Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system attacks healthy tissues in the body. Depending on where the immune system attacks, this highlights the type of autoimmune disorder. With Graves’ disease, the immune system attacks your thyroid resulting in hyperthyroidism.

While autoimmune disorders have no cure, many patients have found that symptoms are heavily affected and stymied with certain diets. In particular, plant-based diets have shown the most positive effects.

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Let’s take a closer look at Graves’ disease, its relationship to hyperthyroidism, and managing symptoms with plant-based foods!

Graves’ Disease and Hyperthyroidism

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While Hashimoto’s disease causes hypothyroidism — an autoimmune disorder leading to “chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis [or] underactive thyroid gland” — Graves’ disease causes hyperthyroidism ­or an overactive thyroid.

With this autoimmune disease, your immune system specifically targets the thyroid — “a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck” — causing this gland “to make more thyroid hormone than your body needs.” In fact, Graves’ disease is the “most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the United States… [affecting] about 1 in 200 people.” While hyperthyroidism can be managed, it may lead to serious health issues affecting the “heart, bones, muscles, menstrual cycle, [eyes and skin,] and fertility,” as well as complications during pregnancy.

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Graves’ disease manifests similarly to many other thyroid-related autoimmune diseases with physical symptoms including a goiter, weight loss, diarrhea, and muscle weakness. Yet Graves’ disease may also manifest with more particular symptoms including fast and irregular heartbeats, trembling, trouble sleeping, nervousness, irritability, and heat intolerance.

Foods to Avoid with Graves’ Disease

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Knowing what not to eat is as important, maybe even more important, than knowing foods to incorporate. This is due to the dramatic negative effects that your body may have to certain foods. When it comes to autoimmune disorders, the body may react incredibly violently to certain food groups or specific food items, causing lasting damage. When it comes to Graves’ disease, here are a few food groups that are important to be aware of, manage appropriately, and even avoid.

With that said, make sure to speak with your doctor before making any changes to your diet!

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Gluten

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Unfortunately, when it comes to autoimmune diseases, if you are diagnosed with one, then you have a higher chance of being diagnosed with another, such as celiac disease. Those that suffer from thyroid-related autoimmune diseases — such as Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s disease — have a greater chance of contracting Celiac disease. It’s possible that gluten “may make treatment more difficult for people with autoimmune thyroid diseases, including Graves’ disease,” therefore it’s recommended to avoid the substance.

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Seafood and Dairy

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When it comes to seafood and dairy products on a Graves’ disease-specific diet, you may want to steer clear. Why? It’s all about iodine!

Iodine is an essential element found in the food we eat that plays an important role in the “thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).” When there is a deficiency in iodine, thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH) “remain elevated, leading to goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland that reflects the body’s attempt to trap more iodine from the circulation and produce thyroid hormones.” With that said, when it comes to thyroid-related autoimmune diseases it’s all about balance. Per studies conducted by PubMed Central, overconsumption of iodine or “excessive iodine intake might trigger hyperthyroidism in older adults or people who have preexisting thyroid disease.” It’s incredibly important to consult your doctor regarding the appropriate amount of iodine for your specific needs!

Foods that are naturally high in iodine include seafood, seaweed, and sea vegetables (such as kelp), but also beware of iodine fortified foods such as salt, bread, and dairy products.

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Meat and Meat Products

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While there are many benefits to practicing a fully plant-based diet (vegetarianism or veganism) — lower blood pressure and cholesterol, healthier blood sugar levels, healthy weight management or weight loss, lower rates of cancer, fighting animal cruelty, and helping the environment — studies have also found that “vegetarians had lower rates of hyperthyroidism that those who followed a non-vegetarian diet.” Per a study performed by Public Health Nutrition entitled Prevalence of hyperthyroidism according to type of vegetarian diet, the “exclusion of all animal foods was associated with half the prevalence of hyperthyroidism compared with omnivorous diets.”

Nutrient Food Groups to Help Manage Symptoms

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It’s well-known that a vitamin-rich, broad spectrum, yet balanced plant-based diet serves many health benefits. Autoimmune diseases are no exception! With that said, as mentioned above, certain nutrients are best consumed in smaller quantities, while others — those listed below — are far better for managing autoimmune symptoms. Here are a few vitamin and mineral groups that have been found helpful for Graves’ disease symptoms.

