Empowering Women’s Health: A Study on Nutrition and Thyroid Function

While it might be small, the thyroid is anything but insignificant. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate, growth, and development, playing a central role in the control of the heart, muscle, digestive function, brain development, and bone maintenance. Thyroid disorders fall into two main categories: overactive, and underactive. An overactive thyroid might cause symptoms such as sweating, a racing heart rate, weight loss, and nervousness; whereas symptoms of an underactive thyroid can include feelings of fatigue, weight gain, hormonal changes, and depression.

Despite thyroid disorders being a relatively common clinical diagnosis in South Africa, it was only in 2015 that the first set of local guidelines for the management of the disease were published (1). Whilst comprehensive, these guidelines focus exclusively on the pharmacological management of thyroid disease and make no mention of lifestyle interventions or behaviors that could support thyroid health or the management thereof. The lack of lifestyle interventions in thyroid disease management can be attributed to several factors. One major reason is the insufficient research on women’s health related to thyroid conditions. Historically, medical research has often prioritized conditions perceived as more immediate or life-threatening, leaving chronic diseases like thyroid disorders underexplored. Additionally, women’s health issues, including thyroid disease, have not received the same level of attention and funding as other areas. Gender biases in medical research and clinical trials have resulted in a limited understanding of how lifestyle factors specifically affect women with thyroid conditions. Furthermore, socioeconomic barriers and healthcare disparities can impede the implementation and study of lifestyle interventions, particularly in underserved communities. 

This finding, together with growing evidence that nutritional interventions play a central role in mitigating symptoms of metabolic disease, prompted The Noakes Foundation, in collaboration with the Nutrition Network to investigate the impact of a nutritional education program on thyroid function in a sample of South African women. This study is funded by Fundación Ramón Areces and the Association of Spanish Scientists in Southern Africa (Asociación de Científicos Españoles en el Sur de África). It aims to provide insights into how sustainable lifestyle changes can potentially impact not only thyroid function but also women’s health and well-being in general.

The study will run for the next 3 months and will involve pre- and post-nutritional intervention data collection. Women will also participate in regular online sessions with the researchers for qualitative insights into their experience. Regular updates will be posted on our blog, so check back to see how our participants are progressing!


  1. https://doi.org/10.4102/safp.v57i6.4399


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