Search any thyroid forum, and one of the most common questions you’ll see asked is

 

“Which thyroid supplements should I be taking?”

 

While it is important to make sure you are getting what you need, I think it’s a shame that many people go straight to the “bottle of pills” option, rather than focussing on their diet first.

All the nutrients we need can be found within a varied, wholefoods diet.

While there are many nutritional deficiencies that are common in people living with thyroid disease, improving your digestion and the way you eat, in addition to what you eat can very often rectify a lot of these problems.

Today I’m going to talk about 7 nutrients that are absolutely essential for regaining your health when living with hypothyroidism.  Rather than recommending which supplements to go and buy, I’m also going to give you some recommendations as to which foods you can find them in.

You’ll notice that many foods appear more than once, which makes it easy to raise the nutrient density of your diet.

Whenever I take on a new client in my practice, we always begin with diet.  We supercharge the nutrient density of what they are eating and crowd out the foods that are not as beneficial.  Rather than focussing on taking foods away, I like to concentrate on what we can add in, not only for those nutrients essential for your thyroid and overall health, but also for taste, texture and enjoyment.

Diet must always come before supplements.  There is no point popping a pill when what you are (not) eating is the real culprit.  So, without further ado, here are the top 7 nutrients for thyroid health and where to find them.

1. Selenium

Selenium is an essential thyroid nutrientSelenium is one of the more well-known nutrients required for thyroid health, and for good reason.

“Insufficient amounts of selenium have been linked with a number of disease manifestations, especially those affecting the thyroid hormone axis.” (Hechtman, 2013, p. 1064)

The conversion of T4 to its active form of T3 requires the presence of selenium and it also protects the thyroid from free radicals which are released during the production of thyroid hormone.

Selenium is involved in cell mediated immunity and low levels have also been associated with an increased risk of anxiety and depression.

“Selenium supplementation may improve inflammatory activity in chronic autoimmune thyroiditis patients, as evidenced by a significant reduction in the concentration of thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO-Ab) to 63.8% in selenium-supplemented subjects versus 88% in placebo subjects.” (Braun & Cohen, 2010, p. 850)

Please note that you should always have your selenium levels checked before supplementation as it is toxic in high doses.

brazil nuts are rich in selenium

Brazil nuts are rich in selenium.

You can increase the amount of selenium in your diet by eating more:

  • Seafoods:
    • mackerel
    • crab
    • oysters
    • tuna
    • fish
  • Organ Meats:
    • liver
    • kidney
  • Vegetables:
    • broccoli
    • alfalfa
    • celery
    • garlic
    • onions
    • turnips

    Other sources:

    • Yeast
    • cashews
    • eggs
    • brazil nuts (Osiecki, 2010, p. 161)

2. Iodine

IodineIodine is perhaps the most “famous” of all the nutrients essential for healthy thyroid function, with goiter being the most well-known sign of deficiency.

Put simply, your body simply cannot make thyroid hormone without iodine.

At all.

Iodine deficiency prevents the production of adequate levels of thyroid hormone whether you have an autoimmune component to your hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s) or not.

Symptoms of iodine deficiency as synonomous with the classic hypothyroid complaints ie poor temperature regulation and feeling cold, poor immunity to colds and infections, dry hair and skin, constipation, weight gain, puffy face and brain fog. In children, it can also impair their ability to grow and their intellectual development. Some researchers such as Dr Brownstein have even suggested that the autoimmune component of Hashimoto’s is due to iodine deficiency.

While I always recommend seeking professional advice prior to taking any supplements, I cannot strongly advise it enough when it comes to iodine.

It is absolutely imperative that you have your levels tested prior to taking any iodine supplements, and to have your levels regularly monitored while taking iodine supplements as it is toxic when consumed in excess of what your body requires.

seafoods are rich in iodine

Foods from the ocean are rich in iodine

Foods that are rich in iodine are

  • Seafoods
    • seaweed
    • fish
    • shellfish
  • Vegetables;
    • asparagus
    • garlic
    • lima beans
    • mushrooms
  • Others:
    • sunflower seeds
    • iodised salt
    • commercial cereal products. (Braun & Cohen, 2010, p. 614 & Osiecki, 2010,  p. 141)

3. Zinc

ZincZinc would have to be one of the most important nutrients for human health.

It is a cofactor for an estimated 200 different enzymes within the human body and has uses ranging from immune function and reducing the frequency and severity of infection, to assisting with the firing of our nerves, to even showing antidepressant-like effects in some studies! (Braun & Cohen, p. 1045). When it comes to thyroid function however, it is absolutely essential. Without sufficient zinc, your body cannot efficiently convert T4 to the active T3. In fact,

“studies suggest an association between goiter and zinc deficiency”! (Hechtman, 2013, p. 1065)

So how can you add more zinc in to your diet? Include more of these foods

oysters are high in zinc

Oysters are high in zinc

  • Seafoods:
    • herrings
    • oysters
  • Meats:
    • beef
    • lamb
  • Organ Meats:
    • liver
  • Vegetables & Fruits:
    • ginger
    • capsicum
    • bilberry
  • Other:
    • yeast
    • whole grains
    • egg yolks
    • sunflower seeds
    • pumpkin seeds (pepitas) (Osiecki, 2010, p. 169)

4. Magnesium

MagnesiumIt plays a role in more than 300 different enzyme systems within our body! (and not just because it’s in dark chocolate)

Signs that you may not be getting enough Magnesium in your diet include cramps, muscle weakness, depression and mental confusion, poor concentration and attention span, lethargy, apathy and melancholy, memory problems and trouble sleeping.

