Is eating kale going to kill your thyroid?

kale-woman-leafy-greens-vegetablesI have a number of people asking about kale, since a New York Times columnist recently implied that her diagnosis of hyperthyroidism could be related to eating kale. And flax.

Never mind all the devastating endocrine disruptors out there, like chlorine and fluoride in our water, BPA and phthalates in plastics we drink from. Those are not even mentioned in her totally unscientific opinion that I believe people are giving too much attention and credence to.

The journalist congratulates herself on being a “health nut,” I assume to establish her credibility on health topics? But she seems to have no idea that soy is bad for you. (Qualifier: mostly because it’s very genetically modified, and shows up in the food supply as processed, fractionated products.) That has been known in a pretty widespread way for 10 years, to anyone following health trends and research at all.

She is a journalist, not a researcher, practitioner, or subject matter expert. She quotes exactly zero studies or experts. It’s simply an opinion editorial—with an inflammatory title. My only point here is, don’t over-invest in this concept that kale is going to wreck your health.

Here’s one of the journalists who, in response to that editorial in one of the most widely read publications in the world, actually took the time to dig deeper and understand whether or not kale is really a problem:

Remember that it’s practically a sport in the media to stir the pot. Being controversial gets readers. Creating a maelstrom sells newspapers and causes stories to go viral.

Even in that story, above, which is a far more sensible treatment of the same subject, the author teases by saying, yes, maybe kale is bad. Then she goes on to quote a number of sources who assure us that kale is nutritionally spectacular and a good part of a healthy diet as long as you have iodine and selenium in the diet, just, don’t go crazy with it.

critical thinkingThe sensationalism gets you to keep reading. Beware of gimmicks.

The “information age” with everyone on the internet having an opinion has led to a great need to use your critical thinking skills, consuming information.

I’ve written about goitrogens and thyroid before. I’ll boil down some salient points, in response to this latest firestorm:

1.     A number of studies show that even 5 oz. of crucifers several times a week had no negative impact on thyroid function. Surely going bonzai with bok choy isn’t the same thing as making a variety of cruciferous vegetables of your regular diet. (The “scare” stories come from people eating a ton of the same food for long periods of time.) I see this often in sensationalism in the media. (For instance, the guy who turned blue from using colloidal silver. What people don’t know is that he drank a CUP of silver daily for many years!)

non sequitur2.    The New York Times columnist’s suggestion that kale somehow led to her thyroid problem is a non-sequitur logical leap and fallacy, since correlation does not prove causation. That’s Latin for “it does not follow.”

(I had several friends who got divorced in 2007. And I got divorced that same year. Research says people who have friends getting divorced are more likely to do the same. Therefore, my friends’ divorces caused mine. You shouldn’t be friends with people who get divorced. You get how problematic the logic is here?)

Let’s follow this journalist’s logic:

I was diagnosed with thyroid problems. I eat kale sometimes. Kale is part of the cruciferous family, which may or may not contribute to thyroid problems in the absence of iodine, according to a few case studies. Therefore kale caused my hypothyroidism and is bad for you.

There are so many chemicals in our environment that damage the thyroid. She couldn’t have known that her opinion piece would go viral, of course. But since the Times has a readership of millions, it sure would be nice before an editorialist maligns an amazing green food, if she would analyze the problem from a variety of angles. I would imagine that what many people got from that is, “Kale is bad for me.”

symptomsofhypothyroidism3.  Hypothyroidism is virtually an epidemic, with some experts estimating that 25-50 percent of women have low thyroid function, many of them undiagnosed. Surely that epidemic didn’t happen because Americans eat too much kale. Americans haven’t eaten too much kale in the past 50 years, period. Most Americans still don’t eat kale, ever.

4.  Many compounds in greens are nurturing to the thyroid. Abandoning them seems unwise. Goitrogenic compounds that can, in extreme cases of over-consumption, without iodine, contribute to goiter, are just one class among many of nutritional properties in this food.

5.  Getting enough iodine may negate any negative effect for the rare person who has a problem with crucifers contributing to a thyroid problem. So says Dr. Jeffrey Garber in the Commonhealth story I’ve linked to above. Dr. Barbara Jennings, in Denver, an auto-immune specialist, also referenced this issue in our live detox call last week.

