Over the last several years since I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I have discovered many strategies to eliminate my symptoms and eventually put my thyroid disease into remission. Of all of those strategies, the most impactful have been those that dealt with food.
Removing the foods that were toxic to my body and incorporating the ones that were healing was life changing for me. And I’m not alone. As I’ve worked with and heard from thousands of people with Hashimoto’s, I’ve learned that food has played the starring role in helping them to feel better too.
In this article, I’d like to share a little bit about my own food philosophy as it relates to Hashimoto’s, including:
- The importance of food pharmacology
- Dietary interventions that my readers have had success with
- Why some doctors disregard the power of nutrition
- The foods that are most beneficial to thyroid health
- Resources to incorporate healing foods into your diet
There are six potential trigger types in Hashimoto’s: food sensitivities, nutrient depletions, an impaired ability to handle stress, an impaired ability to handle toxins, digestive issues, and chronic infections. Each person with Hashimoto’s will have his or her own combination of these unique root causes.
One person may have a food sensitivity to gluten with nutrient deficiencies of selenium and vitamin D, and may get themselves into remission by going gluten free and taking some supplements — all on their own. Another person may have all six root causes with numerous food sensitivities, infections, toxins, nutrient depletions, stress hormone depletions, and digestive deficiencies. This person will have to keep peeling back the layers to reach symptom resolution and remission.
Most of us fall somewhere in the middle with a combination of root causes. However, I’ve found that just about every person with Hashimoto’s has food sensitivities, and most people experience huge benefits from nutrition interventions.
This is where food as medicine — or food pharmacology, as I like to call it — comes in!
You may have guessed that pharmacology (the branch of medicine concerned with the study of drug action) has always been a subject that has fascinated me. How do tiny substances exert such powerful effects on our giant bodies? I mean, you can drop the blood pressure of a 200 pound person with milligrams of the right substance! You can put the same person to sleep with tiny amounts of another substance, and even cause hallucinations with micrograms of something else. I needed to know how the tiny substances worked…
This was one of the reasons why I became a pharmacist.
The other reasons were because I had a passion for helping people and wanted to be a healer, but I also wanted to find a cure for a disease and have a career that would allow for flexible hours. (I had a phobia of needles and blood, so becoming a nurse or a doctor (and especially a phlebotomist) was out of the question at the time. :-))
Similar to the tiny substances that are found in medications, tiny substances in foods can also exert massive effects on the body, and their chemical properties can interact with our internal systems. This is what I like to call “food pharmacology”. I’m a big fan of using foods as medicine, and we can do so by acknowledging the ability that diet has to change our lives!
That said, it’s important to pick the right foods and right dietary changes. Some tiny substances are food proteins that create adverse reactions in the body. The most relevant adverse reactions in Hashimoto’s are known as food sensitivities.
Food sensitivities can create a bit of a vicious cycle situation. For example, gluten sensitivity can trigger Hashimoto’s and intestinal permeability, which cause us to react to even more foods and further attack our thyroid gland.
Food sensitivities cause different types of reactions to foods than food allergies. Food allergies are immediate and often cause life-threatening reactions (think the child who stops breathing after eating nuts), and are readily acknowledged and tested for by conventional medical doctors, especially allergists. These reactions are known as Type I hypersensitivity reactions and are governed by the IgE branch of the immune system.
There are also Type IV delayed hypersensitivity reactions governed by the IgG branch of the immune system. As the name implies, they do not occur right away. In fact, it can take up to 4 days for them to manifest, and this is one of the reasons why it’s so hard for most people to correlate food sensitivities with symptoms. For example, you may eat corn on Monday and have a panic attack on Wednesday!
Here’s the connection I’ve made… Hashimoto’s is also considered a Type IV delayed hypersensitivity reaction and often presents with IgG antibodies to the thyroid gland.
In my experience, whenever we eat foods that flare up our IgG system, this also seems to flare up thyroid antibodies. Here are additional symptoms caused by IgG-mediated food reactions:
- Sinus symptoms: Post nasal drip, congestion, cough, asthma
- Gastrointestinal symptoms: Constipation, diarrhea, cramping, bloating, nausea, gas, acid reflux, burning, burping
- Cardiac symptoms: Increased pulse, palpitations
- Skin-related symptoms: Acne, eczema, itchiness
- Inflammatory symptoms: Joint aches, pain, swelling, tingling, numbness
- Brain-related symptoms: Headache, dizziness, brain fog, anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia
What’s the silver lining? When you eliminate your reactive foods, you eliminate your symptoms (and often, the attack on your thyroid).
Why Some Doctors Disregard the Power of Nutrition
While I have seen tremendous improvements in my health, as well as in the health of my clients through eliminating reactive foods, there is not much support for using nutrition to address Hashimoto’s within the medical system. One of the only exceptions is that most physicians will admit that there is a connection between celiac disease and Hashimoto’s.
