In simple terms, goiter refers to the abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland, which is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck, just below your Adam’s apple. The thyroid gland secretes hormones that are responsible for a number of essential bodily functions including metabolism, temperature and heart rate. This condition, however, does not necessarily indicate thyroid malfunction or disorder. It can occur in a gland that is:
- Producing too much hormone (hyperthyroidism)
- Producing too little hormone (hypothyroidism)
- Producing a normal amount of hormone
A goiter that is relatively small in size, such that it is not physically detrimental or cosmetically unpleasing, is mostly harmless and remedies itself in due time. However, an increasingly swollen thyroid gland can constrict the trachea, causing problems in breathing and swallowing.
Causes of Goiter
According to the American Thyroid Association, a goiter is an indication that something is wrong that is causing the thyroid gland to grow abnormally.
Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of goiters globally. Iodine is essential to the proper functioning of the thyroid gland as it helps manufacture the thyroid hormone. Consequently, when there is a lack of iodine in your diet, your thyroid gland needs to put in extra effort to get its work done, causing it to enlarge.
Other possible causes of goiter are:
- Graves’ disease
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Inflammation of the thyroid, known as thyroiditis
- Noncancerous nodules on the thyroid
- Thyroid cancer
- Thyroid injury
- Multinodular goiters
- Genetic defects
- Certain medications
- Certain foods such as soy, peanuts, and vegetables from the cabbage or broccoli family
- Smoking, as tobacco contains thiocyanate that hampers iodine absorption
Although anyone can develop this condition, goiters are more prevalent among women than in men. Other factors that raise your susceptibility include:
- A family history of thyroid problems or autoimmune diseases
- Lack of iodine in your diet
- Health problems that reduce iodine in the body
- People who are above the age of 40
- Pregnancy or menopause
- Radiation exposure in the neck and chest
Signs and Symptoms of Goiter
The majority of goiters are asymptomatic. However, when symptoms do occur, they often include:
- Shortness of breath when exerting yourself
- Noticeable swelling in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hoarseness in the voice
- A tight feeling in the throat
- Increased sensitivity to heat and perspiration
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
Dealing with Goiter Naturally
Here are some home remedies for goiter.
1. Replenish Iodine Levels
Insufficient iodine intake has emerged as the leading cause of thyroid goiter. According to a 2015 report, thyroid problems such as goiter and hypothyroidism are often rooted in severe iodine deficiency, as iodine is indispensable to the production of thyroid hormones.
To assist in reducing the size of a goiter, eat a diet that contains adequate iodine. For adults, the recommended dose of iodine is 150 mcg daily.
To replenish iodine in your body, include iodine-rich foods in your diet, such as iodized salt, kale, seafood, codfish, tuna, eggs, shrimp, turkey, navy beans, and baked potato with the skin.
2. Take Kelp
Kelp, a kind of seaweed, is a natural source of iodine that can help normalize thyroid functioning. However, when used as a supplement, the large amounts of iodine can even lead to decreased thyroid function (hypothyroidism) or increased thyroid function (hyperthyroidism).
Hence, as in the case of starting any kind of supplement, it’s well advised to run it by your doctor first.
- As kelp is salty in taste, you can use it as an alternative for salt in soups, salads, and other dishes.
- Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried kelp powder to any of your favorite smoothies and have it once daily.
3. Use Watercress
Watercress is an excellent source of iodine and can help prevent thyroid disease.
Plus, it is high in other minerals and nutrients, including sulfur and germanium, and antioxidants that can be beneficial for the optimum functioning of your thyroid gland.
- Grind a handful of watercress to make a paste. Apply this paste on the swollen portion of your neck. Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes before washing it off. Do this daily for at least 10 days.
- Alternatively, mix 2 tablespoons of watercress juice in half a glass of water. Drink this three times daily for 6 weeks.
4. Increase Vitamin B12 Intake
Vitamin B12 is essential to optimal thyroid health as it plays an important role in metabolic and cellular processes.
This is reflected in a 2009 study published in the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association, wherein it was demonstrated that there is a high prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency in hypothyroid patients.
Thus, it can be concluded that a vitamin B12-enriched diet can prove effective in improving thyroid problems including goiter symptoms.
- The most common dietary sources of B12 are meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products.
- You can even consider a vitamin B12 supplement. Consult your doctor for the correct dosage and duration.
5. Consume Turmeric
Turmeric is another good remedy for goiter. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can help reduce the inflammation in the thyroid gland.
A 2015 study published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that dietary turmeric serves as an antigoitrogenic agent and hence helps in goiter treatment.
- In 1 cup of water, add ½ cup of turmeric powder.
- Bring the solution to a boil.
- Lower the flame and cook for 5–10 minutes.
- Add 1 teaspoon of black pepper powder and 2–3 tablespoons of coconut oil.
- Stir well and remove from heat.
- Store the solution in an airtight container.
- Have a teaspoon of this paste twice daily.
