According to many functional practitioners, 30% of the American population is experiencing some form of hypothyroidism.
The most common cause is our own immune system. It is believed that 90% of cases are caused by Hashimoto’s disease – an autoimmune condition when the thyroid mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. As much as Western medicine doctors say that it is an irreversible condition, I (and most functional practitioners) will disagree.
According to the National Thyroid Association:
- More than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime.
- An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease.
- Up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.
- Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems.
- One woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime
What Are the Most Common Thyroid Conditions?
Hypothyroidism: underproduction of thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Low Thyroid function has symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, cold hands and feet, hair loss, brittle hair, depression, foggy brain, infertility, dry skin, breaking nails. To see the complete list of hypothyroidism symptoms, please see this page.
Hyperthyroidism: (Graves’ Disease): an overproduction of thyroid hormones T3 and T4. High Thyroid function has symptoms like insomnia, hair loss, weight loss, anxiety, panic attacks, heart palpitations, night sweats, feeling hot.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: this is one of the causes of hypothyroidism and an autoimmune condition where the body attacks its thyroid tissue eventually killing all the tissue leaving the thyroid unable to produce hormones. At first, you may not feel any different as this autoimmune condition gets started but over time you can wax and wane between over and underproduction of thyroid hormones making it hard to treat for some.
What Causes Thyroid Problems?
“The perfect storm” that triggers autoimmunity
Many women I have worked with have reported developing low thyroid symptoms 3 to 6 months after stressful life events such as loss of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, financial troubles, etc. We know today that stress, especially when compounded with a poor diet, digestive problems, frequent travels and poor sleep can create the “perfect storm” that triggers an autoimmune condition like Hashimoto’s.
Do genetics play a role?
Genetics can play a significant role in one developing a thyroid condition. However, we know from studying epigenetics that just because you have certain genes does not necessarily mean they will be “turned on.” Meaning, lifestyle choices play a huge role, influencing your genes to stay dormant or to wreak havoc on your body.
My mother has Hashimoto’s so you may say that I “inherited it.” I like to think of it as having a genetic predisposition which feels like having inherited a loaded gun. For the gun to fire (or the genes to express), we need a trigger. In my case it was a combination of years of digestive issues (food intolerances and parasitic infections), dependence on caffeine for energy, stress (worked for an advertising agency with lots of demanding clients), frequent travel (flying every week!), lack of quality sleep, toxic environment (lived in polluted China for 4 years) and over-exercising. You can read my full story here.
Leaky gut and Hashimoto’s
Conditions like leaky gut syndrome and food intolerances cause stress on our bodies. When our bodies can no longer handle certain foods and antibodies are fighting these foods now treated as invaders, this will cause stress hormones to rise. Living for years with untreated food intolerances and leaky gut also wears on our endocrine system and possibly thyroid health.
If you want to have a deeper understanding of the connection between gut health and your hormones, see this article.
Radiation and Hashimoto’s
According to this study, radiation exposure (both from nuclear fallout and medical radiation) increased iodine intake and several contaminants in the environment that have a negative impact on the thyroid.
This explains why people in Eastern Europe who were exposed to the Chernobyl nuclear explosion have higher rates of thyroid and Hashimoto’s disease compared to their Western European counterparts.
Iodine deficiency – the less likely culprit
Iodine is an essential mineral for the function of the thyroid gland.
Iodine deficiency is the primary cause of hypothyroidism and goiter in countries other than the U.S. The thyroid gland uses the iodine from the food you eat to produce the two thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Without enough iodine from the diet, the thyroid becomes enlarged, and this is called a goiter.
At present less than 5% of the world’s population have goiters. Because the U.S.and other countries add iodine to table salt, goiters from iodine deficiency are rare.
However, according to a number of studies such as this one, too much iodine can be problematic in susceptible individuals with thyroid disease and even though iodine supplementation can help support the thyroid for those with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, taking iodine can be more damaging.
Nutrients to Support Thyroid Health
Common sense tells you that any gland, the thyroid included, needs an abundance of nutrients to function well.
