Thyroid Toxins: The Double-Edged Swords of the Kingdom Plantae

By Chris Masterjohn. Cholesterol-And-Health.Com Special Reports Volume 1 Issue 1. 25 pages, 6 figures, 1 table, 66 references. $15.00

The table provides precise quantitative information about what proportion of the goitrogenic activity of cruciferous vegetables various cooking methods destroy. It contains values for steaming, microwaving, and boiling with and without draining the water.


Plants produce many toxic substances to defend themselves from insects and other herbivores. Because some of these may be healthful to humans in small amounts by helping to rev up our defenses against toxins, it is important to rely on human epidemiological evidence and experimentation using whole foods in live animals rather than test tube science. Such research has indicted several classes of foods that may exert a toxic effect on the thyroid gland and thyroid hormone metabolism in humans; we call these foods goitrogenic and we call the chemicals responsible for this effect goitrogens. Goitrogenic foods include soy, millet, cruciferous vegetables, cassava, lima beans, flax seeds, almonds, and fruits and fruit seeds of the Rosacea family. Millet flavonoids are more dangerous than others.

Cooking and fermenting do not destroy millet or soy goitrogens; in fact, they make these foods more goitrogenic. Millet goigrogens are present in both the bran and the endosperm. Traditionally prepared millet that is dehulled, fermented and cooked into a porridge is associated with goiter in humans. Microwaving crucifers reduces the average isothiocyante yield to one-half; steaming them reduces this yield to one-third; boiling them for a half hour and dumping out the water almost entirely eliminates this yield. The effect of microwaving and steaming is dependent on the individual's intestinal flora and is thus highly variable, whereas the efect of boiling is more reliable and constant. Fermentation makes crucifers more goitrogenic. The most effective way of removing cyanogenic glycosides is by crushing the tubers and leaching them in running water for several days, and by blanching and boiling the leaves. Dietary iodine is able to overcome the effect of cyanogenic glycosides, moderate amounts of crucifers, and is probably able to overcome the effect of soy flavonoids. It is not able to overcome large amounts of crucifers or any amount of millet.

People who have resilient health while eating these foods should continue to eat them with impunity. However, people who have thyroid problems or other problems associated with iodine deficiency or cyanide exposure should consider experimenting with the following dietary restrictions: 1) eliminate millet; 2) moderate soy and only consume it with additional sources of iodine; 3) limit crucifer intake to five servings per week, only eat more than this if ti is boiled, and match one's crucifer intake with extra iodine; 4)avoid foods with cyanogenic glycosides unless they are extensively boiled or crushed and leached in running water for several days, and match one's cyanogen intake with extra iodine and vitamin B12-containing foods or supplements (but not cyanocobalamin). These foods are not inherently unhealthy but simply contain chemicals that have the capacity to hamr the health of some people under some circumstances; this is true of all foods. Experience always trumps theory, so the individual should use this information as but one tool with which she or he can experiment to find the most appropriate diet for herself or himself.

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