Supplementing the Thyroid for Optimal Function
Written by Emily Edmonds, L.Ac
There’s a hummingbird in the garden in front of the office. She has in the space of a week created a nest and laid two eggs. I’ve never seen such tiny eggs! She watches carefully for intruders that would disturb her babies, and flies away every time the door opens. But she comes back, determined to make it work and take care of her responsibility as a new mom. I admire her tenacity, and am filled with so much gratitude to be able to witness this miracle of nature.
Now, I was puzzled as to how could I possibly segway this into an article about thyroid nutrition. Maybe she was trying to tell me that humming and chanting are said to activate the throat chakra, at the center of which is the human thyroid gland. Until this hummingbird came into the garden, I knew already that the humming sound came from the rapid flapping of their wings. What I did not know is that they could also sing. And it’s beautiful to listen to! But I was already writing this article, and this hummingbird and her nest came into presence. The hummingbird doesn’t need medications, supplements or surgeries to tell it what to do. There is an intelligence there, an evolutionary process that tells the hummingbird it’s time to make a nest. To lay an egg. To keep the egg warm until it hatches. The hummingbird has no awareness of this. Like our glands and our endocrine system, it has an intelligence that tells it what to do without our conscious awareness or effort.
We talked previously about thyroid hormones and their importance in human metabolic function. (Previous Article) Today, we are going to discuss nutrients for the thyroid to be at its optimal function. The thyroid gland utilizes several key nutrients that are needed for healthy thyroid function. These nutrients are selenium, zinc, iodine, iron, calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, and Essential Fatty Acids. These nutrients are needed not just for good thyroid function, but for proper absorption, conversion and assimilation of thyroid hormone and also to protect the thyroid gland from damage.
Selenium is a very key nutrient for healthy thyroid function. Selenium plays a role in conversion of thyroid hormone from its inactive form to its active form. Selenium also contributes to glutathione formation, which protects the thyroid from damage and inflammation. Selenium also has been shown to reduce thyroid peroxidase antibodies, which contribute to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
One of the best sources of selenium is Brazil nuts. But in most cases, I recommend supplementing with selenium b/c the amount of selenium in Brazil nuts can be inconsistent.
Zinc is also needed for thyroid hormone conversion from T4 to T3, as it is a component of the enzyme deiodinase. Zinc is also needed for healthy hair, skin and nails. If you have a thyroid condition and you have alopecia (hair loss), hair breakage, or thin, brittle nails, you may need an increase in zinc intake.
Good sources of zinc include shellfish, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils, flaxseeds and pine nuts. I typically recommend taking a zinc and selenium supplement. I really like this product because it contains the recommended doses of both zinc and selenium as well as other minerals and nutrients.
Iodine is needed for the thyroid to produce thyroid hormone, as thyroid hormone has iodine as part of its molecular structure. The inactive form of thyroid hormone, T4, thyroxine has four iodine molecules and the active form, T3, has three. But the thyroid needs a specific amount of iodine for proper function. Unfortunately, it is possible to get too much of it and many of us are getting far more than we actually need. Iodine is in many of our foods, products and cosmetics in prolific amounts. So while it is important to be aware that iodine is important for thyroid function, too much of it or too little of it is going to cause problems with thyroid function.
If you have an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s or Grave’s disease, I would recommend avoiding iodine. Excessive amounts of iodine contribute to free radical formation in the thyroid and trigger an immune response in the thyroid that will cause more inflammation and worsen the progress of the disease. We will talk more about iodine and how it actually compromises thyroid function when we get too much of it in a future article.
Sources of iodine include iodized salts, sea vegetables, Himalayan salt, egg yolks, seaweed, seafood and dairy products.
Iron is used as a catalyst in the formation of thyroid hormone T4, and it also plays a role in converting T4 to T3 through the enzyme deiodinase. Iron also plays a role in making heme proteins such as thyroid peroxidase, which is needed to bond iodine to thyroglobulin proteins to make thyroid hormone. If your iron levels are low, you may not be producing enough thyroid hormone and may not be able to convert thyroid hormone to its active form.
Symptoms of low iron levels include pallor, shortness of breath, dry hair or skin, swollen tongue, brittle nails, palpitations, dizziness, and restless leg syndrome.
