Thyroid problems are becoming more common these days, and you’ve likely heard that some dietary supplements can support thyroid health.
The issue is, with all the over-the-counter options these days it’s hard to tell which thyroid support products are worth your time and money.
To make matters more complicated, depending on the thyroid condition, some natural remedies could be either fantastic or detrimental.
Before we dive into thyroid support supplements, let’s do a quick review of the thyroid gland is and what dysfunction looks like.
Your thyroid gland sits near the front of your throat and is shaped like a butterfly. It releases hormones that help control your metabolism and is an essential component to your endocrine system.
Your thyroid releases hormones that affect a wide range of functions in your body including:
- Heart rate
- Weight gain
- Central nervous system function
- Muscle strength
- Cholesterol levels
- Sex hormone function
- And more
Your endocrine system is made up of glands that produce hormones which are sent throughout your body. The thyroid is a key player in the endocrine system, and symptoms of dysfunction can affect the other glands of the endocrine system.
When it comes to hormones in the human body, the regulation is anything but simple. To produce thyroid hormones, an area of your brain called the hypothalamus must become activated.
The hypothalamus then signals your pituitary gland to make a hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH then signals your thyroid gland to start making two hormones; T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4(thyroxine).
The release of TSH is regulated by a feedback loop from T3 and T4. When there’s enough T3 and T4 present, your hypothalamus gets the message and then tells your pituitary that it can slow down the release of TSH.
While the majority of thyroid hormone released is T4, T3 is the active form of the hormone. However, T4 can be converted to T3 when necessary.
There are several different types of disorders that can affect your thyroid. Some cause your thyroid to be overactive and produce too many hormones. While others cause your thyroid to be under-active and not produce enough.
Issues can occur due to dysfunction in the thyroid gland itself, or due to dysfunction in the pituitary or hypothalamus.
Some conditions associated with an under-active or overactive thyroid are:
Hypothyroidism is much more common than its opposite, hyperthyroidism.
The most common cause of hypothyroid is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which causes damage to your thyroid gland. However, not all forms of hypothyroidism are caused by Hashimotos.
With a hypoactive thyroid, your thyroid gland isn;t producing enough of its hormones. Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include fatigue, dry skin, sensitivity to cold, depression, constipation, slow heart rate, brain fog, and weakness.
One way that you can detect hypothyroidism is by looking at your TSH levels. If your levels of TSH are high, it may mean that your pituitary is sending out excessive amounts of the hormone to try to stimulate your thyroid into action.
Hyperthyroidism is the opposite situation to hypothyroid, where your thyroid is manufacturing too many hormones.
The most common cause of a hyperactive thyroid is Grave’s disease, named after the doctor who discovered it. Grave’s is an autoimmune disease where your body’s own immune system attacks your thyroid gland.
Excess thyroid hormone can speed things up in your body. While this may sound like a good thing on paper, in reality, it can be very damaging. Some symptoms of hyperthyroid include;
Anxiety, fatigue, irritability, diarrhea, difficulty sleeping, irregular heartbeat, tremors, weight loss, and irregular menstrual cycles[*].
A goiter is an abnormal enlargement of your thyroid gland, typically caused by iodine deficiency. However, it can also be caused by under or overproduction of thyroid hormones.
Goiters tend to be relatively harmless themselves but can make it difficult to swallow or eat. In general, a goiter is more of a clue that something isn’t right with your thyroid gland.
Some issues associated with goiters include; difficulty eating, difficulty breathing, coughing, hoarseness of voice, and a tight feeling in your neck[*].
Thyroid cancer is generally rare in the United States but is becoming more common. Depending on what part of the thyroid is affected, several different symptoms associated with hormone fluctuations can occur.
High levels of radiation and genetics seem to play a role as risk factors for thyroid cancer, and it’s generally seen more in women than men[*].
Thyroiditis is a general term used for inflammation in the thyroid gland. When your thyroid becomes inflamed, it can damage the cells of the tissue, and lead to disruption in hormone production.
Inflammation can lead to either overactive or underactive thyroid hormone production, and sometimes both.
