Hyperthyroidism is a condition where your thyroid becomes overactive.
The thyroid is a gland in your neck, producing the hormone T4, and its primary role is the conversion of food into energy, as well as regulating metabolism. When this hormone is over-producing, symptoms include weight loss, anxiety, overheating, sleep problems, muscle weakness, extreme thirst, frequent urination and diarrhoea, and swelling around your thyroid. This can be detected by blood tests to measure T4 and T3 (the active form) levels, and check that the level of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), produced by the pituitary gland, is not lower than normal, which is an indicator that your body is trying to reduce thyroid hormone production.
The most common cause is Graves disease, ‘the cause of which is unknown’, according to the NHS, although there are genetic factors. (1) Graves disease is an autoimmune condition, where your body produces antibodies that cause the thyroid to become overactive. Other common causes of hyperthyroidism include thyroid growths, or medication that increases your iodine levels.
How is it hyperthyroidism treated?
For an overactive thyroid, there are several methods of treatment prescribed by the NHS.
Thionamides are frequently used to reduce thyroid activity. These are medications that can reduce thyroid function. Beta-blockers may be prescribed to further reduce symptoms.
Radioactive treatments and surgery are offered if other treatments are not possible, and if the thyroid does not return to normal after a period of treatment (pregnancy induced thyroid malfunction in particular usually resolves itself relatively quickly), or if there are severe complications. Synthetic thyroid hormones are frequently required for life following elimination, removal or reduction of the thyroid. (2)
Gut health and inflammation
As we learn more about the bacteria in our gut, it has become apparent that gut health may play a key role in the development of autoimmune disorders.
The microbiome has become known as our ‘second brain’, with a huge influence on both our mental and physical wellbeing. If our gut becomes imbalanced, this can damage the intestinal wall, allowing bacteria and other inflammatory compounds into our bloodstream. This can sometimes trigger an autoimmune reaction. (3) In some cases, this may lead to your body attacking its own thyroid tissue and causing it to malfunction.
Stress levels, a limited or fibre depleted diet, a high intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners and processed foods, can all have a detrimental impact on your gut health.
All of these factors can increase systemic inflammation, too, which has been linked to autoimmune issues. (4)
Undetected mild intolerances, such as gluten, can also damage your gut lining, as well as increasing inflammation, and may play a role in autoimmune disorders.
Whatever process is malfunctioning in your body, it is important to focus on the nutrient density of your diet. We carry out constant cellular chemical reactions in order to function optimally, so if we don’t provide our bodies with enough of the right chemicals, it may be harder for to regulate properly.
Selenium supplementation in particular has been shown to reduce symptoms in patients with hyperthyroidism. (5)
What can you do?
Increasing the diversity of foods in your diet, emphasizing a range of colourful vegetables, whole grains and unprocessed, prebiotic (gut feeding) and probiotic (containing beneficial bacteria) foods can help your body to normalise its hormone production. Taking high quality supplements and probiotics and eliminating gluten (even without a severe intolerance) can also help to support your gut and hormonal function.
Managing stress levels is also essential. Incorporating exercise and practices such as meditation or yoga into your daily life can help to support your gut and thyroid function, as well as reducing inflammation that can contribute to the severity of autoimmune disorders.(6)
Although treatment may still be a necessity, it is empowering to know that there are simple, accessible measures that can support and improve thyroid function.
Written by Zoe Hill, Nutritional Chef, Health Content Creator and Yoga Instructor.