As always, I’m a firm believer that your diet is the first and primary healing step on this journey. I wrote about the thyroid diet here. Even after dietary changes, some nutrients might need to be obtained from supplements.
Selenium is an important mineral for thyroid hormone conversion and antioxidant protection.
Selenium provides the backbone for the creation of many enzymes which then, in turn, push the conversion of inactive T4 to the active T3. Look for selenomethionine as a form to take at 250 mcg/day. I use and recommend this brand. If you want to supplement with a formula blend, look for zinc (zinc glycinate) and vitamin E (mixed tocopherols). These all work synergistically to support healthy thyroid function.
Omega 3 – the hormone enhancer
The research on Omega 3 fatty acids finds research that thyroid hormone receptors and enzyme levels involved in thyroid hormone uptake were higher in people receiving fish oil. Fish oil helps to keep cells fluid and receptors sensitive so messages can be “heard”.
Fish oil also reduces inflammation which can improve uptake of thyroid hormones. When the body is attacking itself in an autoimmune disease, like Hashimoto’s, inflammation is present so taking Omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil is a great anti-inflammatory to add to your regime.
Take a high potency fish oil delivered in the natural triglyceride form, derived from highly responsible and clean sources. The recommended dose is 800-1000 mg each of EPA and DHA. Look on the back of the label to see each of these listed out. Don’t pay attention to the 1000 mg listed on the front of most labels.
Only use fish oils products that are molecularly distilled and filtered to ensure purity and to maximize the removal of heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, PCBs, and other contaminants. Hormone Balance Nutritionals uses only the highest quality of oils, you can get it here.
Zinc – T4 booster and T3 conversion agent
Adequate levels of zinc are required for the production of T4 and the conversion to the active form of thyroid hormone T3.
Look for zinc chelate (bisglycinate) form and take 30-50 mg/day.
How to test for zinc deficiency?
Since many of us are deficient in zinc, a great way to test your zinc status is to do the zinc challenge.
Get zinc sulfate in a liquid form, take 2 tablespoons and start swishing it around in your mouth. If you taste the essence of rusty nails right away, your zinc stores are good and you can swallow or spit it out. If you don’t, continue swishing and the longer it takes to taste this flavor, the lower your zinc stores are.
This is a simple method for determining if supplementing with zinc is something to consider for your thyroid health.
L-Tyrosine – the thyroid hormone precursor
L-Tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid that supports levels of the thyroid hormone T4 and T3 – for those with low levels. These cells combine with iodine and the amino acid tyrosine to make T3 and T4. Tyrosine is used in the brain as a precursor to neurotransmitters called catecholamines such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, which may support energy and focus.
Start by taking 500 mg/day. You may increase up to 1.2 mg/day.
Vitamin D – the immune booster
Research has found a correlation between low levels of vitamin D and those with hypothyroid conditions. A link has also been found between low levels of vitamin D and a higher risk of developing autoimmune thyroid diseases such as Hashimoto’s and Graves’.
Start with 2,000-10,000 IU/day of Vitamin D3 (based on your blood work). Check your vitamin D level yearly. Typical blood panels will give you a range that says 35 is an adequate amount of vitamin D, however, functional medicine doctors suggest that adequate D levels should be at least at 60 ng/mL.
Try: Hormone Balance D3 Maximus which is an enhanced version of Vitamin D. It contains Vitamin K1 and K2 which have been found not only to enhance vitamin D absorption but also to support bone health, increase bone density and decrease fracture rates.
Ferritin (iron storage in the liver) – the thyroid fortifier
Another mineral that is affected by thyroid health is iron. Iron deficiency, but more specifically low ferritin (the storage form of iron) is connected to thyroid hormone production. Ferritin level range for woman is 18-160ng/mL or 18-160mcg/L and for men it is 18-270 ng/mL or 18-270 mcg/L. Functional practitioners recommend that Hashimoto patients raise their ferritin levels to at least 60 ng/mL.
