The term goitrogen comes from the term goiter, which means “a swelling of the neck resulting from enlargement of the thyroid gland“. A goitrogen is a compound that has the potential to interfere with how the thyroid absorbs and processes iodine to produce thyroid hormones. They also inhibit the release of thyroid hormones and they can mess around with the conversion of T4 to T3 elsewhere in the body. Goitrogenic foods should be avoided or eaten in moderation by people who have an under active thyroid caused by iodine deficiency.
People who have the autoimmune version of hypothyroidism Hashimoto’s disease seem to be fine eating these foods but nevertheless should still avoid eating them raw or in excessive quantities. However, regular consumption of large quantities of goitrogenic foods even in healthy people could eventually adversely affect the health of their thyroid gland.
What Foods Are Goitrogenic Foods?
There are many foods that contain goitrogens and some of them may surprise you. High on the list are the cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and so on. These vegetables are have particularly high levels of goitrogens.
Soy products like tempeh and tofu also contain goitrogens. Certain types of fruits, including strawberries, peaches, cassava and babassu also have goitrogens. The following list is some of the highest goitrogen containing foods.
- African cassava
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Chinese Broccoli
- Pine nuts
- Red Radish
As you can see by this list, many goitrogenic foods are very nutritious and high in fiber, which is good for normal digestive health. Therefore, avoiding them altogether would be detrimental to your health in other ways. With care, and using common sense, it is possible to eat your favorite goitrogenic foods even if you have hypothyroidism.
Interesting Questions about Thyroid:
The eye changes associated with Graves’ disease can be called either Graves’ ophthalmopathy, Graves’ orbitopathy, or Graves’ eye disease. Approximately 50% of the patients with Graves’ disease develop some eye disease, but the eye changes may be so subtle that patients are unaware of them. For most patients with Graves’ disease, eye involvement is minimal. Severe orbitopathy occurs in less than 5% of patients with Graves’ disease.
Graves’ eye disease is not caused by thyroid dysfunction. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the eyes and the thyroid gland independently of each other. Thus, the hyperthyroidism may improve with therapy, while the eye disease stays the same or gets worse. Even though the thyroid disease and the eye disease run independent courses, it is important to treat the hyperthyroidism associated with Graves’ disease.
An ophthalmologist is usually involved in the treatment of Graves’ eye disease. Most thyroidologists and endocrinologists should be able to recommend an ophthalmologist experienced in the treatment of Graves’ eye disease. In addition, The Thyroid Society maintains a list of such ophthalmologists throughout the country.
Symptoms of Graves’ eye disease may include a feeling of irritation or sand in the eyes, double vision (diplopia), and excessive tearing. Inflammation and swelling behind the eye may cause actual protrusion of the eyeball from the orbit. When this protrusion occurs, it is called exophthalmos or proptosis.
When the eye changes are severe, there may be marked swelling of the eye, inability to move an eye, corneal ulceration, and in extreme cases, loss of vision. Fortunately, these severe changes occur infrequently, but when they do occur, consultation with an ophthalmologist is essential. Graves’ eye disease usually affects both eyes, although each eye may be affected to a different degree. In some cases, only one eye is affected.
The course of Graves’ eye disease is unpredictable. The initial, or active, phase of Graves’ eye disease may last for eighteen to twenty-four months. During this time period, the eye signs and symptoms may change considerably. For this reason, physicians are reluctant to use certain treatments, such as surgery, during this phase, fearing that ongoing inflammation will cause the eyes to change again after surgery. Thus, most physicians advise patients to defer treatments such as surgery until the eye disease goes into an inactive phase. Of course, if a patient’s symptoms are severe or if loss of vision is threatened, then all available treatments will be used at any time, even during the active phase.
Most patients will receive only symptomatic treatment during the active phase of Graves’ eye disease (see list below). Most importantly, it should be stressed that smoking aggravates Graves’ eye disease.
Physicians may advise the following to relieve symptoms associated with Graves’ eye disease:
- discontinue smoking
- avoid smoke-filled rooms
- use lubricating eye drops
- cover eyes while sleeping
- wear wrap-around dark glasses outdoors during the day
- elevate the head of the bed to reduce overnight eye swelling
- wear prism glasses, or cover one eye with a patch, to relieve double vision
- turn ceiling fans off before going to bed
- avoid exposure to strong sunlight
- avoid or limit wearing contact lenses
- take diuretics temporarily to relieve swelling around the eyes
When symptoms of inflammation are severe, either steroids in large doses or radiation therapy may be advised. Surgery (orbital decompression) is sometimes recommended when the inflammation is so severe that loss of vision is threatened. The choice of therapy among steroids, radiation, and surgery (used individually or in combination) and the timing of therapy require a great deal of thought on the part of the team caring for the patient with Graves’ eye disease.
