Thyroid Medications & Food: An Endocrinologist Weighs In

Thyroid Medications & Food: An Endocrinologist ‘Weighs’ In
Do you know what foods should you be eating or avoiding when you're on thyroid medications?

The small butterfly-shaped thyroid gland in the lower part of your throat is responsible for many processes in your body, including metabolic processes, fatigue, constipation and dry skin.

While there isn’t a specific meal plan for those who have a thyroid disease — hypothyroid (underactive thyroid), hyperthyroid (overactive thyroid), Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease — Dr. Claude Lardinois, MD, Renown Health Endocrinologist, weighs in on how some popular foods affect thyroid medications:

  • Cruciferous Veggies

While it is true that cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower contain natural chemicals called goitrogens (goiter producers) that can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis, there’s no reason you should stop eating them.

The goitrogens in these foods — also included in corn, sweet potatoes, lima beans, turnips, peanuts, cassava, canola oil and soybeans — are inactivated by cooking, even light steaming. However, I would avoid eating these veggies raw.

  • Non-Fermented Soy

There’s no doubt that soy might affect your thyroid gland, but the real question is, “How much does it take?” If you’ve read that soy is bad for your thyroid, you’re probably reading claims based on a few poorly designed studies that have been blown out of proportion.

Based on research, normal amounts of traditional soy foods pose no risk to thyroid function.  An important question that is still unclear is, “Does it interfere with the absorption of the thyroid hormone?”  Many drugs and supplements have been shown to decrease thyroid hormone absorption so I would include soy in that list.

  • Coffee

There is no reason why a person with a thyroid condition cannot continue to enjoy a cup of Joe.  The concern: Does coffee interfere with the intestinal absorption of levothyroxine (L-T4)?

A small retrospective study showed that the effect of espresso on L-T4 absorption was variable, and was present only if espresso was swallowed simultaneously with the L-T4, but not 60 minutes later.

  • Processed Foods

Processed foods should be eliminated or kept to a minimum in the diet, as well as added sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup).  People with hypertension should prudently restrict their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day, although recommending the same restriction of sodium for people with a thyroid condition is unclear.

Some studies have shown that restricting sodium in some populations actually increases all-cause mortality.  Remember one size does not fit all.  Individualized treatment is the goal.

  • Coconut Oil

I believe coconut oil is a good substitute for cooking and baking. For years, saturated fats have been touted as being bad for people, but this was based on “belief” not science.  Currently, there haven’t been any rigorous clinical studies published that show coconut oil has any impact on thyroid function or increase the metabolism.  Like saturated fats those claims are based on antidotal “beliefs” that are unfounded by science.

Dr. Lardinois also says it’s important to take your medication with only water first thing in the morning— giving it 30 minutes to be absorbed before you consume anything else.

“For the folks who can’t wait 30 minutes before their cup of Joe, I recommend they take the thyroid medication with water only before going to bed.  Some studies have shown that overall absorption is a little better when taken at bedtime versus waiting 30 minutes in the morning.”