Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits in the front of your neck and controls many important bodily functions through the hormones it produces. These hormones affect breathing, heart rate, digestion, and body temperature, so when this powerful gland malfunctions it can be devastating.
Thyroid problems may begin when too much or too little thyroid hormones are made, which can result in extreme changes in your weight, digestion, energy, and mood, and even develop into thyroid disease. In addition to the many medicinal options to manage thyroid function, there are also holistic approaches such as diet and supplementation to nourish this small but mighty gland and keep it working efficiently. This article will focus on 11 vitamins and nutrients that can help your thyroid function better. (Source, Source)
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Thyroid disease affects about 27 million Americans. When the gland overproduces hormones it is referred to as hyperthyroidism, and underproduction is known as hypothyroidism. Thyroid diseases may be autoimmune in nature, but there are many other causes.
People with hypothyroidism as well as those with hyperthyroidism will most likely notice unusual symptoms that showcase the body is off balance. If you have experienced any of these uncomfortable and alarming symptoms, you most likely have sought help from a health care professional to figure out what’s going on. Due to the malfunction of the thyroid gland, your body will not be able to keep up with its usual demands to operate normally, creating symptoms that may feel difficult to manage.
Thyroid disorders can affect anyone at any age, whether it presents at birth, develops as you age, or is inherited. Though it is not uncommon to be affected by a thyroid disorder, women are 5 to 8 times more likely to be diagnosed than men. The following factors may put you at a higher risk of developing thyroid disease:
Supporting your thyroid with diet and lifestyle can be an important piece to fueling your overall health and wellbeing while keeping your thyroid functioning optimally. You may be genetically predisposed to thyroid disease, or develop it due to environmental and lifestyle factors, as these both affect how your genes respond to changes in your environment.
Due to the fact that a dysfunctional thyroid may stem from an autoimmune thyroid disease, dietary and lifestyle strategies and using supplements for thyroid health may be useful in managing thyroid function.
Vitamins specific to thyroid health are found in food sources as well as dietary supplements, and may be a good option for a more holistic approach to supporting thyroid hormone metabolism. Supplementation may support thyroid function in both overactive and underactive thyroid conditions. Take care to source high quality supplements for optimum thyroid support.
Those with hypothyroidism are commonly deficient in vitamin B12 due to poor diet and having other medical conditions that limit absorption of nutrients, such as pernicious anemia, atrophic gastritis, gluten sensitivity, slow emptying of the gut, and an overgrowth of bacteria. Low levels of vitamin B12 can lead to the development of hypothyroidism, and supplementation has been shown to lower thyroid antibodies and improve thyroid function.
Supplementing with vitamin B12 early on in a hypothyroid diagnosis may reverse some cognitive and anemic issues. Food sources of B12 include:
Vitamin A is a group of fat soluble compounds that are involved in the structure and function of the thyroid. As with iron, a vitamin A deficiency may interfere with the uptake of iodine in the thyroid, lowering thyroid hormone levels. This group of compounds plays a huge role in regulating T cells, which are important for healthy immune function and may be an integral piece to the development of thyroid autoimmune disease.
Leafy green vegetables
Orange and yellow vegetables
Include a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables along with high quality sources of whole foods in your diet to keep your vitamin A levels up and support optimal thyroid health.
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that is not stored in the body and needs to be replenished daily via food or supplementation. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects the thyroid gland from oxidative damage and is useful for restoring thyroid function. Research has shown this vitamin helps those who are on levothyroxine, a synthetic hormone used for goiter or hypothyroidism, absorb it better. Vitamin C-rich foods include fruits and vegetables such as:
Vitamin D, sometimes known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is good for many ailments but is especially helpful in supporting a solid immune system. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to onset of autoimmune hypothyroidism, and research has shown that patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are often severely deficient. Due to its anti-inflammatory and immune modulating effects, vitamin D supplementation could reduce the risk of developing a thyroid autoimmune disease. Your body may be able to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D if you spend enough time in direct sunlight, but it may not be safe or practical to sun yourself every day. Some foods contain small amounts of vitamin D naturally and some are fortified with this critical nutrient, but even if you maintain a healthy, varied diet you may need to take a vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin E is fat soluble and a powerful antioxidant. Similar to vitamin D, vitamin E also plays a role in immune health. In terms of thyroid health, vitamin E has the ability to protect your cells from damage that may occur with hyperthyroidism.
