Necessary nutrients to maintain normal thyroid function and treat hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
Necessary nutrients to maintain normal thyroid function and treat hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
There are four key nutrients required to maintain a healthy thyroid and avoid both hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism – iodine, zinc, tyrosine selenium. But how do you know if you are getting all these nutrients in sufficient quantities or avoiding those nutrients that exacerbate your thyroid condition?
If you are one of the many Australians who experience thyroid problems, there are ways to ensure you get the right balance of nutrients to keep your thyroid functioning optimally.
But first, let’s look at the thyroid itself and how it functions.
What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland is a soft, small bow-shaped gland, located in the front of the neck, below the voice box or larynx, also known as your Adam’s Apple, on either side of the trachea, or windpipe.
It produces hormones that influence what goes on in almost every organ in your body, regulating the body’s metabolic rate, influencing digestion, heart, mood, brain development, and muscle control. It tells your organs to slow down or speed up their function as needed, regulating how much oxygen you use and helping you to generate heat.
Symptoms and types of thyroid conditions
Thyroid disease is a common condition that affects both women and men and often goes undiagnosed. There are a range of conditions, with the most common being:
Let’s look a bit more closely at these conditions.
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
Hypothyroidism is characterised by unusually low hormone production; your thyroid can’t produce enough hormones to regulate your metabolism. If your thyroid can’t secrete enough hormones into your bloodstream, your body’s metabolism slows down rapidly.
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid:
- Fatigue after sleeping 8 to 10 hours a night, or needing to take a nap daily
- Weight gain or the inability to lose weight
- Mood issues such as mood swings, anxiety, or depression
- Hormone imbalances such as PMS, irregular periods, infertility, and low sex drive
- Muscle pain, joint pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, or tendonitis
- Cold hands and feet, feeling cold when others are not, or having a body temperature consistently below 98.5
- Dry or cracking skin, brittle nails, and excessive hair loss
- Brain issues such as brain fog, poor concentration, or poor memory
- Neck swelling, snoring, or hoarse voice 1
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland becomes overactive and produces more thyroid hormones than you need. When you have hyperthyroidism your metabolism speeds up, making your body work harder and faster. It is a common condition affecting more women than men. 2
Hyperthyroidism can also mimic other health problems which can make diagnosis difficult.
It can cause a wide variety of signs and symptoms, including:
- Unintentional weight loss, even when your appetite and food intake stay the same or increase
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) — commonly more than 100 beats a minute
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Pounding of your heart (palpitations)
- Increased appetite
- Nervousness, anxiety and irritability
- Tremor — usually a fine trembling in your hands and fingers
- Changes in menstrual patterns
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Changes in bowel patterns, especially more frequent bowel movements
- An enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), which may appear as a swelling at the base of your neck
- Fatigue, muscle weakness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Skin thinning
- Fine, brittle hair 3
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, also known as Hashimoto’s disease, “is an autoimmune disorder that can cause hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. With this disease, your immune system attacks your thyroid. The thyroid becomes damaged and can’t make enough thyroid hormones.” 4
Hashimoto’s disease is more common in women than men and your chance of developing it increases if other family members have the disease or if you have other autoimmune disorders. Conditions linked to Hashimoto’s disease include lupus, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism, causing it to make more thyroid hormone than your body needs.
The effects of Graves’ disease can be wide-ranging and significantly influence your overall well-being. Although Graves’ disease may affect anyone, it’s more common among women and before the age of 40.
Diagnoses of thyroid cancer in Australia have increased in recent years. Between 1982 and 2017, cases of thyroid cancer more than tripled. 5
The most common type of thyroid cancer is papillary thyroid cancer, which usually grows in one lobe of the thyroid gland. Follicular thyroid cancer accounts for about 20% of thyroid cancers. Less common thyroid cancers include medullary thyroid cancer, anaplastic thyroid cancer and thyroid sarcoma or lymphoma. 6
The Functional Medicine approach to thyroid disease treatment
There a few reasons your thyroid may not be functioning correctly, including:
- You are suffering from poor gut health. The trillions of microbes that reside in your gut have a profound influence on the production of hormones in the body—including thyroid hormones. 7
- Autoimmune disease
- Nutrient deficiencies
How nutrients play an important role
Nutrients play a big part in normal thyroid function. Alongside a balanced healthy diet, your thyroid needs specific nutrients for overall good health.
