Healthy Habits that Aren’t so Healthy for your Thyroid
As a thyroid patient you probably already know that making and keeping healthy habits can have a noticeable improvement on your thyroid.
In fact, there’s a lot of evidence and patient stories to support the idea that certain healthy habits can bring Hashimoto’s into remission and even reduce how much thyroid medication you need to take each day.
I’m not here to dispute any of these things.
But what I am here to do is talk about some healthy habits that you might be doing that are actually harmful to your thyroid gland.
Because the thyroid gland is so unique, healthy habits that may work to keep your body healthy may actually cause problems for your thyroid.
So if you are someone trying to live a healthier lifestyle, if you are someone who has adopted certain healthy habits from other blog posts or videos but not feeling well, then you may want to double-check those healthy habits to see if they are actually healthy!
Before we talk about these habits I want to make something very clear:
This information isn’t meant to confuse you or second guess all of your healthy eating or healthy habits, but you should be aware that some of the things you are doing may not be so healthy after all.
This is especially important if you are someone who is actively trying to live a healthy lifestyle but you still aren’t where you think you should be.
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#1. Using Himalayan Pink Salt and Celtic Sea Salt
It is absolutely NOT the case that Himalayan pink salt and Celtic sea salt are bad for you or your thyroid.
In fact, there’s an argument to be made that these forms of salt are actually healthier for you compared to the average table salt.
Himalayan pink salt is particularly beneficial because it contains different minerals that are often ideal for those with thyroid problems.
And it is this logic that leads thyroid patients to use these salts over traditional forms of salt.
They think: “If Himalayan pink salt is healthier than regular salt then why shouldn’t I use it to get these beneficial minerals into my body?”.
And you are right if you are thinking this!
The problem with this is not in the Himalayan pink salt but what you replace it with.
And, for most people, that means iodized salt (1).
The average person who switches to Himalayan pink salt or Celtic sea salt is doing it for health reasons but what they may not realize is by doing so they are missing out on one of the primary sources of iodine intake from their diet.
Why does this matter?
Because iodine is one of the top 3 most important nutrients for thyroid function and many people are intentionally or unintentionally reducing their intake of iodine each day.
Without enough iodine, you won’t be able to produce thyroid hormone which may lead to worsening hypothyroid symptoms and thyroid function.
So if you are someone who is consuming these types of salt but you are also getting your daily dose of iodine from other food sources such as sea vegetables, fish, or other sources, then you don’t have anything to worry about!
But if you are like most people, you aren’t getting enough iodine from your diet (2) so when you make the switch over to Himalayan pink salt or Celtic sea salt you’ve just got rid of your #1 source of dietary iodine.
The bottom line?
It’s not the salts that are the problem, it’s what you may no longer be consuming that can be.
If you want to use these types of salt (and I would encourage you to do so), just make sure you are still getting your iodine from some other sources.
You can either get your iodine from food sources or from supplements. It doesn’t matter where you get it from, just make sure that you do.
#2. Eating Too Many Green Vegetables (Without Complementary Iodine Intake)
The reason that you hear people talk about vegetables all of the time in relation to your thyroid is because they contain something called goitrogens.
Goitrogens act to block the uptake of iodine into your gland.
Put another way, these goitrogens prevent you from creating thyroid hormone and may cause a low thyroid state.
And green vegetables are a big source of goitrogens.
This logic has lead many a thyroid patient to automatically assume that green vegetables are somehow dangerous and should be avoided.
But this is completely false for most people.
Because the goitrogenic effect of green vegetables is minimal and if you consume enough iodine that iodine will outcompete the goitrogens and you will still create thyroid hormone.
But let’s assume two important things:
#1. Let’s imagine that you are someone who is no longer using iodized salt because you have switched to Himalayan pink salt or Celtic sea salt.
And #2. Let’s imagine that you are someone who is simultaneously trying to eat healthier so you increase your daily consumption of green vegetables.
Do you see the problem here?
You’ve simultaneously DECREASED iodine consumption while increasing GOITROGEN intake with these two healthy habits.
