10 Nutrients to Improve Thyroid Function
Did you know that one of the best ways to support a healthy thyroid and overall wellbeing is with optimal nutrition?
Thyroid function and its metabolic role is reliant on nutrient feedback signals. Without specific nutrients, there is a lack of expression from a variety of physiological activities that ultimately cause a decline in total health.
Restore your vitality by addressing 10 key nutrients outlined in this article to give the function of your thyroid a boost.
Thyroid Function & Disruptive Factors:
Supporting thyroid function is essential for promoting metabolism and aiding normal growth and neurological development. When thyroid health suffers, the ability of the whole body to maintain homeostasis is thrown off balance.
The thyroid gland communicates with the adrenal, pituitary, and hypothalamus glands as well as the kidneys, liver and skeletal muscle. When thyroid function is sub-optimal, hundreds of enzymatic processes are disturbed in the body.
Numerous factors contribute to the decline of thyroid health. Environmental and physiological influences that play a role may include:
- Heavy metal contamination
- Pesticide, herbicide and other environmental toxins
- Gut dysbiosis
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Drugs such as antibiotics
- Lack of nutrients possibly associated with malnutrition, poor diet, or decreased nutrient absorption from related disorders like IBD (irritable bowel disease)
- Chronic infections possibly due to autoimmune problem or high stress
- Carcinogens from diet such as meat cooked at high temperatures or lifestyle factors like smoking
- Alcohol intake
- Poor sleep habits
Symptoms of Thyroid Dysfunction:
Hypothyroidism, or too much thyroid hormone, upregulates specific processes such as increased energy expenditure that result in weight loss. Unfortunately, the opposite is most often true in today’s Western culture. Low concentrations of thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism) causes a sluggish thyroid characterized by: (1)
- Slow resting energy expenditure (reduced ability to burn fat)
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Increased fat storage
- Reduced energy breakdown for the brain
- Weight gain
Oxidative stress increases under conditions of nutrient deficiency and further triggers a problem in metabolic pathways. Deficiencies in the following nutrients can manifest in the body in several ways. Some of these include: (5, 6, 7)
- Mood disturbances, fatigue and poor cognitive thought (Vitamin B6, tyrosine, omega-3 and/or selenium deficiency)
- Hair changes including brittleness, loss of pigment or alopecia. Can also affect eyebrows, eyelashes, and nails (Zinc deficiency)
- Irritability, depression, and skin rashes (Zinc, iodine and/or vitamin B12 deficiency)
- Anemia (Vitamin B6, B12, and/or iron)
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter) (Vitamin A deficiency)
- Gastrointestinal complications like constipation, impaired fertility and sexual reproductive health, numbness and/or sharp pains in extremities resulting from nerve damage (Vitamin B12 and/or omega-3s)
- Elevated cholesterol levels (Omega-3 fatty acids)
- Weakened immunity (Vitamin C, D, selenium and/or zinc deficiency)
Adequate nutrition is an integral factor to synthesizing thyroid hormones for optimal function. Be sure you are incorporating the following 10 nutrients into your diet regularly to reduce the occurrence of deficiencies that can cause hypothyroidism and lead to autoimmune diseases.
Thyroid function is dependent on the presence of iodine used to manufacture thyroid hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine).However, the balance of iodine in the body is critical because deficiency and excess iodine are both associated with thyroid dysfunction.
Depleted iodine concentrates is shown to favor degeneration of the thyroid gland which subsequently alters the nervous system (5). Those most susceptible to the psychological and neurological deficits of iodine deficiency is in premature infants and children. (9)
Some of the richest sources of dietary iodine is found in quality marine products. Kelp contains the greatest concentration while other sea vegetables like dulse and nori seaweed provide dietary iodine as well.
The concentration of selenium in cells is essential for the conversion of T4 to T3. It is also critical for supporting the enzyme 5-deiodinase which converts T4-T3 and degrades the inactive rT3 and reduces thyroid anti-body formation. (2)
Selenium deficiency is associated with a weakened immune system and autoimmune diseases including cancer and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Restoring levels of selenium through an individual’s diet supports antioxidant pathways, improves hormone metabolism, controls inflammatory responses, and repairs thyroid cell and tissue damage. (3)
The best source of selenium in food is found in Brazil nuts which offer the recommended daily value of selenium in only 2 nuts. Other excellent sources include sardines, pasture-raised poultry like turkey, chicken and eggs.
