With weight loss, many people believe that all there is to it, is calories. Burn more, consume less; that is the most common advice one will hear. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. Weight loss is actually very complex and is dependent on a whole number of things: diet, exercise, metabolism, overall health, mental health, primary food, genetics, etc. One other factor is the health of the thyroid gland.

Although not often considered, the thyroid gland plays a significant role in regards to one’s weight. This has become more well known through Oprah’s woes with hyperthyroidism which she’s said has been the cause of her sudden weight gain.

Purpose of the thyroid

The thyroid produces its own hormones that do a number of jobs; one such job involves balancing the body’s metabolism. When the thyroid gland is out of whack, these processes get interrupted causing hypothyroid (an under-active thyroid) or hyperthyroid (an overactive thyroid).

When the body is suffering from an imbalanced thyroid, the proper mechanisms that tell the body about how to balance the metabolic rate are off. What this means, is that when you consume too much or too little, the body knows whether or not to increase or decrease the metabolism. This is a common problem with low-calorie diets: the lack of calories in the body tells it “Hey, there’s no food here folks! Time to take a break” and so then the metabolism slows down.

This period of metabolic sluggishness is what many dieters may be having difficulty with when they’re eating right and exercising but are still not losing any weight.

How to have a healthy thyroid

If you think that you are suffering from a thyroid disorder, there are a few nutritional steps you can easily take. The first thing you should do is avoid fluoride, since numerous studies have documented its negative effect on the thyroid. To do this, of course you will want a high-grade water filter (see my suggestions for water filters in my article on fluoride), and keep in mind that there are other food and environmental factors as well. The Fluoride Action Network cautions the usage of some toothpastes, processed cereals, juice, tea, wine, beer, teflon pans, and others.

If you’re worried about your thyroid, but you don’t want to give up some things like wine or tea, I suggest finding a certified organic brand that you like. Some plants (like tea, for example) will leech a lot of the minerals from the soil and so you’ll find that the fluoride levels for organic tea and non-organic tea differ greatly since the soil condition for the organic tea is much better.

The second thing you should avoid is non-fermented soy. Soy has become America’s new health food fad, and as a result, many people are stocking up on various products made from soy (especially soy milk); but the isoflavones in soy actually block the thyroid hormone. But soy isn’t all bad, stick to fermented soy products like miso and tempeh as they are much different than their unfermented relatives.

Thirdly, cruciferous vegetables can also cause thyroid woes since they contain goitrogens. This can seem rather strange at first since cruciferous vegetables are also the healthiest and most recommended. My suggestion would be to try to balance out the vegetables you are eating and don’t overload on one kind; most especially if you think you have problems with your thyroid. Also, keep in mind that cooking will help to inactivate the goitrogens in these vegetables; not completely, but it does help.

Lastly, you should de-stress! It goes without saying that stress really affects everything in our body negatively and that includes the thyroid.

There are of course ways to help the thyroid as well, once you’ve started to avoid the things that can harm it. The most common suggestion is the usage of seaweed; specifically, kelp. Sea vegetables contain an awesome amount of nutrients thanks to the environment they grow in. Kelp is very high in iodine which helps regulate the thyroid. Earl Mindell elaborates more in his book Vitamin Bible for the 21st Century:

This amazing seaweed contains more vitamins (especially Bs) and valuable minerals than any other food! Because of its natural iodine content, kelp has a normalizing effect on the thyroid gland. In other words, thin people with thyroid trouble can gain weight by using kelp, and obese people can lose weight with it. In fact, one of the most widespread fads for many years has been the kelp, lecithin, vinegar, and B6 diet. Kelp has also been used by homeopathic physicians in the treatment of obesity, poor digestion, flatulence, obstinate constipation, and to protect against effects of radiation. It is reported to be very beneficial to brain tissue, the membrane surrounding the brain, the sensory nerves, and the spinal cord.

You can get kelp in a few different forms; the most popular is that of kelp tablets, and another being kelp granules you can add to your food (which in my opinion doesn’t alter the taste any). Though when taking this as a supplement, it’s important to also take vitamin A as well. Burton Goldberg writes in Alternative Medicine:

Vitamin A facilitates the efficient absorption of nutrients by strengthening the lining of the digestive tract. Along with vitamins C and E, it bolsters the immune system and thus makes the body more resistant to infection from parasites and yeast overgrowth, two common causes of weight gain. Vitamin A is also necessary for the production of thyroxin, a thyroid hormone, and helps the thyroid to absorb iodine; a key nutrient. The healthy functioning of the thyroid is essential to maintaining metabolism and preventing the accumulation of body fat.

Sometimes people confuse the supplementing of iodine as a weight-loss tool. If your thyroid is balanced properly, then you will not experience weight loss. Beware of excess consumption of iodine; noted author Anne Marie Colbin writes in her book Food and Healing that considering that we are already ingesting large qualities of this mineral because of its presence in fertilizers and table salt, the situation (your iodine level) definitely bears watching. Due to this, I strongly suggest getting help from an accredited health professional to help ensure that you maintain healthy levels of iodine and do not damage the body further.