The creation of red blood cells and hemoglobin production relies upon thyroid hormones, and when anemia is present but has an unknown cause, you should test to find out if hypothyroidism is present. It is never wise to take iron unless you are testing low because iron can be more damaging if you take too much.
An excellent way to get iron from food is by eating liver. Check out my recipe here.
Also, do not take iron, vitamins, minerals, food or coffee around the time you take your thyroid medication. All of these items can inhibit the absorption of your thyroid medication leaving little to no support for your thyroid.
Iodine – but not so fast!
Iodine found in the form of potassium iodide is a vital mineral that supports healthy thyroid function. Our bodies do not make iodine, so it must be obtained through our diet or supplementation. Without adequate iodine, the production of T4 (thyroxine) and the more active T3 (triiodothyronine) may be compromised.
Iodine in the diet is easy to get in the US and some other countries because table salt has been fortified with iodine to prevent deficiencies. Foods such as eggs, sea vegetables (kelp is very high), dairy products and fish contain iodine naturally and should be consumed regularly especially if you are avoiding iodized table salt and don’t eat packaged or canned foods.
Be mindful when supplementing as having too much iodine can suppress thyroid function and, according to this study, “in some susceptible individuals, the use of these iodine-containing substances can result in thyroid dysfunction as a result of the high iodine load. In certain circumstances, iodine excess can result in adverse thyroidal effects after only a single exposure to an iodine-rich substance.”
Those with Hashimoto’s should not supplement with iodine and avoid a diet with iodine rich-foods as iodine may cause an autoimmune attack on the thyroid.
For those with hypothyroidism and not Hashimoto’s you can try our own: Iodine Revive.
Can I get all these nutrients from food?
Your thyroid is a gland that needs nutrients to function well. Some people, I included, like to get most of the nutrients from real food. If you make a deliberate and conscientious effort to eat 3 Brazil nuts per day (for selenium), wild salmon 4 times per week (for Omega 3), a dozen of oysters a couple of times per week (for zinc), then you might be on your way to supporting your body in managing a thyroid condition.
To learn more about how to rebalance your hormones with food, see below:
The reality is, not everyone will follow such a diet and most people with Hashimoto’s and thyroid conditions are so depleted that an extra boost might be necessary.
Thyroid supplements I recommend
You know I am extremely particular about the quality of supplements I recommend. Given the state of the supplement industry (unregulated, many knock-offs, use of fillers and allergens, over-promising marketing), I’ve partnered up with one of the cleanest supplement manufacturers to create Hormone Balance Nutritionals – our own private label supplements.
Considering so many of my readers suffer from hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s, I created the Thyroid Support Kit which contains the key thyroid-supporting nutrients. This bundle does NOT contain iodine (which you should avoid if your TPO antibodies are elevated). The products in this kit can also be purchased individually here.
Fix Your Gut First If You Have Hashimoto’s
As mentioned earlier, most thyroid conditions are due to an autoimmune attack. Restoring your gut will vastly help you calm down the immune system, and slow (and eventually stop) the attack so the thyroid can produce sufficient thyroid hormones.
I have written a comprehensive article about the critical role of digestion (especially when you are chronically constipated, bloated, gassy, burpy and experience diarrhea or loose stool) in regulating your hormones.
If your gut needs some TLC, consider getting the Gut Restore Kit which contains key nutrients in aiding your digestion and downregulating the autoimmune response.
As always, these supplements should be taken alongside a clean, anti-inflammatory diet free of gluten, dairy, soy, excessive sugar, and processed foods. Refer to this comprehensive article where I discuss in depth the thyroid diet. Also, check out our signature Thyroid Detox program to learn how to detoxify your body.
Learn how to rebalance your hormones with food in my book, Cooking for Hormone Balance.
I’ve said it before and I say it again:
Food – first and always.
Herbs – often.
Supplements – sometimes.
Medications – only when needed.
What supplements have you taken that have helped (or not!) your thyroid condition? Make a comment below, I’m always curious to know!
If you are looking for a safe thyroid detox program, check out our free workshop here: