The use of walnut oil for hypothyroidism is something we’re seeing discussed more amongst people who are keen to promote overall health and wellbeing through nourishment of their body.September 29, 2021 3:12 pm May 11, 2021 10:57 am
Walnut oil often comes up in relation to thyroid health because it contains selenium, a mineral that contributes to thyroid function. It is also linked to traditional Ayurvedic practices.
We’re going to dig into both the Ayurvedic and nutritional theories and explore why they link back to the use of walnut oil for thyroid health. But first, it’s important to understand what the thyroid is and how it works.
What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped endocrine gland in the lower part of our neck. It sits just in front of our windpipe (trachea) and under the larynx (voice box).
The gland is divided into two lobes on either side of the windpipe. The lobes are joined together by a narrow band of tissue, called the isthmus.
What is the thyroid’s function?
The thyroid’s purpose is to ensure the correct function of our metabolism.
It does this by taking iodine, found in many foods, and converting it into two hormones that are secreted into the blood stream.
One of these hormones is thyroxine (commonly known as T4). This hormone contains four atoms made up of iodine. The other hormone is triiodothyronine (commonly known as T3), which contains three atoms of iodine.
T3 is the biologically active hormone, meaning it’s what our cells use for immediate energy and bodily functions. T4 is the stored hormone, and is converted into T3 as and when it’s needed by the body.
These hormones are vital for the proper function and process of every cell in our body. So when they go wrong, it’s not surprising the symptoms can be highly variable.
How is the thyroid controlled?
The pituitary gland controls the function of our thyroid. This pea-sized gland is like the hard drive of our body. It sits just behind the bridge of our nose, attached by a thin stalk to the base of our brain.
It’s commonly referred to as the master gland because it controls so many of the hormone glands in our body including the thyroid.
The pituitary gland is responsible for stimulating the thyroid to produce the correct amount of thyroid stimulating hormone – known as TSH – in order to regulate our body’s metabolism.
When the pituitary gland loses its ability to produce the correct levels of TSH, thyroid disorders can occur.
What can go wrong with the thyroid?
There are two common issues that upset normal thyroid function.
The first is hypothyroidism – an under-active thyroid – meaning the thyroid doesn’t produce enough T4 for our body’s needs.
The other is hyperthyroidism – an overactive thyroid – which means it makes too much T4 hormone.
Out of the two, hypothyroidism is most common, especially in women over forty. Around 2% of the UK’s population have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. However, it is thought that due to lack of recognition of the symptoms, this number could be much higher.
Causes of hypothyroidism
There are multiple causes for hypothyroidism, but the most common is autoimmune disease. This arises from an abnormal response from the body’s immune system, and can affect almost any part of the body.
In the case of the thyroid, the body’s immune system creates antibodies that damage the thyroid cells. The most common variant of autoimmune hypothyroidism is known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Low zinc levels are often associated with autoimmune hypothyroidism as zinc is an essential part of the enzyme ‘deiodinase’, which converts T4 into functional T3.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism can be difficult to detect in our bodies because symptoms vary from one person to the next, Some may seem so disconnected that we never realise the problem could link back to an under-active thyroid gland.
Some of the most common symptoms related to hypothyroidism include:
- increased sensitivity to the cold
- dry and scaly skin/brittle hair and nails
- muscle weakness, joint pain, cramps and aches
- irregular or heavy periods
- weight gain
- slow speech, movements and thoughts
- low mood or depression
Although none of these symptoms are necessarily linked to thyroid function, we can begin to understand how so many people could potentially be living with an undiagnosed thyroid condition, and how frustrating it must feel to suffer any of the above symptoms and not understand why.
Diagnosis is key if you’re unsure of any symptoms. Your GP will undertake a physical examination of your neck area to see if there’s anything abnormal.
A thyroid function blood test is a simple and accurate way to check if the gland is working properly. A thyroid antibodies test can also determine whether the condition is autoimmune or not.
Treatment of hypothyroidism
If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, your doctor will most likely prescribe medication to help level out the amount of T4 being produced by your thyroid. This is a synthetic version of the T4 hormone thyroxine called Levothyroxine.
Based on your test results, your doctor will prescribe the correct dose for your needs.
"Selenium is a mineral that is important for making a number of body processes work correctly. It has antioxidant properties that may protect cells from damage and plays a vital role in the correct functioning of the thyroid."
Food and hypothyroidism
Diet plays a key role in the overall function and health of your thyroid. Whether you have a normally functioning thyroid or a thyroid disorder, balanced nutrition is important.
There are many schools of thought about the best and worst foods to consume if you suffer with hypothyroidism. But with a multitude of advice out there, much of it contradictory, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
We’re here to analyse the thought process behind one of the most popularly recommended foods for hypothyroidism and whether there’s any weight to the claims.