I do not recommend supplementing with iron without consulting a practitioner first. Most practitioners are going to order a CBC panel and a ferritin test to measure of how much iron is being stored. Iron can accumulate in the body to toxic levels if supplemented inappropriately, so if you have normal iron and ferritin levels it is not safe to supplement with iron.
For getting adequate stores of iron, I recommend focusing on dietary sources. If you do have to supplement with iron, ensure your supplement also contains Vitamin C or take it with a food rich in Vitamin C (oranges, kiwis, berries) so that you will be able to absorb the iron.
Good sources of iron include red meats, beef liver, dark leafy green vegetables, and beets.
Vitamin A has been shown to lower TSH levels, according to research. See this chart below.
Vitamin A is another nutrient that can accumulate to toxic levels if you over-supplement with it. It can cause toxicity to the liver. For this reason, I don’t recommend supplementing with Vitamin A without the guidance of a practitioner, and typically only in the short term. 5,000 IU of Vitamin A is considered to be a safe level.
If you consume enough foods with betacarotene, you do not need to supplement with Vitamin A. If you have difficulty converting betacarotene, you may need to focus on consuming animal products of Vitamin A. Either way, I encourage patients to get this key nutrient mostly from food rather than from supplements as a first resort.
Good sources of Vitamin A include cod liver oil, eggs, carrots, goji berries, butternut squash and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin B2 is also known as riboflavin, and Vitamin B3 is known as niacin.
These two B vitamins are important in thyroid hormone synthesis, when iodine molecules are attached to the thyroglobulin protein to make thyroxine (T4). This means even if you are getting enough minerals, if you are low in B vitamins – it will be hard for your thyroid to make enough thyroid hormone.
Typically, if you take a complete Vitamin B supplement, all of these needs can be met. Something however that is important to know about B vitamin supplements is that many of them contain folate or folic (Vitamin B9). While folic acid is certainly key to support our health and fertility, synthetic folic acid suppresses active thyroid hormone levels. If the folate that you are taking is a synthetic folate, it is certainly going to worsen symptoms of thyroid disease. The form of folate I recommend taking is in the form Quatra-folate or a methylated folate.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential Fatty Acids come in three main forms, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These are essential for healing the thyroid, especially if there is a pattern of mood instability, neurological activity or brain dysfunction. Good sources include cod liver oil, salmon, and trout.
Honorable Mention – Vitamin D
While not directly involved in the role of thyroid hormone synthesis, Vitamin D is crucial to many processes in the body, for healthy hormones, and for immune system modulation. Most of us, with few exceptions, need more Vitamin D. While it is possible to overdose with Vitamin D, it takes a massive amount of it, around 40,000 IUs taken over long periods of time.
If you have parathyroid disease (which is separate from thyroid disease), be wary of supplementing with Vitamin D, especially if you also are prone to kidney stones. Speak to your doctor about what is considered a safe level for you.
Honorable Mention – Magnesium
Again, while not directly involved in thyroid hormone synthesis and metabolism – magnesium is required for several different metabolic processes in the body. Here again, this nutrient is something that many of us are not getting enough of due to soil depletion and environmental changes.
It is important to take magnesium during a time that you are not taking other supplements, especially those containing minerals such as iron. It also has a calming, relaxing effect – so for this reason I often recommend taking it before bed.
The Role of Selenium in Thyroid Gland Pathophysiology
Effects of Selenium and Vitamin C on the Serum Level of Antithyroid Peroxidase Antibody in Patients with Autoimmune Thyroiditis
The Effect of Vitamin A Supplementation on Thyroid Function in Premenopausal Women
The Effect of Zinc Supplementation on Thyroid Hormone Function
Zinc Deficiency Associated with Hypothyroidism: An Overlooked Cause of Severe Alopecia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3746228/
The Impact of Iron and Selenium Deficiencies on Iodine and Thyroid Metabolism: Biochemistry and Relevance to Public Health
Thyroid Status in Patients with Low Serum Ferritin Level
Riboflavin Metabolism in the Hypothyroid Human Adult
Alterations in Thyroid and Hepatic Function Tests Associated with Preparations of Sustained Release Niacin
The Role of Iodine and Selenium in Autoimmune Thyroiditis
Consequences of Excess Iodine
Effect of Excess Iodine Intake on Thyroid on Human Health
Emily Edmonds, L.Ac
Tao to Wellness
809 Hearst Ave
Berkeley, CA 94710