January marks the annual Thyroid Awareness Month. This year, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinology rolled out a new public awareness campaign, “Hypothyroidism: Suspect, Detect, Defeat.” Located in the front of the neck just below the Adam’s apple, the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland secretes hormones that control some major functions including weight management, how we use energy, how we metabolize food, and even how we sleep.
WTOP reports “Hypothyroidism is one of the most misdiagnosed conditions around. According to Dr. Kenneth Burman, chief of endocrinology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, hypothyroidism affects about 10 percent of the U.S. population. Some people are born with the condition; for others, it’s an immune reaction, and some cases occur as the result of a virus, medication or surgery on the thyroid gland. Burman — considered one of the area’s top experts on thyroid woes — says it is often misdiagnosed because the symptoms are what he calls “nonspecific” and easily mistaken for other maladies. The irony is that, although the symptoms may seem vague, hypothyroidism is technically fairly simple to diagnose: A family history is taken, followed by a physical and a series of blood tests to check for hormone levels in both the thyroid and the pituitary gland — which helps regulate the thyroid. While these simple blood tests are not routine, a doctor will order them up for anyone for whom thyroid trouble is a probability.”
The best way to avoid thyroid troubles is to take care of the thyroid gland before issues arise. The thyroid gland needs specific vitamins and minerals to properly do its job. Research shows that there are a few key nutrients that are highly valuable for thyroid health, read on for these nutrients and their top food sources.
The thyroid gland adds iodine to the amino acid tyrosine to create thyroid hormones. The American Thyroid Association explains, “Iodine is an element that is needed for the production of thyroid hormone. The body does not make iodine, so it is an essential part of your diet. Iodine is found in various foods. If you do not have enough iodine in your body, you cannot make enough thyroid hormone. Thus, iodine deficiency can lead to enlargement of the thyroid, known as a goiter, hypothyroidism and to birth defects in infants and children whose mothers were iodine deficient during pregnancy.”
Primary food sources of Iodine: Sea vegetables: Kelp, nori, kombu, dulse, arame, wakame, hijiki
Seafood: Haddock, clams, salmon, shrimp, oysters, sardines, Iodized sea salt
Secondary sources: Eggs, spinach, garlic, asparagus, Swiss chard, mushrooms, summer squash, sesame seeds, lima beans
According to Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP, “Selenium is one of nature’s best kept secrets. We need only small amounts of this amazing mineral, but it has huge effects on our health. Selenium protects us against many health problems which are associated with the aging process, such as certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis. More than that though, it’s vital to the normal functioning of our thyroid. Since women are more prone to thyroid problems, selenium is especially important to us. If your level of selenium is low, your thyroid will have do its best to work harder to make it’s hormones, and your body will also have a more difficult job changing those hormones into a form your cells can use. This happens because selenium is a chief component of the molecules which are necessary for your body to be able to create and use thyroid hormones, called seleno-proteins.”
Selenium also works with Vitamin E to help prevent free-radical damage to cell membranes.
Food sources of Selenium
: Wheat germ Tuna, Shrimp, mushrooms, beef, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, organ meats, halibut
Research has found, “Zinc and other trace elements such as copper and selenium are required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones, and deficiency of these can result in hypothyroidism. Conversely, thyroid hormones are essential for the absorption of zinc, and hence hypothyroidism can result in acquired zinc deficiency. “
Food sources of Zinc: Pumpkin seeds, pecans, split peas, fresh oysters, Rye, oats, walnuts, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, pecans, almonds, lima beans, ginger root, green peas
Reference: Betsy A, Binitha M, Sarita S. Zinc Deficiency Associated with Hypothyroidism: An Overlooked Cause of Severe Alopecia. International Journal of Trichology. 2013;5(1):40-42. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.114714.
Michael Murray, N.D. explains in The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, that, “Zinc and copper compete for absorpostion sites, if there is too much zinc, copper absorption will be decreased and vice versa. In nature, foods rich in copper are typically higher in zinc.”
