10 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Thyroid Disease

While there isn't any particular step you can take to definitively prevent thyroid disease, there are choices you can make that may reduce your risk or, if you've been diagnosed with thyroid disease, help you slow down or stop the progression of your condition.

According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), more than 12 percent of people living in the United States will develop a thyroid condition at some time in their lives. The ATA also estimates that around 20 million Americans have thyroid disease, but up to 60 percent may be unaware of it.

Because undiagnosed thyroid disorders can raise your risk for developing a host of other medical conditions, it's important to be aware of your family history of thyroid disease and pay attention to any unusual symptoms you have.

Ask for a Thyroid Collar for X-Rays

Healthy thyroid
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Before you undergo X-rays, especially dental X-rays or X-rays that involve your spine, head, neck, or chest, ask the technician to place a thyroid collar on your neck if one isn't immediately provided. This collar looks a bit like the neck part of a turtleneck sweater, and it's heavy and lined in lead. 

The purpose of the collar is to protect your thyroid gland from radiation exposure. This is important because your thyroid is the most vulnerable part of your head and neck region due to its location and large size, and excessive exposure to radiation can lead to thyroid cancer.

Stop Smoking

Cigarette smoke has a variety of toxins that may affect your thyroid. Thiocyanate, in particular, disrupts iodine uptake, which in turn can block the production of thyroid hormones. In general, smoking can cause elevated thyroxine (T4) levels and a slight decrease in thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels.

Cigarette smokers are also more likely to develop Graves' disease, a leading cause of hyperthyroidism, as well as eye complications of Graves' disease, called Graves' orbitopathy.

Kicking the smoking habit is no easy task, so get your doctor involved. There are a number of options available to help you through it.

Do the Thyroid Neck Check

One of the best things you can do in terms of early detection is to periodically perform a Thyroid Neck Check. This easy test can detect lumps, bumps, and swelling on your thyroid if they're close to the surface. However, many nodules and bumps aren't able to be seen or felt, so if you have other symptoms, you should see your doctor.

All you need for this simple screening is a glass of water and a mirror. If you feel or see anything out of the ordinary after following all of the steps, be sure to see your doctor.

Ease Up on Soy

Soy is a controversial ingredient, especially when it comes to your thyroid health. While it's unlikely to have an effect on your thyroid, and research is supporting this more and more, consuming soy in moderation is probably best for your overall health.

And if you have thyroid disease, it's a good idea to take your thyroid hormone replacement medication—most people take levothyroxine—on an empty stomach and wait for 30 to 60 minutes before you eat. For soy products, it's best to wait four hours after you take your medication. This is because evidence has consistently shown that soy, as well as calcium, fiber, iron, and other foods and drugs, interfere with your body's absorption of levothyroxine.

Discuss Selenium Supplementation With Your Doctor

Selenium is a nutrient found in specific proteins, and the thyroid has the highest concentration of selenium in the adult body. Keeping a balanced level, either through a healthy diet or through supplementation, can help prevent thyroid disease. Even if you're getting enough selenium from the foods you eat, supplementation can still help boost your immune system.

Scientific studies have shown that selenium lowers thyroperoxidase (TPO) antibodies in people with Hashimoto's disease and pregnant women, and decreases symptoms of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Moreover, in pregnant women, selenium supplementation decreases the likelihood of developing permanent postpartum thyroiditis.

Since the body absorbs the organic form of selenium called selenomethionine better than the inorganic form known as sodium selenite, it's better to use selenomethionine as a supplement because it's more effective.

Of course, be sure to speak with your doctor first about taking selenium. Its role in thyroid health has still not been fully teased out. In fact, studies suggest that high selenium levels in the body may be a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

Keep Potassium Iodide On Hand

You may want to buy some potassium iodide (KI) to keep in your family emergency kit. KI is an over-the-counter supplement that, when taken within the first few hours after a nuclear accident or an attack on nuclear facilities, can help protect your thyroid from the risk of thyroid cancer.

