It’s important to keep your thyroid healthy. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that’s located at the front of the neck, underneath the voice box. It regulates your body’s various functions including growth, mental development, reproductive processes, and metabolism.

The thyroid releases hormones into your bloodstream to regulate bodily functions. Like most of your other organs, the thyroid’s performance can be affected by a number of factors. Here are some tips to ensure your thyroid continues to function properly:

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep deprivation can be a major cause of thyroid problems, particularly hypothyroidism. The human body needs 7-8 hours of sleep every day, and if you sleep fewer hours for an extended period of time, your adrenal glands will weaken and go into a catabolic state, where your body breaks down its own cells. To counteract this, your body will slow down your metabolism. As a result, your thyroid will cut back on releasing its hormones—directly resulting in hypothyroidism. Fortunately, you’d have to be sleep-deprived for a long period, so make sure you don’t lack sleep for extended periods.

Avoid a High-Sugar Diet

Keep your sugar intake within reasonable levels. A common culprit is soda: a can of the stuff can have as much as 10 teaspoons of sugar, so cut back on your soda intake or do away with it completely. Too much sugar in your diet can result in a horrible catch-22 situation with your thyroid. Reduce your sugar intake, and don’t rely on artificial sweeteners.

Eat more veggies

Vegetables, especially cruciferous ones like broccoli, spinach, kale, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts offer a host of benefits that can be good for your thyroid. These veggies can lower your blood sugar, contain fewer calories and has more fiber—you’ll feel satiated longer and this promotes weight loss. Some controversy surrounds cruciferous vegetables as they have goitrogens, a substance that consumes the body’s iodine reserves during digestion. The trick is to cook any of these types of veggies before eating them to remove the goitrogens.

Eat Iodine-rich foods

Be sure to get enough iodine in your diet by eating fish, dairy products, eggs, and seafood. If you think you don’t consume enough of these foods, use iodized salt to season your food. Hold off on the iodine supplements, though, as too much iodine can damage your thyroid.

Exercise

Whether it’s lifting weights, swimming, low-impact aerobics or jogging, doing any of these exercises at least 20 minutes a day can help keep your thyroid healthy. By exercising, you can keep your weight down, and bring down your levels of a hormone called cortisol, which inversely affects your blood sugar levels. This can overwork your thyroid and cause hypothyroidism.

Manage your stress

Whenever you experience something stressful, your body reacts by releasing hormones.

Most everyday stresses may not be that serious—work, dealing with traffic, chasing deadlines—but these can trigger the release of adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline increases blood pressure, energy reserves, and heart rate. Cortisol, on the other hand, increases blood sugar for your brain to use and for your body to have access to tissue-repairing substances.

While beneficial during a fight-or-flight situation, hormones like cortisol can change immune system responses and suspend other processes like digestion. If the body is stressed continually, cortisol levels go up, blood sugar increases, and your thyroid becomes overworked to compensate. This could lead to hypothyroidism.

The trick to keep your hormones balanced is to control reactions to stress and reduce your stress levels by getting enough rest, eating right, exercising, having a hobby, and having a sense of humor.

Drink less Coffee and Green Tea

green tea in a glass

Remember how not getting much sleep can cause hypothyroidism? Reduce your coffee and green tea intake (especially before bedtime) as their high caffeine content may interfere with your sleep.

Also, coffee can interfere with thyroid hormone absorption and/or thyroid medication. If you can’t let go of your morning cup of Joe, take your thyroid medication and wait at least an hour before having your coffee—or opt for decaf.

Why Take Care of Your Thyroid?

A fully-functioning thyroid will release the right hormones so your body can efficiently absorb nutrients from the food you eat. If the hormones produced by your thyroid are at irregular levels, you can experience rapid weight gain or weight loss. As the thyroid controls vital functions like your metabolism, you may experience a number of problems if it doesn’t function properly.

Final notes

Preventing thyroid problems like hypothyroidism can be a delicate balancing act, and sometimes you can still get the illness if you already have another autoimmune disease or are genetically predisposed to the condition.

Should you develop any of the thyroid-afflicted symptoms, don’t gamble—that’s done in a casino, not with your health.