This is why most conventionally trained doctors and endocrinologists will tell you that you do not need to change your diet with Hashimoto’s, despite the real world data that shows that diet does make a difference.
I remember one of the very first times when I realized that there was something wrong with the conventional medical system…
Effexor, a medication used as an antidepressant, has a unique side effect of increasing blood pressure. When I was a new grad, the pharmacy where I worked had a blood pressure machine, and many of my patients would take their blood pressure while waiting for their prescriptions to be filled. I remember one very fit and lovely woman who was puzzled that her blood pressure had all of a sudden become elevated.
I offered to review her medication history to see if any of her medications could have contributed to her high blood pressure. Sure enough, she had started Effexor within the previous month. I let her know that Effexor could cause an increase in blood pressure and gave her some information to take to her doctor, as well as the names of some alternative medications. She came back in later that month with a prescription for a new medication, and within a few weeks of starting the new medication, her blood pressure returned back to normal. She was grateful that the change in medication was able to mitigate her high blood pressure and that she didn’t have to start the blood pressure medication her doctor wanted her to take.
Later on, when I worked as a consultant pharmacist, I often loved to chat with my colleagues about medications and health. I asked one of my psychiatrist friends if he ever saw his patients having increased blood pressure from Effexor.
“No, I have never seen that happen.” He sounded surprised.
His answer surprised me! In my short time of working as a community pharmacist, I saw this reaction in numerous people. As a well-respected and busy psychiatrist, he had probably seen more patients on that medication in a month than I had seen in a full year of working as a community pharmacist.
At that point, I also asked, “Do you ever take your patients’ blood pressure?”
“Well, no,” he replied.
So what’s the point of this little story?
Our current medical system works in silos. I saw this time and time again as a consultant pharmacist — each organ was treated like it existed in a vacuum and, oftentimes, side effects of one medication used to treat one part of the body would be recognized as a new disease in a different part of the body without acknowledging the systemic effects. The takeaway here is that most doctors are not looking at nutrition as a factor; therefore, they can’t comment on how effective diet is. In the end, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you can’t claim expertise on something you’ve never measured.
So, when a doctor tells you “diet doesn’t help Hashimoto’s,” here are some questions to ask to determine if you are speaking to an expert who recognizes the power of nutrition:
- Have you done clinical research with your patients with Hashimoto’s on how they fare on a gluten free diet vs. on a standard diet?
- Have you seen the Italian study that found that thyroid antibodies can be decreased in Hashimoto’s patients without celiac disease? (Read more about this study and what type of diet is helpful for Hashimoto’s here.)
- What percentage of your patients report a resolution of their symptoms with your recommended treatment?
Most doctors think that if something was that helpful, they would have likely known about it. I know I was personally shocked when I realized how beneficial diet was. How did I not learn that sooner? After all, I had spent four years studying diseases and their treatment options in pharmacy school.
My Personal Research Results
Once I discovered how much diet could help a person heal from Hashimoto’s, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. That’s when I published my first book, Hashimoto’s: The Root Cause, detailing how helpful diet can be and the reasons behind why this was the case. I thought for sure that a research center or an endocrinology association would try out the various methods I found to be helpful, but that never happened. However, two years later, I realized that I didn’t have to wait for a research center — I could do my own research with the help of my Root Cause Rebel community.
I conducted a survey of my readers from May 10th to May 31st, 2015. In total, 2,232 people answered the survey, 1,991 of whom reported to have Hashimoto’s. Only 78 (3.5 percent) were also diagnosed with celiac disease.
It should be noted that this method of conducting research has limitations by traditional research standards; it was directed at a biased group (they were all my educated readers, after all), and I did not have a control group. Nonetheless, it revealed a lot of exciting trends, mirroring the same patterns I’ve seen in my private clients but in a much larger sample size. If you trust people who are just like you, then you will find this information to be helpful.
Many of my readers and clients have experienced noticeable benefits from removing the following foods:
- 88 percent reported feeling better gluten free
- 87 percent reported feeling better on a sugar free diet
- 81 percent reported feeling better on a grain free or Paleo diet
- 79 percent reported feeling better on a dairy free diet
- 63 percent said they felt better soy free
- 48 percent felt better egg free
- 47 percent felt better on nightshade free diets (tomato, potato, pepper, eggplant restriction)
- 15 percent of people saw improvement with a nut free diet
- 7 percent reported feeling better off seeds
- The Autoimmune Paleo diet, which excludes all of the above-listed foods, helped 75 percent of people feel better overall
How Should I Eat With Hashimoto’s?
Each person with Hashimoto’s has a unique root cause, but I’ve found that there are protocols that help most people feel better, regardless of what triggered their condition. Food is a crucial first step! Following a nutrient dense diet will always help a person with thyroid disease, but you may need to modify the diet according to your food sensitivities.
