. .
If you are big into cocktail receptions and parties where raw veggies are popular, or if you just enjoy eating heavy doses of raw veggies for health or other reasons, then talk to your doctor if you are on thyroid medication to make sure your prescription is adequate.
Have a blood test at least once a year and be aware of any significant changes in your weight if it’s up or down, or if you are pregnant. Also, starting or stopping birth control pills can be a concern, as are other medications like antacids containing aluminum.
Otherwise, enjoy these wonderful superfoods!