The reason for this is that your thyroid needs iodine to function, which it normally gets from your bloodstream. However, it can't tell the difference between regular iodine and radioactive iodine, the type that's released from nuclear plants or from radioactive material during nuclear explosions.

Radioactive iodine can increase your chance of developing thyroid cancer, and it's especially risky for unborn babies, infants, and young children. By taking KI, you're saturating your thyroid with iodine so it won't take in radioactive iodine.

In a radiation emergency, the risk of developing thyroid cancer is thought to justify the risk of taking KI. But if you're not directly in the path of a radioactive plume, KI won't protect you from anything. It can trigger or worsen hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, exacerbate existing thyroid conditions, and lead to conditions such as the Jod-Basedow phenomena and the Wolff-Chaikoff effect. It can also cause sialadenitis (an inflammation of the salivary gland), gastrointestinal disturbances, allergic reactions, and rashes.

As such, you should only take KI when you're instructed to by your local health authorities during a nuclear emergency, according to the American Thyroid Association. There are several reasons for this, including:

  • Not every radioactive release contains the radioactive iodine that causes thyroid cancer, so only health authorities will know if you need to take KI.
  • Authorities can tell you who needs to take KI, when to take it, how much to take, and for how long.
  • If you're not in an area downwind of a nuclear release or accident, the likelihood that you will need to take KI is very small.

Look Out for Perchlorates

Perchlorates are odorless, colorless salts that dissolve in water and are found naturally in certain parts of the United States. They're mainly manufactured for explosives, fireworks, and rocket motors, and they've contaminated the water supplies in areas throughout the nation.

Because a large percentage of U.S. produce is irrigated with perchlorate-contaminated water, perchlorate is also prevalent in the U.S. food supply and many Americans are exposed to low levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Since high levels of perchlorates may reduce your thyroid hormone levels by blocking your thyroid from taking up iodine, which it needs to produce thyroid hormones, it's sensible to stay up on your area's perchlorates contamination and maximum state levels for perchlorates in the water. Also, if you use well water, consider having it tested for perchlorates contamination.

Get Celiac Disease Diagnosed and Treated

Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that causes your intestines to react abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, and other related grains) is three times more common in people with autoimmune thyroid disease like Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Graves' disease.

It's unclear why exactly this association exists, but it may be in part due to the genetic component that autoimmune diseases have, as well as the fact that both conditions are fairly common. Additionally, celiac disease causes poor absorption of essential minerals like iodine and selenium, which can lead to deficiencies and trigger thyroid dysfunction.

While scientific data doesn't traditionally support the use of a gluten-free diet in treating people with autoimmune thyroid disease, some studies have shown that a low-gluten diet may be beneficial for people with Hashimoto's disease in helping to prevent potential complications and possibly even the progression of the condition.

If you think you might have celiac disease, talk to your doctor about getting tested. Even if you don't have celiac disease, you may still have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance that can benefit from a gluten-free diet.

That said, if you want to try limiting or avoiding gluten, it's important to only make a big dietary change under the guidance of your doctor.

Consider Fluoride's Role

While some research suggests that people living in areas with fluoridated drinking water are at a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism than people without fluoridated drinking water, other research has not shown this. Until this link has been fully teased out, it's not generally recommended to avoid fluoride.

If you are concerned, however, about the role of fluoride in your personal health, be sure to discuss it with your doctor.

See Your Doctor Regularly

Seeing your primary care doctor for your regular checkups is important, not only for your overall health but also for your thyroid health. This is especially true if you're at risk for developing thyroid disease; for example, if you have a family history of Hashimoto's thyroiditis or Graves' disease. In this case, your doctor will likely want to test your thyroid hormone levels on a yearly basis.

A Word From Verywell

It's good to take preventative measures when it comes to your thyroid to help lessen your risk of problems, but keep in mind that nothing is a sure bet, especially if autoimmune thyroid disease runs in your family. At the very least, following many of these tips will keep you on top of what's going on with your thyroid and help you be proactive in getting treatment as early as possible, should the need arise.

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