Located just in front of the windpipe at the base of the neck and shaped like a small butterfly, our thyroid plays a vital role in several bodily processes, including the regulation of our metabolism (the process that turns food into energy). As with many hidden parts of the body, we often only start to appreciate the function of the thyroid and its importance when things go wrong. Over 20 million Americans suffer with thyroid disease, and women are most commonly affected, with around 60% undiagnosed.
Whilst vitamins and nutrients from supplements may not treat thyroid conditions, they can be used to address the underlying causes of impaired thyroid function, including inflammation and autoimmune processes.
The thyroid at a glance
A tiny yet significant part of the body, the thyroid is responsible for
Several conditions have been identified in which the thyroid doesn’t function properly. When the thyroid’s function is impaired, the body is unable to create hormones that keep the body and brain healthy. The most well-known thyroid conditions include:
Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism): When the thyroid makes too little thyroid hormone we can experience symptoms including weight gain, hair loss, tiredness and fatigue and can feel the cold more easily.
Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism): When the thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone the body uses energy too quickly. Symptoms include low energy and fatigue, weight loss, rapid heartbeat or palpitations and anxiety.
Thyroid conditions have a complex number of causes behind them, including inflammation (thyroiditis), autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s and the possibility of inheritance from our parents.
Anyone can be affected by thyroid issues – but there are many treatments now available which have been shown to be highly effective. Alongside allopathic routes, certain vitamins and minerals have been shown to improve symptoms where deficiencies are present.
Iodine is a supplement most commonly associated with thyroid function – so much so that when thyroid issues occur, medics run tests for iodine deficiency alongside others to determine whether it is behind the patient’s symptoms.
The reason for this is that we need an adequate supply of iodine to make thyroid hormone. The minimum intake is 150mg, which is often easily available in a varied diet (good sources of iodine include dairy products, eggs and seaweed).
Iodine is not a cure-all for thyroid problems however – and it is important to understand whether the thyroid is under- or over-active before taking it. Taking too much iodine can actually cause hypothyroidism – so it’s best to consult your MD before selecting a product type and dose.
Selenium is one of the most essential minerals required for optimal thyroid function. It interacts with the thyroid in a number of ways – including supporting efficient thyroid synthesis and metabolism. Some studies also show that adequate selenium levels can also aid in the treatment of hypothyroidism through reducing antibodies that act against thyroid peroxidase, an enzyme that plays an important role in the production of thyroid hormones.
B vitamins have many important functions – including a large number of interactions with thyroid function and hormone regulation. Vitamin B12 in particular can be beneficial for people with a thyroid issue, although ensuring balanced and sufficient B vitamin levels is essential for overall health.
Alongside Selenium, Zinc supports the conversion of thyroid hormone T4 to T3. Several studies have shown that zinc supplements can improve T3 levels significantly, especially when working together with Selenium enhancing thyroid function and restoring normal hormone levels.
Vitamin D deficiency has been strongly linked in several studies to hypothyroidism. Some showed that vitamin D supplements improved TSH levels in subjects with hypothyroidism, as well as those with autoimmune thyroiditis.
When combined with iodine, tyrosine produces the thyroid hormone. This nutrient is involved in both the production and conversion of thyroid hormone – and as an amino acid, the best source of tyrosine is protein. Ensuring your protein intake is sufficient can ensure you remain topped up on tyrosine levels – although supplements are available.
Living with impaired thyroid function can be worrying – but there are many lifestyle changes you can make, including supplementation, to support a healthy thyroid. Ensuring you’re getting the right amount of essential vitamins and minerals contributes to a fully functioning thyroid and keeps your overall health in check.
As always, you should consult your physician before starting any new medications including supplements, especially if you suspect that you have an issue with thyroid function. Vitamin supplements should always be taken with care under the supervision of your specialist.
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