If you have a serious thyroid problem you most likely have compromised selenium uptake from food based sources. This is one reason why functional nutritionists do not recommend individuals with diagnosed hypothyroidism try to get their selenium needs from food alone. In these cases, it is best to supplement with a high quality, L-selenomethionine to restore healthy concentrations of selenium. (4, 6)
Zinc is a trace mineral required for thyroid hormone synthesis amongst other vital processes that upregulates antioxidants and a healthy immune response.
A clinical study of a woman with zinc deficiency and hypothyroidism exhibited dry and scaly skin lesions, hair loss, weakness, lack of appetite and possible depression. Following receiving supplementation of zinc for one month, her skin lesions were completely healed, her perceived depression had significantly improved and in 4 months’ time her hair had completely grown back. (5)
Food sources rich in zinc include organic eggs from pasture-raised chickens, wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef and organ meat, pumpkin and chia seeds as well as spinach and almonds.
4. Fat Soluble Vitamins:
Thyroid homeostasis involves the feedback loop affected by the hypothalamus, pituitary and thyroid gland. It plays a primary role in circulating thyroid hormone to regulate cardiovascular, bone and brain health as well liver function and food intake. (8)
Vitamin A: Involved in production and secretion of thyroid hormones. Assists in converting T4 to T3, normalizes TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) concentrations and aids in iodine uptake by thyroid.
The richest sources of vitamin A can be found in orange vegetables like carrots, sweet potato and winter squash. Other dietary sources include spinach, kale and dark leafy greens.
Vitamin D: Low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of hyperthyroidism implicated bone density loss.
Vitamin D is most available and easily absorbed into the body from sources like wild-caught salmon, sardines, egg yolk, fermented dairy, and mushrooms.
Vitamin E: Shown in study to provide antioxidant benefits that decrease oxidative stress and normalize a healthy autoimmune response associated with both hypo- and hyperthyroidism. Treatment of individuals with a combination of vitamin E and other antioxidants had a similar reduction in symptoms as did the group of patients treated with medication to stabilize the synthesis of thyroid hormones.
Increase your intake of raw almonds, dark leafy greens like swiss chard, mustard greens, kale and spinach as well as avocado and olives.
Vitamin K2: The effects of vitamin K2 on supporting thyroid health are not directly implied as the previous fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamin K2 exhibits synergistic effects on promoting vitamin D activity in the body to support cardiovascular and bone health.
The predominant source of vitamin K2 is in animal products like fermented dairy, grass-fed beef, butter and cheese from grass-fed animals, eggs sourced from pasture-raised chickens and even some fermented foods like natto.
The trace mineral iron is most significantly found to prevent the formation of inactive T3 stores called rT3 (reverse T3) (11). Given the highly active properties of T3 and its short duration cycle, iron is critical to supporting thyroid function.
Nutritional iron deficiency adversely impacts thyroid hormone metabolism by lowering levels of T4 and T3, and suppresses the enzyme that converts T4 to T3. Iron deficiency related hypothyroidism has been also shown in study to increase the flight or fight response of the sympathetic nervous system resulting in higher levels of stress hormones. (11)
Help restore available iron concentrations for thyroid support by first reducing irritants that are destroying your gut health. Add in plenty of iron rich foods to your diet like leafy greens, nuts, grass-fed beef and organ meat, quinoa and lentils.
B vitamins play a very important role in human health of which certain ones are directly influence thyroid function. Unfortunately, many common practices today increase the risk for B vitamin deficiency including the use of medication and sugar intake.
Vitamin B6 feeds thyroid hormone production which has been shown in study to reverse symptoms of hypothyroidism. It aids in providing a healthy stress response alleviating symptoms of autoimmune thyroid diseases. B12 and riboflavin (B2) deficiency is a commonality between individuals with thyroid disease. (7)
Supplementing B-complex vitamins into your diet can reduce symptoms associated with thyroid disease. Increasing intake of B12 can improve health disturbances like gastrointestinal problems that are deleterious to thyroid health. Taking a high quality B-complex supplement can improve thyroid health and restore overall vitality.