Walnut oil health benefits
Walnuts are often thought of as the healthiest of all the nuts. Originating from the Mediterranean and Central Asia, we have have been enjoying the flavour and benefits of walnuts for thousands of years. There are a few main reasons why many of us link walnuts and walnut oil with thyroid health.
Cold-pressed walnut oil is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, which are classed as essential. This means our body needs them for proper function, but can’t produce them, so we must supplement in our diet.
Omega-3 and thyroid function
We need fatty acids for normal brain and cell functions, including the cells of the thyroid gland. A deficiency in essential fatty acids can lead to inflammation, which may in turn trigger an autoimmune response. This can result in thyroid disfunction.
A study that looked at the effects of omega-3 in the inflammatory process found that EPA and DHA (two types of omega-3 fatty acids) give rise to anti-inflammatory resolvins.
This means that not only did these resolvins reduce inflammation, but in some cases, stopped it from occurring.(1)
Another study investigated the effect of adult-onset hypothyroidism on memory, the underlying mechanisms, and the potential therapeutic values of omega-3 supplementation on hypothyroidism-induced memory impairment.
It found that cognitive impairments by various influences including oxidative stress and reduction of neurotransmitters were a presenting factor in adult-onset hypothyroidism.
The study also concluded that omega-3 alleviated cognitive impairments associated with hypothyroidism. They suggested that, with further trials, omega-3 could be used as a protective agent against such cognitive issues associated with hypothyroidism.(2)
It is worth noting that the omega-3 present in cold-pressed walnut oil is alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, This is the most common omega-3 fatty acid and is mostly found in plant-based foods. ALA is not biologically active until our body converts it into DHA or EPA.
Does selenium in walnuts treat thyroid problems?
Walnuts and walnut oil contain selenium, an essential mineral which is found in high concentrations in the thyroid gland.
Selenium is a mineral that is important for making a number of body processes work correctly. It has antioxidant properties that may protect cells from damage and plays a vital role in the correct functioning of the thyroid.
Scientists are still researching how this mineral is associated with thyroid function. Yet, we do know that selenium concentration is higher in the thyroid gland than in any other organ of the body.
This means that, along with iodine, selenium plays an important function in thyroid hormone structure and metabolism. Though it’s also important to be aware that too much selenium can be toxic for the body.
The National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements observed a number of studies that suggest that people—especially women—who have low blood levels of selenium might develop problems with their thyroid.(3)
However, it was inconclusive as to whether selenium dietary supplementation can help treat or reduce the risk of thyroid disease, and requires further research.
Furthermore, 100g of walnuts contains about 9% of your RDA of selenium. This isn’t enough for walnuts to be recognised as a ‘good source’ of selenium. Other nuts, such as Brazil nuts, are significantly higher in selenium.
As a result, while walnuts are great as part of an overall balanced diet, there is no scientific evidence that they can specifically help to treat thyroid problems.
Can massaging your throat with walnut oil help?
Massaging walnut oil into the neck area is a popular treatment for thyroid issues. This stems from Ayurvedic practices. Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest traditional medical systems that originated around five thousand years ago in India.
According to Ayurveda, we are each a mix of three basic types known as ‘doshas’, which affect our physical traits, personality and health. Knowing your dosha type – pitta, kapha or vata – can also help you to find a suitable diet and lifestyle for overall wellbeing.
Stress is one of the major causes of thyroid conditions. From an Ayurveda point of view, stress plays an important role in the imbalance of vata dosha.(4) However, hypothyroidism is primarily due to kaphha imbalance.(5)
Essentially, Ayurveda is committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Its practices stem from optimising digestion, metabolism and your immune system to stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal.
While adherents of Ayurveda may be fans of massaging walnut oil into the neck area, there isn’t currently any clinical evidence to prove that it works.
More Ayurvedic options for thyroid issues
People have been experiencing thyroid issues for thousands of years, and ancient medicinal practices have also tried to tackle them. Along with walnut oil, there are a few other Ayurvedic treatments which aim to treat hypothyroidism.
One clinical study evaluated the role of Ayurvedic principles in the management of hypothyroidism.(5)
15 hypothyroid patients came off their usual medication and were instead supplemented for 45 days with two popular Ayurvedic medicines.
Triphladya Guggulu pills, (a herbal formula made up of three fruits called haritaki, amalaki, and bibhitaki), and a decoction of Punarnavadi Kashayam, (a mixed herbal formula containing punarnava root, ginger and turmeric amongst other herbal ingredients) were given to the subjects.
Of the 15 participants, excellent improvement was observed in 33% of the patients, while marked improvement was reported by 53%. Moderate improvement was found in 6.7% of the patients and same number showed mild improvement.
The researchers concluded that the combination of these Ayurvedic medicines were effective in the management of hypothyroidism.
