A simple google search can bring up a lengthy list of nutrients that are purported to be essential for thyroid hormone production and optimal thyroid function. But how essential are these and what do they do? Sometimes it sounds like if you just open your mouth and take a whole pile of these, your thyroid will just spring into action. So while this might get a little too science-y, here’s the story of thyroid hormone production.
Thyroid hormones are made of iodine molecules and a protein scaffold called thyroglobulin, produced in the thyroid gland. Thyroglobulin is made from tyrosine, a protein which is rarely deficient in humans. So while we need it, we more than likely are eating enough of it and do not need to supplement. Iodine on the other hand is a different matter. See our paper on this very topic here. Deficiency is very common and we have no fortification policy. This leaves Ireland and the UK way down the pack in terms of iodine levels. It gets a bit more complex though, and supplementing can sometimes make matters worse – see our other blog here for a cautionary tale.
Magnesium for thyroid health?
Iodine is absorbed from our food into our blood and uptake of iodine into the thyroid gland requires energy for active transport so here we need magnesium. Now that said, we need magnesium in every cell of our body, so while yes it’s important, it doesn’t quite make the list of ‘essential for thyroid function’ specifically.
The marriage of thyroglobulin (scaffold) and the iodine molecules happens in the centre of the thyroid cell. This is a liquid filled centre but instead of imagining the squishy liquid of say a chocolate caramel, think of a bubble of oozing lava. This really is an extraordinary environment which is needed to fuel this incredible reaction. However we need antioxidants to protect ourselves from this – enter selenium and zinc. Both definitely on the essential list for thyroid function, and if I had to pick a winner, it would be selenium. We know from many studies that selenium can reduce thyroid inflammation – more on that in the next blog post.
Iron for thyroid health
The enzyme that brings the thyroglobulin and the iodine molecules together – like a marriage celebrant – is iron dependant. Iron is essential for thyroid hormone production and iron deficiency can absolutely cause thyroid dysfunction. We recommend testing thyroid function if you are iron deficient. Also, vice versa, check your iron levels if your thyroid function is sub-optimal.
Once the marriage is finalised, the complete hormone leaves the thyroid gland to travel round the body and do the good work. Here again, we need zinc and selenium for correct function.
List of essential nutrients for thyroid function
So the final list of nutrients that are absolutely essential for thyroid function is actually quite short:
Iodine, selenium, iron and zinc
Caveat: this is normal healthy thyroid function. If you are low in these minerals, your thyroid may not function correctly. However (!) if you already have a thyroid condition, which likely involved thyroid cell damage and inflammation, you may benefit from other nutrients that support the repair of your thyroid. Admittedly, this makes things even more complex, so we promise we will go into that in follow up blogs.
But on that cliff hanger… if you would like more information about the services we offer, including testing, please get in touch.