One cause of thyroiditis is Hashimoto’s disease, however other conditions can also create inflammation affecting this gland. Autoimmune disease, radiation, infection, and some medications are just a few of the other potential causes of inflammation in the thyroid[*].
Iodine is one of the primary nutrients necessary for thyroid health. Your thyroid hormone cannot be produced without sufficient iodine, and iodine deficiency is directly associated with thyroid issues.
In fact, a deficiency in iodine can lead to an enlargement of the thyroid gland, which is referred to as a goiter[*].
The balance of iodine in your diet as it relates to thyroid health is crucial. Your body doesn’t produce this essential mineral, so it’s up to you to get enough through diet or supplementation.
Too little iodine can lead to hypothyroidism and impaired growth and motor development in children. Too much iodine, however, is associated with thyroid autoimmunity and is also sometimes associated with hypothyroidism.
Most salt in the United States is fortified with iodine, and you can also find it in seaweed products like kelp or bladderwrack.
Iodine plays a crucial role in controlling the function of your thyroid. It can modulate the response of your thyroid to specific hormones, and it can also inhibit its oxidation[*].
Due to their profound effect on thyroid health, iodine supplements should always be taken with guidance from your healthcare provider.
#2 Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that plays a role in the development of red blood cells, brain health, and DNA synthesis. It also plays a critical role in energy metabolism, and deficiency often causes physical fatigue and weakness[*].
Many people with hypo-active thyroids also have a deficiency in B12, about 40%. This correlation is a chicken-egg situation, where one seems to negatively influence the other.
With low thyroid activity, B12 deficiency tends to follow. However, low B12 levels can also make symptoms of thyroid deficiency worse. Therefore, supplementing with B12 when you know your thyroid is weak may be a good idea.
Research shows that replacement of B12 in hypothyroid patients leads to improvement in hypothyroid symptoms[*].
Selenium is a trace mineral that’s found throughout your body, but in highest concentrations in your thyroid gland. Its beneficial roles in your body include immune support, cognitive function, and fertility, to name a few.
Selenium plays a vital role in the production of thyroid hormone, and high levels of selenium are associated with a reduced risk for autoimmune thyroid disease[*].
For your body to activate your thyroid hormone, it needs to convert it from its T4 form (inactive) to T3 (active). The enzyme responsible for this conversion is a selenium dependent enzyme[*].
Without enough selenium to support this process, your body can’t activate sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone. This, in turn, creates symptoms associated with hypothyroidism.
In addition, selenium also plays a role in neutralizing free radicals that attack your thyroid in autoimmune thyroid disease[*].
Zinc is most well-known for its immune-enhancing qualities. You’ll often find zinc as the main ingredient in immune supplements or cold lozenges. It plays a central role in the activity of around 100 enzymes and is essential for cellular metabolism[*].
A deficiency in zinc is associated with hypothyroidism, and hypothyroidism can also cause zinc deficiency. As you can see, zinc and your thyroid are intimately related.
Zinc plays an upstream role in the production of thyroid hormone by increasing the output of hormones from your pituitary gland and hypothalamus. These two glands work together to control your thyroid gland, and when there is a deficiency in one or the other, thyroid deficiency typically follows[*].
Studies have also shown that zinc deficiency correlates with low levels of T3 — the active form of thyroid hormone[*].
#5 Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that’s present in small amounts in some foods, and can also be made by your body when it’s provided sufficient sunlight. It plays a crucial role in the health of your bones, and the balance of the mineral calcium.
Deficiency in vitamin D is fairly common, but mostly seen in older adults or people who aren’t exposed to enough sunlight[*].
Vitamin D deficiency is closely linked to Hashimoto’s disease. One study even reported over 90% of people with Hashimotos having low levels of vitamin D.
The correlation between Hashimoto’s and vitamin D status is unclear. It may be that a deficiency in vitamin D can cause low thyroid function, but it could also be true that low thyroid causes vitamin D deficiency.
Either way, if your thyroid activity is low, it’s worth checking out your vitamin D status, and potentially supplementing[*].