With so many roles in the body, it is not really surprising that it is also needed for thyroid function. Interestingly,

“defects in magnesium metabolism and transport mechanisms have been noted in hypothyroid patients” (Hechtman, 2013, p. 1064),

so it is imperative you are getting enough of it in your diet.

chocolate is rich in magnesium

Dark chocolate is rich in magnesium

Increasing the following foods in your diet will help to raise your magnesium levels:

  • Seafoods:
    • kelp
    • cod
  • Vegetables & Fruits:
    • figs
    • lima beans
  • Other:
    • almonds
    • cashews
    • seeds
    • wholegrains
    • eggs
    • molasses
    • cocoa
    • brewer’s yeast (Osiecki, 2010, p. 147)

5. Iron

IronGiven that 7 out of every 8 people diagnosed with thyroid problems are women, and women lose a large amount of iron every month via their menstrual flow, it should come as no surprise that iron deficiency affects thyroid function.

In fact, if you are deficient in iron, the initial stages of thyroid hormone production can’t even occur as it affects the thyroid-stimulating hormone axis.

Being deficient in iron also makes it more difficult to maintain a warm body temperature (been feeling cold lately?), makes your hair brittle, lowers your resistance to infection, makes you tired and also makes it more difficult to concentrate. Sound familiar??

red meat is one of the richest sources of bioavailable iron

Red meat is one of the richest sources of iron

Foods rich in iron to help boost your levels are:

  • Seafoods:
    • clams
    • oysters
  • Meat:
    • beef
    • lamb
    • poultry
  • Organ Meats:
    • liver
    • kidney
  • Vegetables & Fruits:
    • avocado
    • parsley
    • leafy green vegetables
  • Other:
    • yeast
    • pine nuts
    • pepitas
    • sunflower seeds (Osiecki, 2010, p. 143)

6. Vitamin D

Vitamin DVitamin D deficiency has been associated with a predisposition towards autoimmune disorders, perhaps due to its influence in the body with regards to modulating the immune system.

Deficiency of Vitamin D has also been associated with hair loss, anaemia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia.

Adequate levels of Vitamin D are essential to not only prevent, but also heal infection as it is able to enhance the immune response to bacteria and viruses. It has also been used successfully in the treatment of depression.

While Vitamin D is available in some foods such as egg yolk, sprouted seeds and fish liver oils, the best way to get it is through exposure to sunlight.

Ten to fifteen minutes per day of sun exposure outside of the hottest hours of 10am to 3pm are recommended, with up to an hour in winter when there are less UVB rays. (Braun & Cohen, 2010, p.987)

7. B Group Vitamins

B Group VitaminsThiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Pyridoxine (B6), Folate (B9) and Cobalamin (B12) make up the B group of vitamins.

Although they are all individual vitamins in their own right, I will discuss them together here as a group as they seldom occur in isolation in nature, and they all support each other with their actions and work together.

One of the main roles of the B group vitamins is for energy production.

They help to metabolise your food and then convert glucose into energy. They support mitochondrial function (the powerhouses of your body’s cells that make energy), and are some of the most essential nutrients for reducing the fatigue and lethargy which plague so many people living with thyroid disease.

B vitamins are also essential for neurotransmitter production.

Neurotransmitters are the chemicals in our brains that regulate our moods. If they are not being produced efficiently, our moods can drop and depression and anxiety can set in. They have also been shown to improve sleeping patterns and the overall feeling of wellbeing.

Thiamine has been shown to improve menstrual problems, while Riboflavin is imperative for healthy methylation. Niacin and Pantothenic Acid can help to lower triglycerides and LDL-cholesterol, while Pyridoxine helps to break down homocysteine which is often elevated in people with hypothyroid disease. Folate (not folic acid) is essential for healthy methylation, but is often deficient in people with one or more MTHFR gene polymorphisms or SNPs. As with B6 and B12, it helps to reduce homocysteine.
So which foods do you need to be eating regularly to ensure you are getting plenty of these wonderful B group vitamins? Luckily they occur in a wide range of foods that are easy to incorporate into your everyday diet.b vitamins

  • Seafoods:
    • fish
    • salmon
    • mackerel
    • sardines
    • lobster
    • clams
    • herring
  • Meats:
    • lamb
    • pork
    • beef
    • chicken
  • Organ Meats
    • liver
    • brains
    • heart
  • Vegetables & Fruits:
    • asparagus
    • legumes
    • avocado
    • beans
    • currants
    • sprouts
    • broccoli
    • green leafy vegetables
    • mushrooms
    • oranges
    • peas
    • sweet potato
    • bananas
    • carrots
    • endive
  • Other:
    • almonds
    • sunflower seeds
    • spirulina
    • wholegrains
    • eggs
    • yeast
    • royal jelly (Osiecki, 2010, pp. 7, 11, 15, 19, 21, 25 & 63)

References:

Braun, L. & Cohen, M. (2010). Herbs & natural supplements : an evidence-based guide. Sydney New York: Elsevier Australia.

Hechtman, L. (2013). Clinical naturopathic medicine. Chatswood, N.S.W: Elsevier Australia.

Osiecki, H. (2010). The nutrient bible. Eagle Farm, Qld: Bio Concepts Publishing.

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