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Hypothyroidism: what it means and what to do if you think you might have it

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid, the small, butterfly-shaped endocrine gland in your neck, doesn’t produce enough hormone. This means that metabolism is slowed. Everything will be working more slowly and inefficiently than it should, leading to symptoms such as tiredness and sluggishness, constipation, dry skin, pale complexion and feeling the cold.

We spoke with leading nutritionist, Nicola Moore, and asked her 5 burning questions that you’ve always had about hypothyroidism but have never found sensible answers to.

What advice would you give to those who seem to have symptoms of an under-active thyroid, but whose blood tests requested by the GP come back ‘normal’?

This is a really common problem.

The first blood test that the GP is going to do is for TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone). If TSH is OK, NHS guidance states that there is no justifiable reason to probe further.

However, this means that more subtle thyroid imbalances are sometimes missed. TSH is actually one of the last aspects of thyroid health to worsen, and only does so after prolonged deterioration of thyroid health.

If you feel as though you’re not feeling quite right and want additional testing, it is best to ask for further tests. Ideally these would involve a total thyroid screen in which a range of thyroid hormones and autoimmune antibodies are assessed.

You can also go to a registered nutritional therapist. They can work with private laboratories to get further tests done, and will then work with you to address anything that shows in the tests.

Why do I have symptoms like tiredness and constipation?

Hypothyroidism causes cellular activity to slow. It makes it more difficult for cells to produce energy from food, for example. Likewise, the thyroid hormones are also responsible for generating the energy needed for movement through the gut, so when there is too little hormone, you may experience constipation.

What should I eat if my thyroid is under-active?

It’s best to eat a healthy, balanced diet. This will support the manufacture of thyroid hormones, but it won’t necessarily help the underlying cause.

Thyroid hormones are made from tyrosine, an amino acid that we get from protein, and minerals such as zinc and selenium. Foods containing these things are important, and it's a good idea to have a high-quality protein in your diet.

Are there any supplements I should take?

My advice is to play it safe. Without knowing exactly where the issues are with your thyroid, it’s hard to know exactly what you ought to be taking. It’s really important to comprehensively investigate the root cause first. What you take needs to be tailored to your unique, individual needs.

You could take:

- a really good quality multi-vitamin

- supplements to support gut health because the gut plays a huge role in the functioning of the immune system.

It’s not a good idea to take iodine supplements. Although it’s an important mineral for thyroid health, iodine has a really narrow therapeutic range and you can easily take too much. This could exacerbate the problem by compromising the immune system’s management of the thyroid.

Likewise, wait to see a professional before supplementing with selenium.

Should I take these supplements and eat these foods as a preventative measure if other members of my family have hypothyroidism?

There do seem to be genetic links with hypothyroidism, so if you have it in your family history this is something to keep your eye on. You might also want to have a comprehensive test if you feel you have symptoms.

It’s a good idea to focus on having a healthy diet and lifestyle. I share lots of free information on my website and through social media to help with this.

A preventative approach needs to focus on strengthening your entire system. Physically and emotionally. Nutrition is only one part of this approach.

Information presented in this article is not intended to replace medical advice.


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