One study done on patients with hypothyroidism showed that vitamin D supplementation has a positive effect on their TSH levels. However, there was no effect observed on levels of active thyroid hormone[*].
In the case of Grave’s disease (hyperthyroid), vitamin D status also tends to be diminished. One of the symptoms of Grave’s disease is bone loss, which is typically reversed when hyperthyroidism is treated.
However, due to the critical role that vitamin D plays in bone health, it’s suggested that supplementation may help prevent some of the loss[*].
Iron is a mineral that can be found in a variety of foods, with the most bioavailable form coming from red meat. Its primary activity is its role in red blood cells, helping to carry oxygen throughout your body.
Inadequate iron intake, or excessive blood loss, can lead to anemia — a relatively common disorder in the United States[*].
Low thyroid function is often found in people with iron deficiency anemia. Iron affects thyroid hormone metabolism, and a deficiency of iron creates a downstream issue in hormone production.
In one study, researchers aimed to determine whether iron status could affect low thyroid hormone without the use of thyroid medications. They gathered a group of volunteers with iron deficiency anemia that also had low thyroid and treated them with iron for two months.
After two months of treatment, iron levels were normalized, and thyroid hormone levels were also back to normal. In addition, cortisol levels were also normalized[*].
Magnesium plays several critical roles throughout your body. One of its main jobs is to act as a cofactor for enzymes, assisting in their function.
As a cofactor, it helps control a range of biological processes including blood sugar regulation, protein synthesis, blood pressure, and many more[*].
Magnesium also plays a key role in the production of T4, as well as the activation of your thyroid hormone from T3 to T4. This correlation was shown in a rat study where magnesium-deficient rats also experienced a reduction in the synthesis of T4[*].
In a clinical study, researchers aimed to determine the connection between magnesium status and thyroid deficiency. With a group of over 1,000 participants, the researchers assessed thyroid hormone and thyroid disease markers along with magnesium status.
The results of the study found that the lowest levels of magnesium were correlated with increased levels of hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s, thyroid antibodies[*].
The term “goitrogens” refers to something that causes a goiter — enlargement of the thyroid gland.
Goitrogens are a group of foods that can inhibit proper thyroid function by interfering with iodine uptake in your thyroid. As you now know, iodine is essential for the health of your thyroid gland.
Goitrogenic foods contain compounds which, when broken down by enzymes, can inhibit the function of your thyroid. However, not all goitrogenic foods are considered equal.
Brussels sprouts, collards, and Russian kale are the most potent goitrogens that you may want to keep on your watch list if you have thyroid issues.
Other foods that contain goitrogenic compounds, but to a lesser extent are turnips, broccoli, and brassica kale[*].
If you’re following a keto diet, you’re likely not consuming very much gluten. However, it’s worth mentioning that there is a correlation between gluten and thyroid health. Specifically, for people with auto-immune thyroid issues.
It’s not uncommon for one autoimmune disorder to pave the way for the next. Among patients with autoimmune thyroid disease, researchers found an increased incidence of celiac disease — a condition characterized by a severe allergy to gluten[*].
If you’re suspecting something to be off with your thyroid gland it may be time to cut back on alcohol.
Research shows that alcohol can create cellular toxicity which suppresses the function of your thyroid by affecting your hypothalamus– pituitary — thyroid axis. Chronic consumption of alcohol is also associated with decreased levels of peripheral thyroid hormone.
In other words, it messes with the normal production of hormones in your thyroid, resulting in low levels.
If you’re looking for some thyroid support, then there are some essential thyroid supplements to consider.
Nutrients like iodine, selenium, B12, zinc, Vitamin D, and magnesium are all essential for the function of your thyroid. And when taken in appropriate amounts, very few side effects should occur.
However, if you’re working with a healthcare practitioner, you should always assess whether supplementation is right for you.
Aside from supplements, there are some other vital factors to consider when it comes to diet and thyroid health. Specifically, goitrogenic foods and gluten-containing foods should be kept to a minimum.