The story I’ve linked to, however, also refers to Americans not having an iodine deficiency. Dr. David Brownstein, MD, says otherwise. He believes we are mostly iodine deficient and in his book on the subject calls iodine the “most misunderstood nutrient.” He advocates for iodine therapy for ADHD, autism, many cancers, and thyroid diseases like Hashimoto’s, Graves’, and hypothyroidism.

I personally take five drops of Lugol’s iodine in water daily. It’s available on the internet or health food stores, and kelp or dulse (seaweeds) are a whole-foods source. They contain natural iodine. You can season popcorn, soup, or anything savory with them, or put them in your smoothie.

(I was diagnosed at 34 as hypothyroid. My good diet has brought my thyroid back to 80% functioning. I continue to work on heavy-metals detoxification in hopes of restoring 100% function. Meantime, I take a bioidentical thyroid rather than a drug.)

You have to take careful note—if you notice a racing pulse, you may have overdone it with iodine. This is not precise, for purposes of troubleshooting your own health. My telling you that I take iodine, and how I know if I’m getting too much, shouldn’t be inferred wholesale, to your own health issues. This is just standard practical advice that practitioners give. I am mildly hypothyroid, and 135 lbs., and they say I should take 5-6 drops of Lugol’s solution, and if I notice heart racing, I should back off the dose.

Keep in mind I’ve experimented with this under the care of my bio-identical hormone practitioner (usually they are nurses with master’s degrees, and sometimes doctors).

bioidentical flowersSo, best to go to a bio-identical hormone specialist for balancing the endocrine system in a far more natural way than the “Standard of Care” drug approach. (The thyroid drugs that docs prescribe are not molecularly the same as the thyroid your body produces. They also cause risk of cancer and other problems.)

Best if you can get a full blood panel test, for not just T3, but also for all the factors upstream and downstream of it, precursor hormones and hormones. A good practitioner can analyze the interplay of those factors and recommend a course of action that can have you feeling better soon.

You can google your city and “bio-identical hormone” to find a practitioner near you.

6.  Working with a good naturopathic doc who knows a lot about these issues may be helpful, if you suspect or know you have thyroid issues. (Google hypothyroid symptoms for some clues.) Find someone with more than just a cursory understanding of the issues. I have found that some practitioners say, “Cruciferous vegetables can be a problem for hypothyroid patients, so don’t eat any.” This makes me wonder if they have  a knowledgeable, balanced approach like the experts quoted in the story above, or if their knowledge of nutrition is really quite limited. Quiz them to learn how experienced and knowledgeable they really are. And don’t depend entirely on practitioners for information—be your own best advocate, and research on your own, so you can start at a higher place with working with a holistic practitioner.

Watching and measuring your own thyroid response, and overall wellness, relative to the quantity you eat, of this amazing class of greens and vegetables, may be wise.

7.  I personally have found significant quantities of greens (not all of them crucifers) to be a critical component in healing my own thyroid of radiation exposure, since I was a “downwinder” baby during the Nevada Test Site radioactive detonations in the late 1960’s. (Radiation is well known to depress the thyroid, and cause thyroid cancer.) “Goitrogenic” greens and veggies have many thyroid-nourishing compounds as well, and massive anti-cancer benefits. I use a variety. It’s fair to say I eat about 5 servings a week of kale, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, etc.

8.  I’m not a big fan of the “cook it to neutralize the anti-nutrients” advice. Sure, you’ve addressed one issue, goitrogens—but you’ve also killed all the living enzymes and damaged or destroyed most vitamins and minerals. I’m a fan of steamed broccoli and cauliflower, by the way (otherwise I would eat those vegetables only rarely)—but also a big fan of eating 60-80% raw plant food at every meal.

variety of greens
Eating a variety of greens helps keeps us in balance.

9.  Why the big preoccupation with kale, specifically, anyway? There are collards, chard, beet greens, varieties of spinach, cabbages, celery, spring greens available organic year-round, and so many other choices. They are all good, and they all have a different nutritional profile. A variety helps keep us in balance. Mix it up!

I really hate to see unhealthy people bailing on a whole class of the most nutrient dense foods available to us, because of a “tempest in a teapot” buzzing on the internet.