An epidemic of sluggish thyroids has left millions of us foggy, exhausted and overweight. A surprise culprit? Stress, reveals Yale women’s health expert Aviva Romm, MD, and author of The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution (from $13.52, Amazon).
Dr. Romm explains that in today’s "go-go-go" world, our adrenal glands endlessly churn out cortisol, a stress hormone that can actually deactivate our thyroid hormones. Prolonged stress also causes thyroid-suppressing inflammation, stimulates cravings for more inflammatory foods, and creates a host of other problems that further dampen our thyroid and health. The result? “Metabolism slows, energy drops, and appetite goes up, and we’re basically storing fat in overdrive.”
Luckily, Dr. Romm says very simple dietary changes can be a cortisol-lowering and thyroid-healing game-changer that she encourages everyone to try.
"Lately, there’s been a surge in women telling us that they’ve stoked a slow thyroid and lost up to 30 pounds in 30 days just by making easy swaps for two common ingredients — white sugar and white flour," Romm says.
For example, you might opt for iced tea instead of cola, choose nuts over pretzels, or experiment with new varieties of bread, pasta, and cookies.
Sugar and Your Thyroid
“The average American eats a staggering 160 pounds of sugar and 200 pounds of white flour a year, ” says Dr. Romm.
Rates of thyroid disease have risen steadily as we’ve consumed more and more of these highly-processed carbs, which spike blood sugar and inflame delicate thyroid tissue. Dr. Romm adds that sugar actually triggers the body’s stress response, “so what you eat may be increasing your production of cortisol even when you feel calm.”
Worst of all, cortisol can convert an active thyroid hormone into an inactive form. As Dr. Romm explains, sugar was once used to help pad us with fat to survive difficult times. Its effect is significant: European researchers have new evidence that thyroids peter out for three hours after every sugar fix. And, with so much sugar hiding in processed foods, that means many of us unintentionally suppress our thyroid over prolonged periods each day. No wonder we struggle to perk up and slim down!
Here’s the good news: Replacing white sugar and white flour with less-processed options can affect our systems immediately. As cortisol comes down and thyroid function improves, “I have [seen] many women lose 15 pounds in 14 days. And the thyroid regulates much more than just metabolism, so the benefits don’t stop there,” says Dr. Romm. “Women tell me they have energy like they haven’t had in years, their mood improves, their libido is up, and they sleep better. They also improve their blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.”
A new study also found that boosting thyroid function blasts belly fat and fights diabetes—even among those with a seemingly healthy thyroid!
Basically everything gets better. “There are no downsides here, ” Dr. Romm adds. “Even the healthiest among us will benefit, because you’ll be taking steps to protect your thyroid and health for many years to come!”
It’s easier than you think, insist women like Linda Fordham, 57, who is 185-pounds slimmer after following Romm's advice. “I was surprised at how quickly these changes made my cravings for unhealthy foods go away!” Fordham says.
“You’ve heard of the ‘freshman 15?' For me, it was like the ‘grandmother 200,'” recalls Fordham, who developed heart and thyroid issues as she got older. With her health quickly declining, “I knew God still had plans for me.”
So, she went to the nutritionist her cardiologist recommended and was soon cutting white sugar and white flour. “I switched from sugary drinks to green tea, started making lasagna with zucchini noodles and put frozen bananas in a food processor for healthy ice cream," Fordham, who also got tips at ShapeFit, says. “The weight came off fast!”
Down 185 pounds and eight sizes in three years, her thyroid symptoms — including fatigue and hair loss —are gone. “As someone who battled her weight for 35 years, I’m proof it’s never too late. I had a bad thyroid and was far gone. If I can do it, you can too!”
She's not alone. For Tammy Prier, struggling with a slow thyroid and weight gain was bad enough, but when she developed severe foot issues, “I worried I’d need a wheelchair, ” she recalls. “I prayed for help.”
An ad for a local TOPS weight-loss support group caught her eye, and she soon got life-changing advice. “I was a big sugar, bread, and pasta person. I cut those out," Prier says.
Swapping in healthy portions of oatmeal with raisins, juicy fruit, herbed veggies and sweet potatoes, her whole body responded. (She even got off four heart meds!) “People tell me, ‘I can’t lose weight because I have a thyroid problem.’ I say, ‘Honey, I do too! But you can do the work and live a great life!’”
Today the grandmother from Missouri, 59, is down seven sizes!
Thyroid Healing Made Easy
The idea is simple: Steer clear of white sugar and white flour— instead, opt for unprocessed, nutrient-packed options. And drink plenty of water since dehydration can spike cortisol. Always get a doctor’s OK to try any new diet. Have symptoms of a slow thyroid, such as fatigue, dry skin or thinning hair? Talk to your doctor and follow her advice. You may require prescription meds to protect your health.
These meals bust sugar to boost energy + metabolism.
BREAKFAST: Eggs, optional nitrate-free turkey sausage or turkey bacon, sweet potato cooked with a little olive oil, a side of fruit.
LUNCH: Minimally processed lunch meat (like Oscar Mayer Natural) and healthy condiments rolled in large lettuce leaves; side of gluten-free soup.
SNACK: Unlimited colorful veggie slices; also include a little hummus, a small handful of nuts or seeds, some fruit or a hard-boiled egg.
DINNER: Salmon or chicken and lots of colorful veggies prepared with olive oil, lemon and herbs, plus an optional side of peas or lentils.
DESSERT: You'll love these treats created by Dr. Romm’s daughter, Yemima.
11⁄2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
3⁄4 cup almond flour
1⁄2 tsp. baking powder
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1⁄3 cup maple syrup
2 1⁄2 Tbs. unrefined coconut oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1⁄4 cup dark chocolate chips
Mix coconut, flour, powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, syrup, oil, and vanilla. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop 2 Tbs. per cookie onto lined baking sheet, 1 1⁄2” apart. Bake at 350° Fahrenheit until golden brown for 15 min. Serves eight.
More Fast Thyroid Fixes
Take fish oil. Studies show a daily omega-3–rich supplement lowers cortisol, boosts thyroid function, and speeds fat loss. Ask your doctor what’s the right dose for you.
Limit gluten. Dr. Romm says eliminating the wheat protein often improves—and sometimes reverses— thyroid problems in her patients.
Sleep 7 hours. Enough shut-eye lowers thyroid-dampening cortisol by up to 45 percent, per University of Chicago research.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.
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