It’s not one or the other that is particularly harmful but when added together they create a scenario in which your thyroid may not be able to get enough iodine.
So what’s the solution?
Well, it’s easy actually, you just need to consume more iodine!
If you get your iodine intake into the healthy range then it doesn’t really matter that you are consuming more green vegetables (which is a good thing, by the way).
But if you wanted to take it a step further to ensure that your veggies don’t cause any thyroid problems then you can simply steam them before you eat them.
Preparing your veggies with steam will reduce the concentration of goitrogenic compounds and ensure that they won’t cause any issues.
The bottom line here is that you should be consuming enough iodine each and every day so even if there is some goitrogenic effect from the foods that you eat it won’t be sufficient to cause any problems.
For most people, iodine intake in the range of at least 150 to 250mcg each day is sufficient.
#3. Taking a Hair, Skin, and Nails Supplement
Let me be clear:
Hair, skin, and nails supplements are NOT harmful to the thyroid but they do contain an ingredient that can cause a lot of confusion for thyroid patients.
And that ingredient is biotin.
Let me explain:
It makes sense that these supplements contain this ingredient.
But what you need to know is that biotin can interfere with thyroid lab testing assays.
Some thyroid patients get the biotin-thyroid thing confused, though, so make sure you don’t misunderstand me.
Biotin doesn’t impact your thyroid but it can interfere with thyroid lab tests.
If you have biotin floating around in your system when you get your labs drawn it can bind to the thyroid testing assay which makes it look like you have more thyroid floating around in your body than you really do.
Biotin can make it look like you are hyperthyroid when you are really hypothyroid.
This is a big problem because it may cause your doctor to incorrectly lower your dose of thyroid medication to try and compensate.
But they are chasing a ghost. It’s not actually your thyroid that’s the problem, it’s the biotin.
Some thyroid patients, and even doctors, take this to mean that biotin should 100% be avoided.
But complete avoidance is not necessary!
You can solve this biotin-thyroid debacle by simply avoiding biotin 2 days before you get your labs drawn.
If you want to be on the extra-safe side you can stop taking your biotin 3-4 days before you are scheduled to get your labs drawn.
By that time, the biotin will be out of your system and will not interfere with your lab tests.
#4. Eating Too Many Brazil Nuts Each Day
This one was inspired by a recent trip to Costco in which I noticed that there was an entire bag of organic Brazil nuts marketed as a keto snack.
It turns out that while brazil nuts can be used as a decent keto snack, they are also a HUGE source of selenium.
It’s been said that the average brazil nut contains around 90mcg (5) of selenium.
While that’s not necessarily true (the dosing of selenium varies by Brazil nut), it is definitely true that brazil nuts contain a lot more selenium than most other foods.
Which makes it a desirable superfood for thyroid patients.
For this reason, many thyroid patients are all too eager to eat 1-2 brazil nuts every day.
So why is this included on the list?
Because selenium toxicity is a real thing that you should be aware of.
And one of the easiest ways to become toxic on selenium is with the judicious consumption of brazil nuts!
If the average brazil nut contains 90mcg of selenium and the ideal dose of selenium for thyroid patients is around 100 to 200mcg each day, you can see how quickly you can get over that dose with just a handful of Brazil nuts.
Now imagine you are someone who eats 10 or 20 Brazil nuts in one day.
You could be getting 900mcg to 1,800mg of selenium in one sitting!
Selenium toxicity symptoms mimic those of low thyroid function including:
- Hair loss
- Nail changes
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Joint pain
It’s not that Brazil nuts are necessarily harmful by themselves, in fact, the opposite is true.
There’s a good case to make for thyroid patients consuming 1-2 Brazil nuts on a daily basis.
But if you don’t understand how potent these nuts are and you accidentally start consuming a high quantity of them, you do run the risk of causing problems.
The good news is that treating selenium toxicity is fairly easy, you just need to stop consuming the selenium and your body will take care of the rest!
#5. Taking Supplements that Contain Sulforaphane
If you aren’t familiar with sulforaphane, let me explain:
Sulforaphane is an ingredient found in cruciferous vegetables, the same vegetables that are often touted as some of the healthiest and most nutritious foods on the planet.
