Do you suffer from a thyroid condition?
Proper nutrition helps support this powerhouse gland. This article provides a thyroid overview, along with the top 7 nutrients you need to support it.
At the base of your neck is a butterfly-shaped gland called the thyroid.
This gland produces two hormones—triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)—that control how your body uses energy. It regulates heart rate, breathing, body temperature, weight, menstrual cycle, cholesterol levels, and more.
The hypothalamus and pituitary, two glands in the brain, communicate to maintain T3 and T4 balance. The pituitary gland releases thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to tell the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones when T3 and T4 levels are low. If T3 and T4 are too high, the pituitary gland releases less TSH to slow hormone production.
Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid does not make enough thyroid hormones. This may be due to an autoimmune disorder (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), where your body produces antibodies that attack and destroy the thyroid. It can also be triggered by pregnancy, radiation therapy, certain medications, viral infection, iodine deficiency, or pituitary damage.
Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid produces excess thyroid hormones. Similarly, this may be due to an autoimmune condition (Grave’s disease), or triggered by pregnancy, medications, virus, or excess iodine.
If you have one of these conditions, you may require medication. This doesn’t mean that nutrition won’t additionally support you.
Summary: The thyroid gland produces T3 and T4, which regulate how the body uses energy. Under production of thyroid hormones is hypothyroidism; over production is hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid Supporting Nutrients
Below are the nutrients you need to know about if you want your thyroid functioning at its best!
Iodine is not included in the list below. Most of the US population gets sufficient iodine levels, so it is not typically the cause of your thyroid disorder. Getting adequate levels is important and because it can be harmful, only supplement with extra iodine under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
- Description: Antioxidant, supports immune system and liver detoxification
- Role in thyroid: Glutathione cleans up free radicals that result from thyroid hormone creation. This reduces inflammation and ensures proper functioning of the thyroid (1, 2).
- Food sources: Garlic, onion, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress), organ meats, red meat
- Supplement: There is some controversy on the absorption of oral glutathione supplementation. Instead, you can ingest nutrients that naturally promote the production of glutathione in your body, such as whey (e.g. dairy products) and N-acetylcysteine (e.g. cruciferous vegetables), and eat foods high in glutathione listed above (3).
- Description: Essential in transporting oxygen, supporting growth and development of cells, and metabolism
- Role in thyroid: Iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia can impair thyroid metabolism (4)
- Food sources: Beef and beef liver, oysters, clams, dark chocolate, spinach, sardines, kelp, pumpkin seeds, parsley, walnuts, almonds, Swiss chard, kale
- Supplement: Adult men and postmenopausal women are at a low risk for iron deficiency and should not supplement without medical supervision. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 8 mg for adult men and 18 mg for adult women. See RDA chart for other ages, gender, and life stages. Iron may be included in a multivitamin specific for women or an iron-only supplement. It is best to start with food sources and get your iron levels checked before beginning supplementation.
- Description: Assists in hundreds of cellular reactions, regulates nerve transmission and muscle contraction, and is a structural component of teeth and bones
- Role in thyroid: Magnesium is required for iodine uptake by the thyroid tissue, which then stimulates the production of thyroid hormones (5).
- Food sources: Pumpkin seeds, swiss chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts, black beans, avocado, potato with skin
- Supplement: The RDA for magnesium depends on age, gender, and life cycle phase. Most people do not get enough from their diet alone. For more information, see Supplement Spotlight – Magnesium and work with your nutritionist or medical provider regarding a specific recommendation.
- Description: Supports immune function, assists antioxidant enzymes, and is critical for thyroid hormone production
- Role in thyroid: Selenium acts as a catalyst to convert T4 to T3 and also protects thyroid cells from oxidative stress.
- Food sources: Brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines, ham, shrimp, beef and beef liver, eggs, brown rice
- Supplement: Most people obtain adequate amounts of selenium from food sources–an excellent option is Brazil nuts. Additionally, too much selenium can be harmful, primarily causing hair and nail loss and brittleness, so focus on moderate intake from food sources. The RDA for adults is 55 mcg per day.