6. Treat with Kanchanar
Kanchanar, botanically called Bauhinia variegata, is a popular Ayurvedic remedy to help manage goiter, nodules, and other types of growth in the body.
Additionally, this herbal drug helps eliminate natural toxins from the lymphatic system and restore proper functioning of the thyroid system.
- Boil 10g to 15g of powdered bark of this herb in 160ml (2/3 cup) of water over medium heat.
- Turn off the heat when the solution reduces to about 40ml or a quarter of the original amount.
- Strain the solution and drink it once or twice daily half an hour before meals.
- Continue this natural treatment for 2 to 3 months.
7. Take Selenium-Rich Foods
The thyroid gland needs selenium to function optimally. Selenium deficiency can make your thyroid heavy and thereby can worsen your goiter condition.
So, it is important to eat selenium-rich foods on a daily basis, especially so if you are prone to thyroid issues. While these foods help in the production of thyroid hormones, excessive consumption of selenium can also have adverse effects.
A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology reports that maintaining a physiological concentration of selenium can help prevent thyroid disease and preserve overall health.
Some foods that are rich in selenium are kidney, liver, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, shellfish, crab, onions, salmon, tuna, mushrooms, wheat germ, barley, brown rice, oats, meats, poultry, eggs, and fatty fish.
8. Activate Vitamin D in Your Body
Vitamin D is important for metabolism and the thyroid gland to function properly. As such, many thyroid disorders can be traced back to a vitamin D deficiency.
In a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers analyzed several studies and concluded that preclinical and observational studies had suggested a beneficial role of vitamin D in the management of thyroid disease.
However, further studies are needed to establish the effectiveness of vitamin D with regard to goiter treatment.
- To activate the vitamin D in your body, enjoy some early morning sunlight daily.
- Include vitamin D-rich foods in your diet, such as fortified cereals, juices, and cod liver oil.
- You can also take the supplement; however, you must consult your doctor first.
Preventive Measures to Avoid Goiter
- Eat several small meals instead of a heavy meal. This will allow the body to better absorb all the nutrients.
- Limit your intake of goitrogenic foods, such as radishes, sweet potatoes, strawberries, spinach, broccoli, peanuts, turnips, cabbage, cauliflower, and soybeans.
- Avoid processed foods, soy products, and beverages such as coffee, alcohol, and soda.
- Switch to iodized salt instead of regular salt.
- Take vitamin B complex after consulting your doctor.
- You can also use massage therapy for goiter. Techniques such as reflexology and acupuncture may give you relief from some goiter symptoms.
When to See a Doctor
Because goiter is often associated with some underlying thyroid condition, it’s important that you get any swelling in your neck promptly evaluated by a doctor. The doctor will help determine the cause of the goiter and guide you towards the appropriate medical treatment if needed.
Along with medications, there are many simple home remedies that can help treat goiter and eliminate the symptoms. Use home remedies as an adjunct treatment only.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Leonardo Bandeira, MD (Endocrinologist)
Is it possible to treat goiter without surgery?
Yes, most of the time. The treatment varies according to the specific cause of the goiter. The most common causes are treated without surgery, which is generally reserved for very large goiter with compression of adjacent structures or malignant diseases.
Does including turmeric in the diet help deal with goiter?
Perhaps. Based on current scientific evidence, this cannot be said for sure. However, there is some evidence showing that turmeric in the diet reduces goiter. More studies on the subject are needed to conclude. In brief, it may be that turmeric in the diet helps in dealing with goiter, but we still cannot state this for sure.
Are eggs helpful in treating goiter?
The main cause of goiter in the world is iodine deficiency. Since the egg has iodine in its composition, its consumption may help in treating goiter for this cause. Consumption of egg with added salt further increases the intake of iodine in the diet, as salt has iodine in most countries.
Which foods should be avoided when suffering from goiter?
Some foods have substances that impair thyroid iodine metabolism, contributing to the development of goiter. Examples are cassava, lime beans, maize, bamboo shoots, and sweet potatoes. These foods should be avoided by people who have a goiter.
Please provide some important points for preventing and treating goiter for the benefit of our readers.
Most countries now have a legislation requiring the addition of iodine in the salt. Thus the main measure for preventing and treating goiter for iodine deficiency is the adequate consumption of iodine-rich foods (such as saltwater fish, seaweed, egg yolks, and milk products) and salt.
For other causes of goiter such as thyroid disease, a medical evaluation is necessary to determine the correct treatment that may require medication and/or surgery.
About Dr. Leonardo Bandeira, MD: Dr. Bandeira graduated from the Federal University of Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil. He was a resident of Internal Medicine at the Brazilian National Health System and completed his fellowship in Endocrinology at Santa Casa, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
He also completed his Postdoctoral Fellowship in Endocrinology at Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Currently, he sees patients in endocrinology clinics, endocrine dynamics tests lab and participates in research groups at Hospital AgamenonMagalhaes in Recife, the Federal University of Sao Paulo and Columbia University in NYC.
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