The thyroid is a small gland that lies across your windpipe at the front of your neck. It produces two hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). They are made from one small protein molecule called tyrosine (an amino acid) and either 3 or 4 molecules of iodine, hence the name T3 and T4. These two hormones essentially control the metabolic rate of all cells throughout the body. In other words, the thyroid hormones influence every system, every chemical reaction and the activity of every organ and muscle in the body. No surprise then that it needs a lot of good nutrition and some key nutrients!
Critical nutrients for thyroid health
The essential nutrients for thyroid health are iodine, selenium, zinc, magnesium and vitamin D. There are of course other nutrients that play a role (such as iron and B vitamins) but these are the key five.
Thyroid cells are the only cells in the body which can absorb iodine. If you have a thyroid condition, iodine could be critical to your health and wellbeing. Testing is essential though as you can get too much of a good thing if your thyroid issue is autoimmune in nature. In cases of Hashimoto’s disease, supplementing blindly with iodine can make you worse. Check out our recent scientific publication here to find out more about how correcting an iodine deficiency can help.
Good sources are seaweeds (a little goes a long way) , dairy and fish, with smaller amounts in eggs, cranberries and strawberries. Most good health shops have seaweed based ‘salt’ shakers which are a great way to get iodine into your diet while also adding flavour to your foods.
Selenium is also found at very high concentrations in the thyroid gland – it is required for the enzymes that convert T4 to T3. Brazil nuts are the best source and you can get your daily intake in 1-2 nuts per day! Again, more is not always better, and it is always wise to test and supplement accordingly if needed.
Zinc is required as a co-factor for the production of T4 and conversion to T4 so pretty important for thyroid health. It is also a key nutrient for a healthy immune system. If you like oysters, you are in luck as oysters are to zinc what Brazil nuts are to selenium! Other good sources are red meat, nuts and seeds and also legumes for those following a vegan diet.
Vitamin D has the ability to get our immune system to ‘stand down’ and can trigger anti-inflammatory signals. It is a lot more complex than this for course. But when it comes to autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s, symptoms are worse in the setting of vitamin D deficiency so testing and supplementing sensibly is important.
Vitamin D is the sunshine hormone and you only need 10 minutes of safe sun exposure –ideally to the face and limbs – to make your days’ worth of vitamin D, though sadly we don’t always get this, even in the summer! Food sources include oily fish and mushrooms. Interestingly, when mushrooms are left in the sun (i.e. on a sunny windowsill for a spell) it is thought that their vitamin D content is increased.
Magnesium is needed for our thyroid gland to utilise iodine and is also a nutrient that is commonly depleted by physical and phycological stress. There aren’t many of use who can claim to have absolutely none of this (sadly!). Approximately 60% of our patients in clinic are deficient in this mineral through blood testing.
Food sources of magnesium include leafy greens, legumes, and nuts and seeds. Cacao is also a good source -good news for the chocolate lovers.
Can we not get all these though diet?
Nutrients such as zinc require a robust digestive system as you need zinc to produce stomach acid, and you need stomach acid to digest the kinds of foods zinc is in, such as meat and nuts and seeds. It can turn into a bit of a zinc-deficient vicious circle with your poor hard-working thyroid paying the price. We also need to love our livers as a lot of the T4-T3 conversion takes place there and a sluggish liver (from high alcohol or sugar consumption can also mean a sluggish conversion.
So, we say, test, don’t guess. Contact us on 01 4020777 to find out about our thyroid nutrient tests and support.