This vitamin can be found in food sources such as:
Iodine is a trace mineral essential for thyroid function. This mineral is naturally found in foods such as:
The amount of iodine in food will vary according to how it is sourced. Fruits and vegetables contain very low amounts of iodine and are not a good source to get your daily intake. Iodine deficiency is not at all common in the United States, but there are certain factors that could lead to a need for more iodine such as:
It’s important to note there is evidence iodine supplementation can actually make Hashimoto’s disease, a common cause of hypothyroidism, worse, and that in cases of Hashimoto’s iodine restriction may actually be more beneficial. Regardless of whether you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid condition or not, be sure to consult with your health care provider before considering supplementing with iodine —more is not necessarily better.
Iron deficiency may interfere with the uptake of iodine in the thyroid, limiting the production of thyroid hormones. Conversely, hypothyroidism may cause iron deficiency that may progress to iron deficiency anemia. Supplementing with iron may be helpful in replenishing iron stores for optimal thyroid function, and may help normalize thyroid hormone levels when levothyroxine (a synthetic thyroid hormone replacement) alone isn’t working well enough.
Iron can be found in food sources such as:
Turmeric is an ancient Indian spice containing the powerful compound curcumin. This yellow-tinged spice has been used as an anti-inflammatory and has tumor and infection fighting properties. Curcumin is good for reducing the damage of oxidative stress induced by triiodothyronine (T3), one of the two hormones the thyroid produces. Turmeric can be taken in capsule form or tinctures, or of course the spice can be used in food and drinks as well.
Magnesium is a mineral that is essential to a well functioning thyroid and your body in general. Magnesium is important for reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, and magnesium deficiency can cause an array of issues and chronic disease. Needed for hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body, research has shown that low levels of magnesium may interfere with the uptake of iodine in the thyroid, as well as increased risk of an autoimmune response.
Although a lack of magnesium does not directly cause hypothyroidism, it may spark the inflammation that precedes autoimmune thyroiditis. Supplementing with magnesium can be done via capsule, powder, or oil in addition to food sources such as:
Selenium is a trace element found in a variety of foods and available as a supplement. Selenium is found in the thyroid in higher concentrations than in other organs and plays a role in metabolizing thyroid hormones. Selenium deficiency has been associated with hypothyroidism, thyroiditis, and goiter. Selenium supplements are available, but levels can be met nutritionally through food sources as well.
Good sources of selenium include:
Zinc is involved in thyroid hormone synthesis, and a deficiency in this trace element can result in hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormones are important in the body’s ability to absorb zinc, so if the thyroid does not make enough hormone it will decrease levels of zinc.
Zinc can be supplemented as well as found in foods such as:
Thyroid health can be supported by focusing on essential vitamins and nutrients included in a diverse, whole foods diet, along with positive lifestyle habits and any prescribed thyroid medication you may be on. The health of your thyroid is important in how you feel each day, so including thyroid healthy vitamins and nutrients in your diet not only supports optimal thyroid function but also improves your quality of life. WellTheory’s Care Team can provide you personalized nutrition and lifestyle support to support thyroid health or other autoimmune symptoms you may be experiencing.