A B-complex can also help you reduce the possibility of exceeding the dose of a single nutrient like B6 which can lead to low levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone. Increase your intake of a variety of foods including bell peppers, spinach, grass-fed organ meat, pistachios, eggs from pastured-raised chickens, wild-caught salmon and tuna fish.
The amino acid tyrosine works in a joint effort with iodine to produce thyroid hormones T4 and T3. Tyrosine provides the structural foundation for thyroid hormones. Low levels of tyrosine levels is linked to a reduction in thyroid hormones and also a decrease in neurotransmitters like dopamine affecting the central nervous system (12).
Under conditions of high stress, the loss of available tyrosine to the brain results in one’s loss of interest, slower movement and a decline in physical health. Low tyrosine levels coupled with chronic stress leads to a decrease in enzymatic activity responsible for producing hormones. These influences affect the hypothalamus and adrenal glands which adversely leads to the dysfunction of the thyroid.
Increasing tyrosine in clinical studies in patients with low thyroid hormones whom also exhibited signs of depression, fatigue and lowered immunity had improved stress levels, neurological function, and higher levels of circulating thyroid hormones. (13)
8. Vitamin C:
Individuals with thyroid disease are reported to have low circulating antioxidant levels. The antioxidant vitamin C treats trauma resulting from too much thyroid hormone production, likely by preventing oxidative stress to tissue. (7)
Vitamin C supports the health of the adrenal gland where it is most concentrated in the body. When vitamin C is lacking, the adrenal gland cannot adequately respond to stress creating problems for the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and consequently the thyroid.
A study of patients that had hypothyroidism and autoimmune related complications supplemented vitamin C for a 6 month period. Following the study, these individuals had improved levels of the thyroid hormones T4, T3 and TSH. Participants also showed an improvement in the malabsorption issues they were having from gastrointestinal problems. (14)
9. Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
Reducing inflammation and supporting antioxidant pathways that protect against tissue damage to the thyroid and its supporting organs is key for health. The average American today consumes a diet significantly higher in omega 6 fatty acids than omega-3 fats. This imbalance results in severe health consequences and reduces thyroid function.
Lacking dietary omega-3s reduces thyroid hormone secretions and impairs normal brain function such as memory and cognitive thought. In study, omega-3 intake is shown to improve neurological deficits by increasing available antioxidants and provide protection against hypothyroidism (15).
The improvement of thyroid hormone levels is seen again in study of the liver. Thyroid hormones stimulates lipid metabolism of which omega-3 supplementation is evidenced to improve (16). The most important omega 3’s are the long-chain EPA and DHA, which are found in the highest concentrations in cold-water fish.
Wild caught salmon, grass-fed beef and high quality fish oil supplements are excellent sources of these long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Normalizing the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fats can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body improving thyroid function.
10. Thyroid Bovine Glandulars:
Glandular supplement from bovine (cow) thyroid concentrate is a popular alternative for treating conditions that affect the adrenal and thyroid gland. Thyroid bovine glandulars are simply an extract of tissue from the hormone-producing thyroids of cows. Supplementation is used to treat hypothyroidism because they contain nutrients for thyroid function.
A natural hormone supplement, glandulars are suggested to boost the availability of thyroid hormones T4 and T3. Supplements for supporting adrenal repair can also help people experiencing symptoms of adrenal fatigue in combination with a sluggish thyroid. Glandular support provides antioxidants to repair damaged tissue and normalize cortisol levels for a healthy thyroid.
It is important not to exceed the recommended dose of thyroid bovine glandular supplementation because there may be unknown health dangers associated. The supplement that I use that has kelp and iodine boosting sea vegetables, thyroid glandulars, L-selenomethione and more to support thyroid function is called Thyroid Strong.
Improving your overall lifestyle by reducing stress, making exercise a priority and practicing relaxation techniques can help restore your health. Avoiding toxic habits and carcinogens in your life can reduce the amount of stress on the thyroid and its supporting organs and glands.
Such lifestyle improvements will benefit your gastrointestinal tract helping your body naturally absorb more of the powerful thyroid-supporting nutrients you are taking in. Making these natural changes to improve your thyroid will prevent you from seeking prescriptive medication that can impair your health.
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- Fan Y, Xu S, Zhang H, et al. Selenium Supplementation for Autoimmune Thyroiditis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.International Journal of Endocrinology. 2014; 2014:904573. PMCID: 4276677
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