Did you know that being low in certain nutrients is a common cause of hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid? In order to produce optimal amounts of thyroid hormones and respond to them appropriately, you must have the right building blocks.
If you're facing hypothyroidism symptoms such as fatigue, hair loss, brain fog, weight gain, low body temperature, or anxiety, you may be able to restore your thyroid function simply by increasing your levels of these key nutrients. Many patients are able to reduce their dose of supplemental thyroid hormone or even get off of it entirely just by increasing their nutrient levels through diet and supplements. That's my new book The Thyroid Connection asserts that a nutrient-rich diet is a primary pillar of the healing protocol.
Here's a breakdown of the nine most common nutrient deficiencies linked to thyroid dysfunction and how to increase your intake of each.
Iodine is the most important mineral when it comes to thyroid health; it's one of the two building blocks your body uses to produce thyroid hormones. It also supports the process of converting T4, the storage form of thyroid hormones, into free T3, the usable form of the hormone.
The best dietary sources of iodide (the food version of iodine that must be converted into iodine) are seaweed and saltwater fish. However, I like to see my thyroid patients add in some small amount of supplemental iodine as well.
The second most important mineral for thyroid health is selenium. It also plays a role in converting T4 to T3, giving us usable thyroid hormone. For those with autoimmune thyroid dysfunction, selenium has also been shown to drastically reduce antibody levels, reversing autoimmune activity.
You can get this much-needed mineral through your diet with red meats including liver, chicken and turkey, fish and shellfish, spinach, and a high-quality multivitamin or supplement.
Tyrosine, an amino acid, is the other building block of thyroid hormone. Your thyroid converts tyrosine into thyroglobulin and then attaches between one and four iodine atoms to create the four forms of thyroid hormone.
You need sufficient protein in your diet to offer enough tyrosine to produce thyroid hormone properly. You can find tyrosine in red meat, chicken, fish, seafood, and seaweed.
Your thyroid relies on a variety of B vitamins. Vitamin B12 is the transporter that brings iodine to the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormone. Vitamin B12 is also needed to produce thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which signals your thyroid to produce more hormones. A vitamin B12 deficiency can result in common hypothyroidism symptoms such as fatigue, depression, and brain fog, and studies have shown that vitamin B12 deficiency is common among hypothyroid patients.
Great sources of B vitamins include leafy green vegetables (be sure to cook kale, cabbage, and bok choy to counteract their goitrogenic effects), cooked broccoli, beets, red meat, and liver. I often recommend that my thyroid patients also take a supplemental B-complex or high-quality multivitamin with adequate levels of B12.
Without iron, iodide from food cannot be converted into its usable form of iodine. Iron also supports the conversion of T4 to T3. And of course, more severe iron deficiency or anemia can exacerbate common thyroid disease symptoms of fatigue and weakness.
I find that many of my female patients, especially vegans and vegetarians, but even those following a Paleo diet, are iron-deficient.
Quality food sources of iron include organic or grass-fed beef and beef liver, pork, poultry, seafood, and dark leafy vegetables.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids support the integrity of your cell's wall to help get active thyroid hormones into cells and power them. Some studies have even linked omega-3 fatty acids to increased T3 uptake.
Omega-3 fatty acids also support good gut health and the integrity of the gut lining (helpful for those with autoimmune thyroid disease and leaky gut), they decrease overall inflammation, and support the immune system.
You can get these essential fatty acids from fatty fish like salmon, and I also recommend a good-quality fish oil supplement that is free of the mercury so commonly found in fish.
Vitamin A is another one of the many nutrients needed to convert T4 to T3. It helps thyroid hormone T3 get into cells so that it can bind to thyroid hormone receptors. And it supports a healthy immune system, which is important for those with autoimmune thyroid disease.
I encourage getting the majority of your vitamin A from beta-carotene-rich foods like orange fruits and vegetables: carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, mangoes, apricots, as well as liver and cooked kale.
Similarly to vitamin A, vitamin D is needed to get T3 safely into cells and perhaps more importantly, supports a healthy immune system. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease, including Hashimoto's and Graves', as well as thyroid cancer and nodules.
An easy way to support your immune system and protect your thyroid is to supplement with vitamin D3 each day. However, you'll want to make sure that your supplement includes vitamin K2 because they work together in tandem. Your body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium, and it needs vitamin K to ensure that the calcium ends up in your bones instead of in your arteries.
You can also get vitamin D from sun exposure, fatty fish, pork, and fish oil.
Zinc plays a crucial role at both the beginning of the thyroid hormone production process and its journey to your cells. It triggers the thyroid hormone receptors in the endocrine system's control center, the hypothalamus. Then the hypothalamus can accurately gauge your levels of thyroid hormone to signal the thyroid to ramp up or slow down hormone production. Then, once the hormones are produced, it helps convert them to their active form.
You can include more zinc in your diet with red meat and liver, pork, chicken, spinach, seafood, or a multivitamin or supplement. Just remember to pair your zinc supplement with copper; otherwise, it can deplete your copper supply.
Remember, food is fuel, and providing your thyroid with the fuel it needs to function properly is a key step in restoring thyroid function, eliminating symptoms, and restoring your health and vitality.