Lycopene is the phytochemical that gives fruits and vegetables their red color. Lycopene is a potent antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties that protect the body from oxidative stress. Lycopene has also been found to decrease “bad” low density lipoprotein (LDL) and increase “good” high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
Lycopene may also protect the skin against ultraviolet (UV) damage from the sun. One small study found that participants who added 16milligrams of lycopene to their diet every day had less severe skin reactions to UV light over 10 weeks than a control group without the added lycopene. (Of course, consumption of lycopene-rich foods doesn’t replace sunscreen!)
Carotenoids are responsible for yellow, orange, and red color in many fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that one carotenoid in particular, beta-carotene, may protect against decline in lung function. A study done in 2017 also suggested that eating fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids such as beta-carotene, alpha-carotene ,and beta-cryptoxanth in had protective effects against lung cancer.
Like lycopene, dietary intake of beta-carotene has protective effects against diseases that are mediated by oxidative stress, such as diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. High levels of alpha carotene are associated with longevity — one large U.S. study found that high levels of alpha-carotene in the blood were linked with a reduced risk of death over a 14 year period. Aside from its antioxidant effects, the carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin may prevent bone loss and may have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are also part of the carotenoid family, along with beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only dietary carotenoids that reach the retina, the thin layer of tissue that lines the inside on the back of the eye. They are known to support eye health and have preventative effects against age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that can lead to the loss of vision as we age. However, lutein and zeaxanthin also have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Zeaxanthin can also help to recycle glutathione, another important antioxidant in the body. (9, 15)
Dark green, leafy cruciferous vegetables are a good source of sulfur (isocyanate, sulforaphane, glucosinolate). Our body needs sulfur in order to synthesize certain essential proteins. These sulfur compounds break down into isothiocyanates and indoles in the gut, which are known to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory effects. (36, 52, 33)
Research suggests that sulforaphane may support heart health by reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure. It may also have antidiabetic effects. One study found that sulforaphane reduced fasting blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes. (55, 41, 47)
Glucoraphanin, a glucosinolate that’s found in some cruciferous vegetables, has been found to protect the blood–brain barrier in mice with induced experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (used to study MS, which can’t be induced in the same way), suggesting it may reduce the risk of developing MS. (16, 40)
Anthocyanins are phytochemicals that give red, blue, and purple plants their vibrant coloring. Anthocyanins have antioxidant properties that may boost heart health and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular-related and other chronic diseases. (26)
Anthocyanin-rich foods have been linked to reductions in inflammation and reduced blood sugar concentrations, suggesting they may also have antidiabetic effects. Anthocyanins have also been found to protect eye health. One study found that daily supplementation with pharmaceutical anthocyanins improved the visual function of individuals with normal tension glaucoma (where the optic nerve is damaged despite pressure in the eye being normal). (30, 43)
Other phytochemicals called stilbenoids are typically found in grapes and blueberries. Like anthocyanins, stilbenoids have been shown to have a variety of benefits such as protective effects on the heart and brain, as well as antidiabetic, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. (4)
Allicin, a phytochemical produced when garlic is chopped or crushed, has been associated with a lower risk of coronary events in older adults. Research suggests allicin may help reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels when consumed for more than 2 months. (8, 39)
Garlic is well known for its antimicrobial effects and has historically been used to combat infectious diseases. It is also known to be effective against a variety of bacteria, such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aureus. (8)
Another phytonutrient that is found in many white, tan, and brown foods is quercetin. Quercetin has anti-inflammatory properties and may be effective against obesity, cancer, viruses, allergies, and high blood pressure. (5)
Serum C-reactive protein (CRP) levels are a biomarker of inflammation in the body. High CRP levels are associated with heart disease, obesity, and lupus. One study done in 2008 found that the intake of foods rich in flavonoids, such as quercetin, is associated with lower serum CRP concentrations. (12)
The thousands of phytochemicals produced by plants for their own protection may also help prevent and treat many of our own medical conditions and diseases. Phytonutrients give fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and other plant foods their variety of colors, so “eat the rainbow” to maximize the health benefits offered by these plentiful chemical compounds.