Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism. Researchers have started to link the foods we eat to the cause of autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s and how to treat them. There isn’t a specific diet that can help prevent or treat Hashimoto’s disease specifically, but there are a number of changes you can make to your diet that can help you manage your condition.
In Hashimoto’s disease, your body makes antibodies to your thyroid hormones and attacks them. This impairs your thyroid’s ability to produce hormones, leading to a gradual decline in function and eventually an underactive thyroid.
Most commonly, treatment for Hashimoto’s disease involves replenishing hormones with the medication levothyroxine. If diagnosed with a thyroid disease that lowers your natural hormone levels, you will need to take replacement medication for the rest of your life.
What you eat and how you eat it can have a big impact on the success of your Hashimoto’s disease treatment plan. Dietary changes can potentially improve the overall quality of life for people living with Hashimoto’s disease.
Numerous studies have investigated the benefits of diet for autoimmune diseases. The focus is usually on eating or avoiding foods that can contribute to inflammation. When there is inflammation in your body, more antibodies are produced, leading to increased autoimmune disease activity. There may also be specific foods that uniquely aggravate your condition.
While existing evidence shows promise, more research that shows these benefits is needed.
How It Works
The general idea of diets for Hashimoto’s disease focuses on reducing inflammation in the body. It’s also important to remember that a diet alone cannot prevent or cure thyroid disease.
Hashimoto’s disease is a lifelong condition that will require continuous medication. Likewise, any changes you make to your diet that help your condition should be permanent. If you adopt dietary changes that improve your condition, you should expect those benefits will stop when you stray from that diet.
What to Eat
Animal protein (in moderation)
Seeds, nuts, and nut butters
Beans and lentils
Dairy and nondairy substitutions
Herbs and spices
You might find that some of the foods on the compliant list may aggravate your condition if you eat too much or too little of them. For example, studies have shown that people who eat a lot of meat, are obese, or consume fewer fruits and vegetables have higher rates of Hashimoto’s disease.
Additionally, autoimmune diseases are notoriously individualized, so what works for someone else with Hashimoto’s disease may help you, but it might not.
Iodine and Hashimoto’s Disease
The thyroid uses iodine, a mineral in some foods, to make thyroid hormones. However, people with Hashimoto’s disease or other types of autoimmune thyroid disorders may be sensitive to the harmful side effects of iodine. Eating foods that have large amounts of iodine, such as kelp, dulse, or other kinds of seaweed, or taking iodine supplements may cause hypothyroidism or make it worse.
There is some evidence that fasting might contribute to increased levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). While this may sound like a good thing, elevated TSH levels actually indicate low levels of thyroid hormones.
Generally, a whole-food strategy may benefit people with Hashimoto’s disease. Foods high in certain fats, fried foods, and processed foods are all known to aggravate autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s. Using cooking strategies that focus on starting from scratch or whole-food principles may be beneficial.
If you have chosen to follow a diet that focuses on limiting certain foods—like gluten or soy—or increasing others, keep in mind that these dietary changes won’t completely cure your condition. Additionally, gluten-free foods can be costly or full of added sugar. Vegetarian or vegan diets, on the other hand, could require you to substitute or supplement some aspects of your nutrition.
You may also need to consider the other members of your household, and the burden of eating prepared foods or food in restaurants. It can be difficult to follow very restrictive diets, especially when the ingredient you are trying to avoid—like soy—can be hidden in so many common foods.
If your family or household members don’t follow the same diet as you, it can also make maintaining a special eating plan more difficult or costly. Be sure you discuss your diet plans with your doctor to learn about any supplements you may need to take, and try to establish a good support system that can help you along your journey. Support groups may be able to help you find recipes or cost-saving tips for your new lifestyle.
Hashimoto’s vs. Other Diets
While there isn’t necessarily a formal Hashimoto’s diet, recommendations for dietary changes to make to support hypothyroidism are common to a few other diets.
Gluten-Free or Grain-Free Diets
Diets that are low in or avoid gluten altogether may be helpful in managing thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s. However, these diets can be difficult and costly to follow, and packaged gluten-free foods often have other added ingredients like sugar. Also, the sample size in studies that looked into these gluten-free or grain-free diets for Hashimoto’s is not large enough to support this claim fully.
Anti-inflammatory diets have been found to help reduce inflammation in the body and provide relief for a number of autoimmune diseases. While there are certain foods that can have an inflammatory impact on your body, finding out the best foods to consume and avoid may include elimination dieting or a lot of trial and error.
Autoimmune Protocol Diet
The autoimmune protocol diet is a diet that aligns closely with an anti-inflammatory diet. Certain foods are incorporated or avoided to help reduce autoimmune activity in the body that triggers dysfunction of your thyroid gland. Like autoimmune diets, these diets may require a lot of trial and error, and specific food requirements may vary from person to person.
Dairy, or rather a sugar found in dairy products, called lactose, has been found to increase TSH levels. Choosing a dairy-free diet, even if you make no other changes, may help improve your symptoms.
Should I Say No to Kale?
Cruciferous vegetables have a bad rep when it comes to thyroid disease. Vegetables that fall into this category include broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale. The effect that these vegetables can have on your thyroid function is limited. Consuming a lot of these foods is not recommended, but eating them in moderation should not be a problem.
A Word From Verywell
There are a lot of foods that can help support or hinder good thyroid function. Even though specific diets are said to help with Hashimoto’s, how well any of these diets actually work depends on the individual, and more research is needed to support their benefits. Some dietary changes that are restrictive or expensive can be difficult to follow, and you may have to consider whether the rest of your household can adopt the same changes. If you are considering making big changes to your diet, ask your doctor for suggestions that take into account your overall health.