I’ve spent the last couple of years researching the best diets for people with thyroid issues, and I’ve discovered that the gluten free diet, the Paleo diet, and the Autoimmune Paleo Diet can all help eliminate thyroid symptoms, and in some cases, even thyroid antibodies!
For some people, the gluten free diet is all that’s needed. Some need to dig slightly deeper with following the Paleo diet. Others need to dig even deeper and find success with the Autoimmune Paleo diet. It’s a great option for people who feel like they’ve “tried it all” and still aren’t seeing improvements in their health.
For more information, I have written an article on the best diet for Hashimoto’s to help you find the way of eating that will work best for you and your individual body.
The Food Pharmacology Behind Beneficial Foods
In addition to the foods that should be restricted, I also want to share more information on the foods that are especially helpful for people with Hashimoto’s.
As I mentioned earlier, the term “food pharmacology” refers to the use of food as medicine to restore health to the body. I recommend including these foods in your diet on a regular basis to help your thyroid heal and promote whole-body healing.
Seventy percent of people with Hashimoto’s found bone broth to be beneficial to their healing process. Specifically, 62 percent saw an increase in energy, 57 percent an improvement in mood, and 32 percent an improvement in skin.
Bone broth provides healing collagen, proline, glycine and glutamine, as well as several important minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and sulphur, that are readily absorbed by the body in this digestible form. These healing substances act to strengthen joints, soothe and heal the gut lining, boost the immune system, and make the skin glow — to name a few key benefits. It truly is a superfood!
You can learn more about the benefits of bone broth and find my favorite, easy-to-make bone broth recipe here.
Of my readers surveyed, 68 percent found green smoothies helpful, with 82 percent saying that the smoothies gave them more energy, 60 percent claiming improved mood, and 40 percent noticing benefits for weight.
Smoothies are a really great way to increase our intake of nutritious food without the digestive stress. As smoothies are chopped up, the food becomes easier to digest and the nutrients are easier to absorb. Green smoothies and green juices are like a shot of energy.
Dense, leafy greens, such as kale, spinach and chard, are loaded with antioxidants, as well as fiber, which promote intestinal health by sweeping the intestines clean and boosting the detoxification process.
ead more about how the Root Cause Green Smoothie can help with detoxification and reduce inflammation.
Fifty seven percent of people that I surveyed felt that fermented foods helped, and the benefits were again seen in energy (64 percent), mood (49 percent), and pain reduction (27 percent).
Fermented foods are an excellent way to promote gut healing, as the probiotics, aka “good bacteria,” that are produced during the fermentation process can be beneficial in balancing your intestinal flora, and can help with symptoms of constipation, digestion, and anxiety.
Some of my favorite fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, and coconut kefir! (Note: If you have SIBO, fermented foods may exacerbate your symptoms.)
Gelatin is derived from the bones and fibrous tissues of animals, and consists mostly of the amino acids glycine and proline. These amino acids are crucial not only for healthy skin, hair and nail growth, but for optimal immune function as well.
Gelatin has been shown to promote joint health, deepen sleep, and improve digestion by binding with water to help move food through the digestive tract.
The benefits of consuming gelatin were seen by 47 percent of those who took my survey, with almost half seeing improvements in skin, 38 percent seeing benefits in hair, and 33 percent seeing a reduction in pain and improvements in energy.
I love adding gelatin to smoothies and making gut healing desserts with it.
Hot Lemon Water
Because the structure of lemon juice is similar to that of gastric juices, it can help support stomach and liver detoxification pathways. It’s also packed full of antioxidants, and, thanks to its acidity, hot lemon water aids in the absorption of certain medications, including thyroid hormone medications.
I encourage drinking hot lemon water in the morning on an empty stomach to boost energy and aid the body in healing.
Beets are a good source of phytonutrients, which perform anti-inflammatory and antioxidant duties in the body.
For those with the MTHFR gene mutation, beets are especially beneficial, as they are rich in betaine, a substance that can help break down homocysteine (which, when elevated, can lead to heart disease, difficult pregnancies, birth defects, and an impaired ability to detoxify).
I recommend eating 1-2 servings of beets a week. However, because beets are naturally high in sugar, you’ll want to combine them with a healthy fat or protein source.
The glucosinolates found in crucifers like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and turnips are what cause cruciferous vegetables to help increase detoxification in the liver, which is beneficial for individuals with autoimmune thyroid disease.
I’ve written about how avoiding crucifers with Hashimoto’s is a myth in my article on goitrogens and Hashimoto’s. However, if you are concerned about the goitrogenic potential of crucifers, you can lightly steam or ferment cruciferous vegetables since they truly only affect the thyroid’s absorption of iodine in a raw state.