In a non-clinical study, researchers examined the effect of ashwagandha on 50 people with mild hypothyroidism. Participants were given 600 milligrams of ashwagandha root daily for 8 weeks.(6)
The participants showed significantly improved thyroid hormone levels compared to a placebo by the end of the study.
Of course, hypothyroidism occurs in many different forms. As yet, there’s no conclusive evidence to suggest any Ayurvedic medicine can effectively treat Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
The verdict: can walnut oil help with hypothyroidism?
There is not enough clinical evidence available to suggest that eating walnuts or walnut oil, or massaging walnut oil into your thyroid area, will help treat issues like hypo- or hyperthyroidism. However, unless your doctor advises you otherwise, they can form part of a healthy balanced diet which will benefit your overall health.
Organic cold-pressed walnut oil is a healthy and nutritious way to include those vital omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. They help reduce inflammation and often boost energy levels, something hypothyroidism patients can suffer from.
Essentially, thyroid health is a case of achieving balance. Too much or too little thyroid hormone can lead to adverse effects. If you are already taking Levothyroxine for hypothyroidism, it’s always best to check with your doctor whether at home remedies are advised.
This is because your medication may already provide the hormone balance your thyroid needs, and supplementing further may upset this and aggravate symptoms.
If you have a healthy thyroid, including walnut oil as part of a balanced diet should not promote any adverse effects.
Feeding your thyroid
While there are no specific foods that are scientifically proven as helpful for treating thyroid disorders such as hypothyroidism, it’s still important to nurture your body with whole, nutritious foods that promote overall wellbeing.
The British Thyroid Foundation recommends eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, plenty of whole grain foods and protein, and 6 to 8 glasses of water daily to aid thyroid stability, particularly if you do not suffer with a thyroid disorder.(7)
Foods that can help relieve hypothyroidism symptoms
Individual symptoms will help identify which foods are good for aiding living with hypothyroidism and will differ from person to person.
For instance, if you suffer from constipation, fibre-rich foods such as our Tigernut Nopal & Chia Granola can help relieve your discomfort.
If you do suffer from low energy as a result of hypothyroidism, our Organic Activated Coconut Cacao Balls are low GI, which promotes a steady release of energy. They’re also good for your gut health thanks to the Jerusalem artichoke base.
Speaking of gut health, if your hypothyroidism is autoimmune, you may suffer from digestive issues. Taking care of your gut health by eating a good supply of healthy gut bacteria can help to relieve uncomfortable symptoms.
Our Cashew Cheese Crackers help to nourish the good bacteria in your gut as the sunflower seeds are naturally prebiotic. Cashews also contain zinc, which, as discussed, is vital for regulating the normal metabolism of the thyroid hormone.
Foods to avoid with hypothyroidism
The key to food avoidance here is that no food is strictly off limits (allergies excluded) and in most cases, a balanced or reduced amount of these foods will mean you receive the nutritional benefits where your body needs them without aggravating your condition.
Goitrogenic foods can be most problematic for those suffering with thyroid disorders when consumed in excess. This is because they can result in the formation of a goitre (an enlarged thyroid).
The list of goitrogenic foods is extensive, but common culprits are cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, soy, tofu, kale and mustard.
Also, it’s worth remembering that most of these foods are only considered goitrogenic in raw form, so cooking can reduce or remove this issue.
Your hypothyroidism may mean you also suffer with symptoms that coincide with gluten intolerance. This is because gluten is said to trigger the same autoimmune reaction that can cause a person to have Hashimoto’s, as the cells of your thyroid are similar to the make up of gluten. The similarity confuses your body, causing it to attack your thyroid.
If this is the case, then you may want to consider a gluten-free diet, at least for a time to see if your symptoms improve.
Gluten-free living has become much easier in recent years, and with a wide range of gluten-free flours available, there’s no reason you can’t achieve a nutritious and balanced diet sans gluten.
Refined sugar and processed foods
Finally, and it might go without saying, but refined sugar and processed foods are aggravators of many bodily disorders, including hypothyroidism. They drive inflammation, so if you’re finding you are suffering as a result of a highly processed diet, substituting nutritious, whole and organic foods could see a quick and welcome shift in your symptoms.
It’s never nice to feel discomfort in your body, particularly when you work so hard to feed it the best ingredients. But remember, if you’re feeling unwell, it could be due to overconsumption of one particular mineral causing an imbalance.
Given the lack of clinical evidence, when it comes to supplementing your diet to manage hypothyroidism, balance is key. If you’re taking prescribed medication, then always speak to your doctor before you supplement your diet with any of the foods we mention here.
Equally, if you’ve been suffering any of the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, but haven’t had a diagnosis, it’s certainly worth putting your mind at ease.
Then you can knowledgeably plan how to manage your symptoms going forward.
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