Originally written for Thyroid UK and published in Harmony magazine in Spring 2022
Inflammatory conditions have skyrocketed over the past few decades. From arthritis to atherosclerosis to eczema and Alzheimer’s, and many more in between. While inflammation has a positive role in the short term as part of the immune response and primarily protective, longterm or chronic inflammation is extremely damaging to body function.
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are inflammatory conditions. They are both likely to have been caused, in some part, by inflammation (particularly if autoimmune, in the cases of Graves and Hashimoto’s) and they both are likely to result in further inflammation.
This can reach all corners of the body but common symptoms arise in the gut (eg. bloating, coeliac disease or sensitivity to foods like gluten and dairy), in the brain (eg. depression, anxiety, poor memory and focus), in the cardiovascular system (eg. raised cholesterol), and in the skeletal system (eg. osteoporosis and sarcopenia).
And gut inflammation often goes further than the digestive system. Autoimmunity is strongly associated with the intestinal permeability that can accompany the inflammation. Around 70% of the immune system is thought to be situated in the gut. If there is autoimmunity, it’s likely there is gut inflammation and this doesn’t mean that there are always digestive symptoms.
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above or simply have a thyroid diagnosis, chances are you will benefit from decreasing inflammatory foods and drinks.
In general, it’s advisable to steer towards an anti-inflammatory diet. The perfect example is what is known as the Mediterranean diet. But it’s not baguette and camembert or patatas bravas all day long. It is high in fibre, low in sugar, has very few processed foods and lots of colourful vegetables.
Here are the basics of a Mediterranean diet:
Pulses like beans, lentils and chickpeas
Nuts and seeds
Herbs and spices
Fish and seafood
You can make this easier and more economical by the following:
Tinned mackerel and sardines
Tinned pulses (to save time)
Dried pulses (to save money). Soak overnight before cooking.
Frozen veg and fruit
Grown your own herbs
Bulk buy grains, nuts and seeds
There are specific foods (included in the Mediterranean diet) that have anti-inflammatory compounds. These include oily fish (think SMASH – salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring), flax seeds, chia seed and walnuts. This is due to their high omega 3 fat content which have an inhibitory effect on inflammation.
And when it comes to vegetables, eating a broad array of different colours (often called ‘eating the rainbow’) will not only ensure you’re getting the broadest range of nutrients, but a large amount of antioxidants which also can reduce inflammation.
However, eating all these foods will not have the desired anti-inflammatory results if the inflammatory foods are still being eaten in moderate to large quantities. The foods that are likely to contribute to inflammation are:
Anything you’re allergic to or that gives you direct symptoms
It’s not only food that can have this effect. It’s possible to create inflammation with lifestyle habits. Not getting enough sleep, high stress levels and negative relationships will all add to the load considerably.
It could be worth taking time to assess whether there are areas of your life that you could change. Are you able to reduce stress by switching things around?
Think of sleep as a priority. This is the time when our bodies repair, so it’s vital to be getting enough and improving its quality. See my website for more tips on this – https://alicegodfreynutrition.com/2019/11/06/6-habits-for-better-sleep/
You can build nervous system resilience with daily practices like yoga, meditation, walks in nature, getting into a creative flow or just some simple deep breaths. As long as you do them consistently and at least every day, you’ll be getting into the calming, non-inflammatory parasympathetic mode of the nervous system.
Managing inflammation in the body is an ongoing process but awareness of how to reduce it can be a highly effective tool in supporting our thyroid health.
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