Sulforaphane is the ingredient that makes these vegetables so healthy.
It has been shown to fight cancer, reduce inflammation, and act as an anti-oxidant (7).
The science is pretty clear that sulforaphane is a superfood with very beneficial effects on the body.
And a lot of people know this which is why sulforaphane supplements have been created.
The logic goes that even if you can’t consume vegetables each and every day then maybe you can still get some benefit by taking supplements that contain sulforaphane.
And while this logic makes sense, you have to think about it in context with your thyroid.
Remember when we talked about green vegetables in #2 above?
Sulforaphane is has a goitrogenic effect (8)!
Again, it’s not a problem if you are taking supplements with this ingredient but you better be aware that it will cause some competition with iodine and may result in decreased iodine uptake into your thyroid gland.
What’s the solution?
If you are taking a sulforaphane supplement all you need to do is adjust your iodine intake to compensate for the supplement.
#6. Consuming Foods and Supplements that Contain Cyanide
Most people know that cyanide is harmful to the human body, at least in large doses.
What you may not realize, though, is that cyanide naturally occurs in foods and even some supplements.
Normally, this really isn’t an issue, though, because your body has sophisticated ways to eliminate it.
And it is on these pathways that we need to focus.
When your body eliminates cyanide it can turn it into something called thiocyanate which is a breakdown product of cyanide.
Your body turns cyanide into these thiocyanates in the liver and kidneys so it can eliminate them.
What you need to know is thiocyanate has the potential to block iodine function in the thyroid gland similar to goitrogens.
The body is well equipped to handle cyanide metabolism but by doing so it may draw away resources that your thyroid needs to produce thyroid hormone which is also a problem.
Either because the cyanide is blocking iodine uptake or because it is taking resources away from thyroid hormone production, you really don’t want a lot of cyanide floating around in your body if you are a thyroid patient.
Cyanide probably isn’t a big issue for most people, but it can be for thyroid patients, and here’s why:
Many of the treatments and therapies that thyroid patients utilize may introduce naturally occurring sources of cyanide into their body which have the potential to cause issues.
As an example, here are a few naturally occurring sources of cyanide that you should be aware of:
- Cyanocobalamin – Cyanocobalamin is a cheap form of vitamin B12 in which the B12 is bound to cyanide (9). This is the cheapest form of B12 and by taking this form of B12 you are consuming a product that will introduce cyanide into your system. Better forms of B12 include methylcobalamin, hydroxy cobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin. Make sure you check your supplements to see if you are taking this form of B12!
- Cassava (frequently found in gluten-free foods) – Many thyroid patients go gluten-free because they know that it has helped other patients. I’m actually a big advocate of going gluten-free for thyroid disease, so I’m not trying to say that this is bad in any way. But you should know that many gluten-free foods contain cassava flour which naturally contains cyanide (10).
- Lima beans
- Sprouted sorghum
- Sweet potato
Does this mean you need to avoid all of these foods?
No, but it does mean you should take a look at the types of foods that you are eating and put that into context with your iodine intake.
If you find that you are eating a lot of cassava then maybe it’s time to cut it back to 2-3x per week instead of eating it every single day.
If you are a taking a supplement with cyanocobalamin then it’s definitely a good idea to swap that out for other forms of B12 because they are much better for thyroid patients.
When it comes to food sources, keeping an eye on your iodine intake is usually enough.
Your Next Steps
There you have it!
These are 6 “healthy” habits that look like they are quite healthy at first glance but may have negative consequences on your thyroid.
Again, please don’t let this information confuse you or paralyze you into making any changes to your health.
I just want you to be better informed about your thyroid and about how various things interfere or block thyroid function so you can be better educated and make informed decisions.
Figuring out what works for your body is very much a game of trial and error.
The more information you have, the more things that you try, and the more time that you spend figuring it out will help you get back to 100%.
Now I want to hear from you:
Are you following any of these healthy habits?
Have you noticed a decline in your thyroid function?
Are you planning on making any changes after reading through these habits?
Do you have any other habits that you think should be included on this list?
Leave your questions or comments below!