Thyroid health is a confusing topic. Most people don’t know their thyroid hormones are out of sync for a long time, because doctors don’t always order a complete thyroid assessment with standard labs. By then, whole system damage may be in motion. We’re breaking down the basics, so you can be armed with information to advocate for yourself on your next visit.
One powerful gland controls nearly every aspect of your health. We take a look at how the thyroid works, and how to keep it healthy and functioning properly.
Most of us never pay much attention to thyroid health until we begin to experience symptoms of its malfunction—your metabolism slows down, energy levels plunge, you lose muscle mass even while gaining weight, your hair begins to break and thin out, plus you’re cold all the time. It’s a veritable laundry list of health issues you definitely don’t want to experience.
Difference Between Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism
There are two types of thyroid issues: Hypothyroidism (underactive function) occurs when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. Hyperthyroidism (overactive function) is when the gland produces too much. The former is more common. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), hypothyroidism affects about 5 percent of the U.S. population, while hyper-thyroidism affects approximately one percent. This translates to about 20 million Americans with some form of thyroid disease—including both men and women. However, women are five to eight times more likely to have thyroid issues than men.
There are several known causes of hypothyroidism, including thyroid disease and inflammation, autoimmune disorders, and iodine deficiency—although the latter has been virtually wiped out in the U.S. due to the use of iodized salt. The origins of hyper-thyroidism include Graves’ disease, thyroid gland inflammation, and benign thyroid tumors.
Unless you undergo blood screenings during treatment for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or another medical condition, you may not know you have thyroid issues until you start experiencing symptoms. The first thing you might notice is a change in bodyweight, as well as intolerance to cold, fatigue, alterations in menstrual cycle, dry or brittle hair (or hair loss), and sleep disturbances.
Specific symptoms and long-term potential maladies associated with low thyroid secretions include weaker heartbeat and shortness of breath while exercising. Increases in cholesterol levels, muscle weakness, and digestive issues such as bloating are also indicative of hypothyroidism.
On the other hand, issues related to hyperthyroidism include unexplained weight loss, especially related to muscle tissue, as well as muscle weakness. Sensitivity to heat and increased body temperature are additional signs, as are irritability and irrational nervousness. Swelling in the neck is a critical indication of enlarged thyroid gland that should be examined immediately.
The normal thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) range is 0.4–4.0 mU/L. If your reading is above this range, you probably are dealing with hypothyroidism. Low levels of TSH indicate hyperthyroidism. Even if your TSH readings are normal but you continue to experience symptoms, ask your doctor for a specific T4 test. The normal range is 5–13 mcg/dL, so if your numbers are below 5 you should be treated for hypothyroidism; readings higher than 13 indicate hyperthyroidism.
Supplements for Thyroid Health
If you’re not experiencing thyroid issues, keep your iodine consumption consistent by eating various dark green vegetables and seaweed. Kelp, kale, broccoli, and spinach are all high in this mineral, which your body needs to create T3 and T4 hormones. When supplementing, don’t exceed 400 mcg per day. If you take Synthroid or another medication for hypothyroidism, check with your doctor regarding iodine intake.
Other key minerals include selenium and zinc. A wholesome diet of seafood such as salmon, sardines, shrimp, and scallops supplies selenium, as will chicken, beef, turkey, and shiitake mushrooms. Or you can take 100–200 mcg per day in supplemental form. Zinc can be found in shellfish, meat, legumes, and nuts, or supplement with about 30 mg daily.
The amino acid tyrosine is involved with thyroid hormone production and conversion, so it’s an important addition to your diet. You can get adequate amounts by making protein 20–30 percent of your daily diet, or you can supplement with 1–2 grams daily taken in smaller, multiple doses.
B** vitamins** are also important because the various Bs have many interactions with thyroid function and hormone regulation. It’s always best to eat foods rich in all B vitamins such as nuts, yogurt, fish, eggs, seeds, and meat. Taking a B-complex nutritional supplement each day can also help.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with hypothyroidism, according to the International Journal of Health Science. Sources include eggs, salmon, dairy, and mushrooms. But you’ll likely need to take a supplement as well. Get your levels tested to find the best dosage for you. A typical range is 1,000–5,000 IU daily.
Since thyroid health is related to microbes in the gut, probiotics may promote thyroid health while not interfering with any prescribed medications. Try using probiotic supplements with a wide range of strains, and changing brands on an occasional basis.
Some plant extracts , including gotu kola, ashwagandha, Coleus forskohlii, and guggul may ease symptoms of hypo-thyroidism, although studies are limited.
Some experts advise avoiding iodine-rich foods and iron and calcium supplements if you’re taking thyroid medication because of their potential deleterious effect on T3 and T4 levels or medicine absorption. Also avoid soy, which contains phytoestrogens that can adversely affect thyroid hormone production. Finally, caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol can also adversely affect thyroid medicine absorption.
Is your thyroid operating efficiently?
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
- Frequent, heavy menstrual periods
- Weight gain
- Dry, coarse skin and hair
- Hoarse voice
- Intolerance to cold
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
- Muscle weakness/tremors
- Infrequent, scant menstrual periods
- Weight loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Enlarged thyroid gland
- Vision problems or eye irritation
- Heat sensitivity
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