Fresh cilantro is a natural chelator, which means it will bind to certain toxins and help excrete them from the body. There are other natural chelators such as chlorella and spirulina, although I do not generally recommend these for people with Hashimoto’s due to their high iodine content and their potential to modify the immune system. You can add cilantro to salads, avocados, green juices, smoothies, and salsas. You can also use cilantro as a fresh condiment topper on chili and certain soups, depending on the flavor.
Fiber acts like a sponge as it moves through the digestive process and helps sop up toxins and excess hormones, ultimately supporting their path to excretion. It’s best to get fiber from fruits and vegetables instead of supplemental forms, as supplements have been known to aggravate intestinal permeability and SIBO.
Greens Juices and Chlorophyll
Green juices are full of healing nutrients that are easily digestible in liquid form. They are also a wonderful source of chlorophyll, which is a green pigment found in plants, that has numerous health benefits. Chlorophyll has been shown to help support the process of detoxification in the liver, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, raise iron levels, and even work as a natural deodorant by neutralizing odors.
Curcumin, the active ingredient found in turmeric, is what’s responsible for this spice’s natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Turmeric is also antibacterial and antiviral, effective at helping detoxify various metals and toxins, and linked to improved mood and memory.
Typically, the effects of curcumin only last about an hour in the body, but I’ve found that combining curcumin with piperine, an alkaloid found in pepper, will keep it in the body longer.
I recommend turmeric for clients with Hashimoto’s because it helps support the gut, liver, and inflammatory pathways. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory effect, it can be especially helpful if you are experiencing pain. (Read more about the benefits of turmeric for Hashimoto’s here.)
Berries are a plentiful source of phytonutrients that act as antioxidants in the body. Since they are high in fiber, they don’t cause a spike in your blood sugar as other fruits tend to do.
I recommend eating a variety of berries, including blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, as well as more exotic types such as boysenberries, currants, and gooseberries. Blueberries, in particular, are a rich source of myo-inositol, a nutrient that has been shown to improve thyroid function and blood sugar. (Read more about blood sugar issues, which are common in those with Hashimoto’s.)
Resources to Get You Started
You might be thinking, how can I add all these beneficial foods to my diet?
If you’re like most of my clients, life is busy, and time is precious. This is why I wanted to create a solution to help people eat nutritious meals, save time and money, and not feel like they are always glued to the kitchen!
I know that when I first started changing my diet, it took so much time to get the right cookbooks, do all of the research, pick recipes, make a plan, and start a list. It took hundreds of dollars and hours for me to get started, and I still did it wrong, “forgetting” to cut out soy when I first went gluten free. I want you to learn from my mistakes.
In my first books, I wasn’t able to go into details on the dietary elements the way I wanted to, and I have had many questions from readers over the years on how to incorporate food pharmacology into their daily lives. They asked for specific recipes and favorite foods of mine that would make this way of eating easier for them.
The result of all of those requests is my cookbook, Hashimoto’s Food Pharmacology: Nutrition Protocols and Healing Recipes to Take Charge of Your Thyroid Health.
In this book, I give my readers a crash course on how to heal your body with nutrition, filled with recipes and eating strategies that are easily incorporated into your daily life. All the recipes remove the most harmful trigger foods and incorporate beneficial foods (like the ones I mentioned above) to help your body heal and your thyroid thrive!
Furthermore, I address solutions to the most common reasons why people don’t succeed with diet, including:
- Providing clarity around the foods to eat and not to eat
- Super fast and easy recipes that use common ingredients
- Tailoring your diet to you
- Information on how to address specific symptoms with nutrition
- Guidance on using complementary nutrients to address symptoms
- Using proper digestive enzymes to prevent and reverse food sensitivities
- Batch cooking, meal planning, simplified cooking
- Where to shop to save time and money
- Signs that the diet may not be working for you
- When to dig deeper, beyond nutrition
- Plus much more!
I hope that this book will allow you to be your own nutrition guru, and allow you to use food to bring relief to your Hashimoto’s symptoms in a simple and delicious way!
There can be many triggers for Hashimoto’s, but most people will find that eliminating problematic foods and incorporating healing foods into their diet is one of the best things they can do to feel better — and even put their Hashimoto’s into remission!
Uncovering food sensitivities, finding the diet that works for you, and incorporating healing foods into your daily life is about the best “medicine” you can take to begin the healing process. I encourage you to check out the many food articles on my website, or my upcoming cookbook for more information on how food pharmacology can go to work for you.
As always, I wish you the very best on your healing journey!
- Fasano A, Berti I, Gerarduzzi T, et al. Prevalence of celiac disease in at-risk and not-at-risk groups in the United States: a large multicenter study. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(3):286-292.
Note: Originally published in April 2017, this article has been revised and updated for accuracy and thoroughness.