Calcium and Vitamin D-Rich Foods

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The relationship status of hyperthyroidism and bone health is complicated. Calcium is essential for strong bones, vitamin D is essential for calcium to “reach its full bone-building potential,” and healthy production of “thyroid hormones play an important role in bone mineral homeostasis and bone density.”

In a research study produced by Dr. Dinesh Kumar Dhanwal of the Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi, India entitled Thyroid disorders and bone mineral metabolism, the relationship between hyperthyroidism and bone health was broken down: 

“Both hyperthyroidism and, to some extent, hypothyroidism are associated with reduced BMD [bone mineral density] leading to increased fracture risk. With changing worldwide geographic occurrence of hip fractures, it is important to keep in mind the impact of thyroid disorders as a secondary cause of osteoporosis. Reduced bone density in thyrotoxicosis [— the name given to the clinical effects experienced due to an excess of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream —] is reversible with treatment irrespective of the method of treatment.”

While more research is needed to unravel the relationship between vitamin D, calcium, hyperthyroidism, and bone health, it was found that a majority of patients as part of Dr. Dhanwal’s research “with hyperthyroidism have concomitant vitamin D deficiency which aggravates bone loss.” Therefore, consumption of calcium-rich foods — seeds, beans, lentils, almonds, dark leafy greens, and rhubarb — and vitamin-D boosting foods — mushrooms, fortified plant-based milk, fortified plant-based foods — is incredibly important!

Try out a few of these bone-enriching plant-based recipes: Lemony Kale Chips, Dandelion Green Smoothie, French Toast Chia Power Pudding, Creamy Mushroom Skillet with Pumpkin, or these Calcium-Packed Navy Bean Biscuits and Roasted Garlic Gravy.

Selenium-Rich Foods

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Selenium is one of those essential minerals that is oftentimes glossed over in diets. What is selenium? This important nutritional compound is a “constituent of more than two dozen selenoproteins that play critical roles in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and protection from oxidative damage and infection.”

While selenium is important in thyroid hormone metabolism, making it crucial for those with thyroid disorders such as Graves’ disease, a selenium deficiency is also “associated with thyroid eye disease in people with Graves’ disease … [which may cause] bulging eyeballs and double vision.”

One reason why selenium is glossed over is due to the fact that it exists in minimal amounts in foods. Brazil nuts are one of the richest plant-based sources with one ounce offering 544 micrograms. Other sources include brown rice, wheat bread and puffed wheat cereals, beans, potatoes, oatmeal, spinach, lentils, bananas, and cashews.

As nuts are a great source of natural oil, they are a wonderful ingredient for decadent desserts. Here are a few selenium-rich dessert recipes to get you started: Brazil Nut Fudge, Brazil Nut Cheese, Chocolate-Covered Brazil Nut-Stuffed Medjool Dates with Coconut Whipped Cream, or this Cauliflower Brazil Nut Puree With Crispy Tofu.

Magnesium-Rich Foods

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Magnesium is yet another essential nutrient that happens to be a “cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation.” Along with playing an important role in energy production and DNA synthesis, magnesium is also crucial for structural bone development and transportation of calcium “across cell membranes.”

Just like vitamin D and calcium, magnesium’s relationship with bone health is also complicated. Magnesium “is needed for the proper calcium balance and it plays a key role in … bone formation,” therefore magnesium deficiency leads to improperly formed, weakened bones “associated with osteoporosis and a high incidence of fractures.” Yet, this essential mineral can be “depleted by too much calcium,” and therefore it’s crucial to find balance as “calcium and magnesium both compete for your attention and if one is out of balance, the other is as well.”

On top of that, “magnesium deficiency can trigger disease development and worsen symptoms in hyperthyroidism … and other autoimmune disorders.” Supplementing magnesium into a graves’ disease-friendly diet has shown a reduction in “fatigue, muscle pain, chemical sensitivity and sleep disturbances,” as well as reduced symptoms of “anxiety, irritability, nervousness, panic disorder, hyperactivity, tremor[s], … and muscle fatigue.”

Magnesium is found in many plant-based foods including dark chocolate, avocado, a variety of nuts and seeds, legumes, tofu, and whole grains. Try out a few of these magnesium-rich recipes: Chocolate Sunflower Protein Cookies, Lentil Quinoa Hemp Seed Meatballs, Black Eyed-Peas and Kale Chili, or this Brown Rice Casserole.

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

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