Once the inflammation in the eyes has stabilized, or entered the inactive phase, patients may then have surgery to relieve signs and symptoms, such as lid retraction, swelling around the eyes, or double vision. Ophthalmologists specializing in plastic surgery of the eye perform the surgery to relieve lid retraction and swelling around the eyes. Sometimes other ophthalmologists who specialize in diseases of the muscles of the eye perform the operation(s) to relieve double vision.
Medical and Surgical Treatment Options for Graves’ Eye Disease
- radiation therapy
- surgical adjustment of eyelid placement
- plastic surgery for swelling around the eye(s)
- eye muscle surgery for realignment of the eye(s)
- orbital decompression
Hypothyroidism causes the body to slow down. It occurs when there is too little thyroid hormone in the blood (“hypo” means “not enough”). Hypothyroidism affects more than 5 million people, many of whom don’t know they have the disease. Women are more likely than men to have hypothyroidism.
Also, one out of every 4,000 infants is born with the condition. If the problem is not corrected, the child will become mentally and physically retarded. Therefore, all newborns in the United States are tested for the disease.
Symptoms in adults include:
- feeling slow or tired
- feeling cold
- drowsy during the day, even after sleeping all night
- slow heart rate
- poor memory
- difficulty concentrating
- muscle cramps
- weight gain
- husky voice
- thinning hair
- dry and coarse skin
- feeling depressed
- heavy menstrual flow
- milky discharge from the breasts
Many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism can occur normally with aging, so if you have one or two of them, there is probably no reason to worry. However, if you are concerned about any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor.
There are several different causes of hyperthyroidism:
- The entire thyroid gland may be overactive, producing too much hormone. Doctors call this problem diffuse toxic goiter, or Graves’ disease.
- One or more lumps (also called nodules) in the gland may be overactive. One such lump is called a toxic autonomously functioning thyroid nodule, and several lumps are called a toxic multi-nodular goiter.
- The gland may be inflamed, a condition called thyroiditis. It can release the thyroid hormone that was stored in the gland, causing hyperthyroidism that lasts for a few weeks or months.
- Some patients may take more thyroid hormone pills than needed or prescribed.
- Some drugs, such as Quadrinal®, amiodarone (Cordarone®), and Lugol’s solution, contain large amounts of iodine, a chemical the thyroid uses to produce its hormones, and may cause the thyroid to produce too much hormone.
® Quadrinal is a registered trademark of Knoll Pharmaceutical.
® Cordarone is a registered trademark of Wyeth Labs.
Have more questions? Need more answers? Check our Full Thyroid FAQ
Guidelines For Eating Goitrogenic Foods
- Don’t overindulge in them. Even if your thyroid health is perfectly normal, eating excessive quantities of these foods could eventually impact on your thyroid.
- If you’re fond of smoothies and juices, you should be aware that many of the recipes for these call for large amounts of raw vegetables like spinach and cabbage. Therefore, your favorite green smoothie is probably a very concentrated cocktail of goitrogens.
- Cooking goitrogenic foods either by steaming, fermenting or lightly boiling them reduces the amount of goitrogens in them.
- Goitrogens inhibit thyroid hormone production and its release so if you have hyperthyroidism, which is excessive production of thyroid hormones, they could slow down this process. However, always discuss alternative treatments like this with your doctor.
- Some types of hypothroidism don’t have issues with goitrogenous foods. This includes those who have had thyroid surgery to remove their thyroid or have been treated with radioactive iodine for Graves disease.
- If you have Hashimoto’s disease you should be fine eating these foods in moderate quantities and preferably cooked.
As with goitrogenous fruits and vegetables, soy products don’t affect people who have enough iodine and a healthy thyroid. They can however interfere with absorption of thyroid medications. Therefore, if soy is a big part of your diet and you’re on thyroid medications, ensure you’re taking your medication well before, or well after, you’ve eaten it. Preferably on an empty stomach. You may also find your medication dose rate needs to be adjusted.
Your best course of action if you want to include goitrogenic foods in your diet on a regular basis is discuss it with your doctor and consider consulting a nutritionist to help with planning appropriate meals.