by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
- The case for thyroid nutrition
- Nutrients that support our thyroid
- What about soy and thyroid health? Foods that may disrupt thyroid function
- Find your balance — the Women to Women approach
The thyroid is one of the most important, and often mismanaged, glands we have working in our body. Located in the front of our neck, this butterfly-shaped gland secretes hormones that control some major functions including weight management, how we use energy, how we metabolize food, and even how we sleep. For women, hormones can shift out of balance during childbearing and menopause, and even under chronic stress, putting them at a higher rate of thyroid conditions than men, and at various times of life.
We hear about thyroid concerns every day, as women want to understand why they may be having issues that point to faulty thyroid functioning. Healthcare practitioners frequently rely solely on blood tests and do not work through the delicate gray area between “your lab results are fine” and “let’s try prescription hormone therapy.” But only considering these very two different ends of the spectrum leaves women at risk for a lifetime of thyroid imbalance, and possibly more serious, even irreversible, thyroid conditions.
But before you begin to worry, let me reassure you that there are many ways to support thyroid health easily and naturally, utilizing food and nutrients to encourage proper functioning. The way we eat can actually help, or hurt, our thyroid gland. The nutrients our thyroid needs are easily accessible in many foods and dietary supplements. With the right information, we can make simple choices to improve thyroid health. Here’s how.
Nutrients that support our thyroid
The thyroid gland needs specific vitamins and minerals to properly do its job. Since we are all unique in how our hormones are functioning, the best way to get a handle on what our body specifically needs is to have a full thyroid panel done to help pinpoint where individual levels may be off balance. Research shows us that there are a few key nutrients that are highly valuable for everyone.
Iodine (I): This is the most important trace element found in thyroid functioning. Without iodine, our thyroid does not have the basic building blocks it needs to make the necessary hormones to support all of the tissues in the body. Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3) are the most essential, active, iodine-containing hormones we have. In 2012, a CDC report showed that women of childbearing years in the United States, ages 20-39, had the lowest iodine levels of any other age group. This is something we can easily improve by eating more iodine-rich foods.
Selenium (Se): This element is indispensable to our thyroid in several ways. Selenium-containing enzymes protect the thyroid gland when we are under stress, working like a “detox,” to help flush oxidative and chemical stress, and even social stress – which can cause reactions in our body. Selenium-based proteins help regulate hormone synthesis, converting T4 into the more accessible T3. These proteins and enzymes help regulate metabolism and also help maintain the right amount of thyroid hormones in the tissues and blood, as well as organs such as the liver, kidneys, and even the brain. Selenium also helps regulate and recycle our iodine stores. These are all very important functions!
Zinc (Zn), iron (Fe), and copper (CU): These three trace metals are vital to thyroid function. Low levels of zinc can cause T4, T3, and the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to also become low. Research shows that both hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroids) and hypothyroidism (under active thyroids), can sometimes create a zinc deficiency leading to lowered thyroid hormones.
Decreased levels of iron can result in decreased thyroid function as well. When combined with an iodine deficiency, iron must be replaced to repair the thyroid imbalance. Copper is needed to help produce TSH, and maintain T4 production. T4 helps cholesterol regulation, and some research even indicates copper deficiency may contribute to higher cholesterol and heart issues for people with hypothyroidism.