10 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Thyroid Disease

More than 12 percent of people living in the United States will develop a thyroid condition at some time in their lives. Up to 60% of the 20 million Americans who have thyroid disease may not know they have the condition.

While there isn't anything you can do to guarantee that you won't get thyroid disease, you can make choices that will reduce your risk.

This article discusses some of the ways you can reduce your risk of developing thyroid disease.

2:19

5 Common Misconceptions About Thyroid Disease

Ask for a Thyroid Collar for X-Rays

reduce risk of thyroid disease

 Verywell / Cindy Chung

If you are going to have an X-ray, ask for a thyroid collar. This is especially important for:

  • Dental X-rays
  • X-rays that involve your spine, head, neck, or chest

A thyroid collar looks like the neck part of a turtleneck sweater. It's heavy and lined with lead. 

Your thyroid is the most vulnerable part of your head and neck area. The collar protects your thyroid gland from radiation exposure, which can lead to thyroid cancer.

Stop Smoking

Cigarette smoke contains toxins that can affect your thyroid. One of these is thiocyanate. This compound disrupts iodine uptake, which can block the production of thyroid hormones.

In general, smoking can cause elevated levels of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4). It can also cause a slight decrease in thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. TSH tells your thyroid to make thyroid hormones.

Research has shown that smokers are more likely to develop Graves' disease. This condition is a leading cause of hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid. Smoking can also lead to eye complications of Graves' disease, called Graves' orbitopathy.

It is not easy to quit smoking. Ask your doctor about treatment options that can help you successfully quit.

Do a Thyroid Neck Check

A thyroid neck check is one way to find a thyroid problem. This easy test can detect lumps and swelling if they're close to the surface. Keep in mind, though, that many nodules can't be seen or felt. If you have other symptoms, see your doctor.

This simple screening can be done at home in front of a mirror. Make sure to follow all the steps. If you feel or see anything unusual, see your doctor.

Ease Up on Soy

You may have heard that eating too much soy can be bad for thyroid health. Though recent research suggests eating soy is generally safe, it is probably best to do so in moderation.

Most people with thyroid disease take the thyroid hormone replacement levothyroxine. It's best to take this medication on an empty stomach. Wait 30 to 60 minutes before eating.

If you're going to eat soy, wait until it's been four hours since you took your medication. This is because evidence has consistently shown that soy can interfere with your body's absorption of levothyroxine.

Get Celiac Disease Diagnosed and Treated

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes your intestines to react abnormally to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, and other related grains.

Celiac disease is three times more common in people with an autoimmune thyroid disease like Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Graves' disease.

It's unclear why this association exists. It may be due in part to the genetic component of autoimmune diseases. Both conditions are also fairly common. Celiac disease also interferes with absorption of essential minerals like iodine and selenium, which can trigger thyroid dysfunction.

Some studies show that a low-gluten diet may help people with Hashimoto's disease prevent potential complications, and possibly even the progression of the condition.

If you think you might have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, talk to your doctor.

Limiting or avoiding gluten is a big dietary change. It's important to only make these kinds of changes under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

See Your Healthcare Provider Regularly

It is important to see your primary care doctor for regular checkups. This is especially true if you're at risk for developing thyroid disease. If you have a family history of Hashimoto's thyroiditis or Graves' disease, for example, your doctor may want to test your thyroid hormone levels annually.

Discuss Selenium Supplements With Your Doctor

Selenium is a nutrient found in certain proteins. The thyroid has the highest concentration of selenium in the adult body. You can help prevent thyroid disease by making sure you get enough of this nutrient.

You can get selenium by eating a healthy diet.

1:33

What is Selenium and How Does It Work?

If you're pregnant, getting enough selenium decreases your chances of developing permanent postpartum thyroiditis. This is when your thyroid becomes inflamed after your baby is born.

However, keep in mind that soil in the United States is selenium replete and most people's intake of selenium is at recommended level. Talk to your doctor before starting selenium supplements.

Talk to your doctor before you start taking selenium. Its role in thyroid health still isn't completely understood. In fact, studies suggest that high selenium levels may be a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

Consider Fluoride's Role

Some research suggests that people living in areas with fluoridated drinking water are at a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism. Other research has not shown this. Until this link has been established, avoiding fluoride is not generally recommended.

If you're concerned about the health effects of fluoride, be sure to discuss this with your doctor.

Look Out for Perchlorates

Perchlorates are odorless, colorless salts. They dissolve in water and are found naturally in certain parts of the United States. They're also manufactured for explosives, fireworks, and rocket motors. In some parts of the nation, they can be found in the water supply.

A large percentage of U.S. produce is irrigated with perchlorate-contaminated water. This means perchlorate is present in the U.S. food supply and many Americans are exposed to low levels.

Your thyroid needs iodine to produce thyroid hormones. High levels of perchlorates can block your thyroid from taking up iodine. It's a good idea to stay informed about perchlorate contamination in your area and maximum state levels for perchlorates in the water. If you use well water, consider having it tested for perchlorates contamination.

Keep Potassium Iodide on Hand

Potassium iodide (KI) is an over-the-counter supplement. You may want to include it in your family emergency kit. It can be helpful in the unlikely event of a nuclear accident or an attack on a nuclear facility. If you're not in the path of a radioactive plume, though, KI won't be helpful.

Your thyroid needs iodine to function. It normally gets this from your bloodstream. It can't, however, tell the difference between regular iodine and radioactive iodine. Radioactive iodine is the type that's released from nuclear plants or from radioactive material during nuclear explosions.

Taking KI within the first few hours of exposure to radioactive iodine can help protect your thyroid from the risk of thyroid cancer.

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

Taking KI does come with some risk. During a radiation emergency, the benefits are thought to outweigh the risk.

Taking KI can cause a number of health problems:

  • It can trigger or worsen hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
  • It may exacerbate existing thyroid conditions.
  • It can lead to conditions such as the Jod-Basedow phenomena and the Wolff-Chaikoff effect.
  • It can cause inflammation of the salivary gland.
  • It can cause gastrointestinal disturbances, allergic reactions, and rashes.

You should only take KI during a nuclear emergency when local health authorities instruct you to.

There are several reasons for this, including:

  • Not every radioactive release contains radioactive iodine. 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 downwind of a nuclear release or accident, the likelihood that you will need to take KI is very small.

Summary

While there are things you can do to help reduce your chances of developing thyroid disease. Ask for a thyroid collar when you get an X-ray, avoid smoking, and limit your intake of soy. You can also try to avoid potential environmental contaminants. Finally, make sure to see your primary care doctor every year.

There are no guarantees you won't develop thyroid disease, and a family history of autoimmune thyroid conditions can put you at higher risk. 

A Word From Verywell

It's good to take preventative measures when it comes to your thyroid. This can help lessen your risk of problems. If you are at risk of thyroid disease, it's important to be proactive in noticing any early symptoms so you can get treatment as early as possible if you need it.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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