Food sources of Copper: Oysters and other shellfish, whole grains, beans, chickpeas, nuts, potatoes, and organ meats (kidneys, liver) , dark leafy greens, dried fruits such as prunes, cocoa, black pepper, and yeast.
Research published on PubMed explains, “Several minerals and trace elements are essential for normal thyroid hormone metabolism, e.g., iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc. Coexisting deficiencies of these elements can impair thyroid function. Iron deficiency impairs thyroid hormone synthesis by reducing activity of heme-dependent thyroid peroxidase. Iron-deficiency anemia blunts and iron supplementation improves the efficacy of iodine supplementation.” Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the U.S.
Food sources of Iron: Organ meats, oysters, clams, sirloin steak, spinach, lentils, quinoa, white beans, swiss chard, blackstrap molasses
Vitamin A (beta-carotene)
Thyroid UK explains, “Carotene is a precursor of Vitamin A. An underactive thyroid gland cannot efficiently convert carotene to usable Vitamin A. Vitamin A must also be accompanied by protein to make it available to the body, so if you are on a low protein diet, you may be deficient in this vitamin. If you are low on Vitamin A, your ability to produce TSH is limited. This vitamin is required by the body to convert T4 to T3. If you find that lights are too bright or night driving is a problem, try taking Vitamin A supplements along with more protein.
Food sources of Vitamin A (beta-carotene): Broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, kale, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, liver, winter squash/pumpkin, cantaloupe, dandelion root
Vitamin C plays a vital role in many immune mechanisms, including, enchancing white blood cell function and activity, increasing the of secretion of thymic hormones and increasing interferon levels. Interferon serves as the body’s natural antiviral compound.
Food sources of Vitamin C: Acerola, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, greens (mustard, collard, kale, turnip), parsley, peppers (chili, Bell, sweet), , red cabbage, strawberries, guava, papaya, citrus, kiwifruit, elderberries
Vitamin E functions mainly as an antioxidant in protecting against damage to cell membranes. Vitamin E deficiency encourages the thyroid gland to secrete too much hormone, as well as too little TSH by the pituitary gland. A higher intake of vitamin E is often needed by people with an overactive thyroid to counteract the large amounts of the vitamin depleted from the system.
Food sources of Vitamin E: Wheat germ oil, Peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, beans, avocado, asparagus, leafy green vegetables, whole grains
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
The National Institutes of Health states, “This vitamin is an essential component of two major coenzymes, flavin mononucleotide (FMN; also known as riboflavin-5′-phosphate) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD). These coenzymes play major roles in energy production; cellular function, growth, and development; and metabolism of fats, drugs, and steroids. Bacteria in the large intestine produce free riboflavin that can be absorbed by the large intestine in amounts that depend on the diet. More riboflavin is produced after ingestion of vegetable-based than meat-based foods.”
Food sources of Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Egg yolks, organ meats, wild rice, wheat germ, Brewer’s yeast, mushrooms, almonds, Torula yeast
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
“Niacin is a member of the B family of vitamins (B Complex). Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin and excess amounts are excreted through the kidneys. Like the other B vitamins, niacin plays an important role in energy production. Niacin functions in two important enzyme systems (NAD and NADP) that affect all the tissues of the body. These enzyme systems help transport hydrogen within the cell and make it available for biosynthesis. These two enzymes also function closely with the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP),” according to the University of Utah Health. These niacin containing coenzymes play a vital role in energy production, metabolism, and the manufacturing of sex and adrenal hormones.
Food sources of Vitamin B3 (niacin): Poultry (white meat), peanuts (with skin), wheat bran, rice bran, liver, Brewer’s yeast, brown rice
Vitamin B6 (pyroxidine)
Vitamin B6 is critical for maintaining hormonal balance and proper immune function. Vitamin B6 is needed even more by those with an overactive thyroid.
Food sources of Vitamin B6 (pyroxidine): Toasted wheat germ, potatoes, bananas, brown rice, sunflower seeds, walnuts, beans (navy beans, garbanzos, pinto beans, lima beans), Brewer’s yeast