Let’s review some thyroid physiology before we get into nutrition. Learning how the thyroid works will help you understand how to take care of it.
The hypothalamus is a portion of your brain that has sensors that can detect what is happening in the blood. The endocrine system is a group of organs that release hormones. The hypothalamus is the main controller. After it senses a low thyroid hormone, it releases TRH or thyrotropin-releasing hormone into the direct blood connection with the pituitary gland.
The pituitary gland is a small gland in your brain that tells your thyroid what to do. With the hypothalamus, the pituitary has sensors that read the blood hormone levels. When the thyroid hormone is low, the pituitary releases TSH into the blood. Once the thyroid receives TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), it will increase its production of thyroid hormone depending upon its level. It releases 93% T4 (inactive hormone) and 7% T3 (active hormone).
Most of the thyroid hormone needs to be converted to the active T3 form to influence the cell. The liver is one major area where conversion happens. The peripheral tissues are other places where conversion happens. You can see why it is important to have a healthy, functioning liver. Not only does the liver help with conversion, but it makes the thyroid-binding protein which is attached to the thyroid hormone for transport through the body.
If you have an imbalance of gut bacteria or parasites, then conversion can become a problem.
This also starts with the food you eat. Eating unhealthy or processed foods doesn’t nourish your gut bacteria. You can compare your gut bacteria to a pet cat. If you don’t feed it well, it might get sick or even die. When this happens, it is unable to control rodents (bad bacteria) which can then take over. As a result, there will be an abundance of toxins in your gut. Your body will then defend the stomach through inflammation. In the process of getting rid of the opportunistic parasite or bacteria, health problems may arise.
Another problem can spring from HCL (stomach acid) and digestive enzyme deficiencies. If the food is not broken down into usable particles, bacteria can suffer because they are not nourished. If you are not breaking down fat, the same thing can happen.
This is where the health of the liver and gallbladder contributes to the conversion of the thyroid hormone in the gut. Having good digestion also helps the gut flora remain healthy, which in turn assists conversion.
Gluten can also damage the gut. It can also cause the cells in your stomach to release zonulin. This is a type of protein that can increase the size of the normal tight junctions between cells in your intestines. As soon as the tight junctions are broken apart, the digestive system is eventually considered leaky. This condition can encourage gluten particles to get inside without proper digestion. Gluten proteins, when not broken down correctly, have amino acid sequences that can resemble your body tissue, especially the thyroid. Your immune system then attacks not only the gluten amino acid sequences but also the look-a-like thyroid tissue, resulting in an autoimmune condition.
Each cell has receptors for thyroid hormone.
This means that each cell must be healthy as well. Therefore, each receptor is active enough to bind to T3 or reverse T3 hormone.
Improper adrenal gland output can cause conversion and thyroid problems. Cortisol is a hormone that your adrenal glands secrete as a response to stress. When this hormone is too high or too low, it significantly lowers the effectiveness of TSH, and the conversion speed of T4 and T3. Excess levels of estrogen can also cause a decrease in conversion as well.
As you can see, having a healthy system is not that easy, and taking a few supplements usually doesn’t fix the problem. Conversion, just like any other function in the body, is related to everything you do. When we look at supplements and cofactors, we must make sure that everything is well-balanced.
The top essential nutrients for healthy thyroid functions are the following:
- This amino acid is a building block of thyroglobulin which is a precursor for thyroid hormone. You can get this from the food you eat. Ideally, go for higher protein foods such as cheese, soybeans, beef, lamb pork, fish, chicken, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy and beans.
- This mineral is important because it is part of the thyroid hormone along with thyroglobulin. Without it, there is no thyroid hormone. A funny thing about iodine is when it’s low, an autoimmune condition can happen. However, when you have an autoimmune condition, taking higher doses of iodine can make it worse. Therefore, before you take higher dosages, ensure that your lab results warrant this. Taking iodine with autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease can be detrimental. Foods high in iodine are sea foods, sea vegetables, and some land-grown vegetables.
- The enzyme deiodinase that converts inactive hormone to an active state depends on selenium. Without it, there are no active hormones. When you ingest iodide (usually found in table salts), your body converts it to iodine. The byproduct is hydrogen peroxide which can damage your thyroid tissue and stimulate autoimmune conditions. Selenium is helpful in neutralizing this adverse reaction. Some foods high in selenium are Brazil nuts, yellow fin tuna, sardines and chicken.
- Just like selenium, zinc helps convert T4 to T3. Zinc also impacts various areas of your health. This includes your eyes, digestion, skin, fatty acid metabolism, the immune system, and thyroid function. You can readily find zinc in pork, red meat, chicken and oysters.
- Iron is an important enzyme that converts iodide to iodine. This binds to thyroglobulin to make thyroid hormone. It’s also used to help convert T4 to T3. Beef and chicken liver, clams, mussels, oysters and spinach are all great sources of dietary iron.
There are many other nutrients that are necessary for thyroid health.
- B vitamins help you cope up with stress. They also take care of many other chemical reactions in your body. If you are not good dealing with stress, your cortisol levels will become imbalanced. This can then cause conversion problems. Beef, sardines, liver, salmon, eggs, lamb, cheese and raw milk are all great sources of B vitamins.
- Probiotics are also important in maintaining a healthy gut. They can help keep a proper bacterial balance, which is important because 20% of conversion of the inactive T4 becomes the active T3 hormone in the gut.
- Vitamin D is vital for many cellular functions. A deficiency can contribute to autoimmune disease. You can get vitamin D from the sun, but you will find it hard to get adequate blood levels without supplementation.
- Vitamin A is also another type of vitamin that is fat soluble. This vitamin is important for many cellular functions. Vitamin A is also low in thyroid dysfunction. It is high in beef liver, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, eggs, and many other foods.
- Vitamin C is important in adrenal function. If this is deficient, it can cause thyroid issues.
- Fish oil is important in reducing inflammation and for digesting and absorbing fat-soluble vitamins like A and D.
As you can see, there are so many things necessary for proper thyroid function. Lab testing and good interpretation via a functional medicine practitioner can be crucial. Supplementation can also make a big difference in maintaining proper thyroid health, but it is not the only thing. You can find the supplements that I have researched and approve of in my website store.