Thyroid hormones regulate growth and metabolism in the body. Triiodothyronine (T3) is the active form of thyroid hormone and thyroxine (T4) is the inactive form of thyroid hormone.
“Iodine is one of the two building blocks of your thyroid hormones. The thyroid converts tyrosine (the other building block) into thyroglobulin and attaches between one and four iodine atoms to create T1, T2, T3, and T4 respectively. Without enough iodine, your thyroid can’t produce its hormones.” 8
Iodine deficiency is the biggest cause of hypothyroidism worldwide, but in Western countries, hypothyroidism is usually caused instead by autoimmune disease.
Optimizing your iodine intake is crucial, and both too little and too much iodine can be harmful. 9
At Advanced Functional Medicine, through the assessment of iodine levels with a urine test. We find many of our patients are iodine deficient due to a number of reasons, including:
- Decreased use of iodised salt
- Vegetarian or vegan diets without adequate iodine
- Or, living in an area in which the soil is iodine-deficient, of which Western Australia is particularly known for
For people with an iodine deficiency, we recommend iodine-rich foods such as seaweed, spirulina, seafood, eggs, and iodised salt. We often also prescribe supplementation.
Excess iodine can cause or worsen Hashimoto’s disease, especially when selenium is absent, so in the case of high levels of iodine, these foods may need to be restricted.
Connected to thyroid function in more than one way, Zinc is a necessary nutrient for the uptake of thyroid hormone to protect it from oxidative damage.
When zinc levels are low zinc, the thyroid-stimulating hormone is not created, which results in low levels of thyroid hormones T4 and T3 (9).
It’s also an essential part of the enzyme deiodinase, which converts T4 into functional T3. If zinc is low or missing from the body, T3 cannot be made (9).
Low zinc levels are associated with increased levels of autoimmunity—as seen through high amounts of anti-thyroid antibodies (TPO and Tg) in thyroid patients (10). 10
At Advanced Functional Medicine, we recommend increasing your intake of zinc-rich foods. Good sources include lean meats, pumpkin seeds and seafood. A supplement is often required as much of the soil in Western Australia is zinc deficient. Conditions such as Pyrrole disorder and other demands of the body can deplete zinc stores rapidly.
The thyroid gland combines tyrosine and iodine to make the thyroid hormone.
Supplementing with tyrosine may influence hormones T3 and T4.
By consuming enough protein in your diet, you will be able to supply the tyrosine needed to synthesise the thyroid hormone. Foods such as chicken, turkey, fish, peanuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, avocados, and bananas are rich in tyrosine.
Supplementing with tyrosine can have side effects and interact with medications so it’s important to get medical advice before you consider this supplement. [ET1] It is contraindicated in hyperthyroidism.
Selenium is a micronutrient embedded in several proteins. The thyroid is the organ with the highest amount of selenium per gram of tissue. Selenium levels in the body depend on the characteristics of the population and its diet, geographic area, and soil composition. 11
Selenium is essential in the conversion of T4 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (the active form), to protect the thyroid from oxidative damage, and reduce thyroid antibodies in autoimmune thyroid disease.
We recommend increasing your intake of selenium-rich foods to reduce thyroid antibodies and protect the thyroid gland. These foods include brazil nuts, seafood, and lean meats.
Foods that inhibit thyroid function
Soy isoflavones are known to impact thyroid function unless iodine status and thyroid function are normal. If you have thyroid problems and an iodine deficiency, the intake of soy foods should be moderated, and iodine foods increased.
Goitrogens can suppress thyroid function by interfering with iodine uptake.
Goitrogenic foods include:
- Pine nuts
- Flax seed
These are important to avoid in hypothyroidism associated with iodine deficiency. Soaking, cooking and fermenting largely inactivates goitrogens, making them safe to consume.
How we can help
At Advanced Functional Medicine in Perth, we have extensive experience with thyroid disorders and provide comprehensive testing of all the nutrients and blood markers necessary for optimal thyroid health.
Call us now or fill in the form for more information.