- Description: Helps with carbohydrate metabolism and proper nerve function
- Role in thyroid: By regulating blood sugar and helping with energy production, thiamine often helps improve fatigue, a common symptom for those with thyroid conditions (6).
- Food sources: Pork, fortified cereals, rice, trout, black beans, mussels, tuna, acorn squash, collard greens, kale, asparagus
- Supplement: This water soluble vitamin has an RDA of 1.2 mg for adult men and 1.1 mg for adult women. Most people get sufficient amounts through their diet, especially if eating fortified food. However, if you are gluten free or unable to get adequate amounts through your diet, consider taking a supplement, 200 mg.
- Description: Supports your immune system, promotes bone health, modulates cell growth, and reduces inflammation
- Role in thyroid: Cells must have adequate vitamin D levels to receive and act on thyroid hormone. Low vitamin D, along with low calcium levels, has been associated with the severity of hypothyroidism (7).
- Food sources: Cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, tuna, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), egg yolk, fortified dairy, orange juice, and cereal
- Supplement: It is difficult to get adequate vitamin D from sun exposure and food. Get your vitamin D levels tested to see if they are in normal range; if not, talk to your medical provider for supplementation. Dosages range depending on the degree of deficiency. For more information, see Supplement Spotlight – Vitamin D.
- Description: Essential for immune system, cell growth, wound healing, taste and smell, and metabolism
- Role in thyroid: TSH production requires zinc; too little zinc can impair T4 to T3 conversion (8).
- Food sources: Oysters, herring, liver, beef, turkey, lamb, sunflower seeds, sardines, pumpkin seeds, pecans, walnuts
- Supplement: The RDA for zinc is 11 mg/day for men and 8 mg/day for women. If you are not consuming food sources rich in selenium, consider a supplement (16 mg – 20 mg/day). Severe deficiency is rare; however, marginal zinc deficiency is prevalent and contributes to many health problems (9).
Food Versus Supplement
The easiest first step, is to incorporate foods with these nutrients into your diet.
Whole foods provide several nutrients in a balanced way that your body can absorb. If you have deficiencies or are unsure that you are getting enough, work with a healthcare provider to discuss supplements (9).
Focus on a diet rich in variety of vegetables, protein, and healthy fats to ensure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs.
Aim for healthy and balanced food choices at every meal.
Consider trying a gluten-free diet. Studies show that there is a higher rate of thyroid disease for those with celiac disease. Also, avoiding gluten has been shown to reduce the number of anti-thyroid antibodies.
Treat fruit like a dessert and avoid added sugar and processed foods. Regardless if you include gluten or not, a diet lower in carbohydrates may be beneficial in stabilizing thyroid hormones (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15).
Sample 3-Day Diet:
|Breakfast||Eggs scrambled with spinach, onion, garlic, butter||Gluten-free oats with mixed berries||Paleo Muffin, Gluten-Free Granola|
|Lunch||Tangy Turkey Burger, mixed green salad||Seafood (shrimp, oysters, clams, sardines) stir-fry with broccoli, kale, collard greens||Beet, Apple, Gingery-Lime Salad, lamb burger|
|Dinner||Kale Meatballs, acorn squash, asparagus||Gluten-free Veggie Cake, roasted chicken||Stuffed Butternut Squash, Mustard Herb Salmon|
|Snack||Mixed nuts and seeds (almonds, pumpkin seeds, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts)||Dark chocolate (70% or higher)||Peanut Butter Oatmeal Raisin Cookies|
What we eat impacts how we feel. Focus on enjoying a nutrient-dense, low carbohydrate diet. If you’re trying to heal or support your thyroid, go above and beyond to consume these 7 vital thyroid nutrients: glutathione, iron, magnesium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin D, and zinc.