What Does the Thyroid Do?
The thyroid is an organ in the neck responsible for regulating metabolism by controlling the rate of oxygen and calorie conversion to energy. The metabolic rate of every cell in the body is controlled by thyroid hormones, particularly T3. The thyroid produces the hormones T3 and T4 in response to stimulation by thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced in the pituitary gland. The thyroid requires iodine and L-tyrosine to synthesize T3 and T4.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone, significantly accelerating metabolism. Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormone, significantly slowing metabolism. Both conditions have detrimental effects on the body. Fortunately, thyroid function tests (eg, TSH, T3, and T4) can help identify an underlying thyroid condition as well as help direct proper treatment and improve symptoms.
Nutrients such as iodine and selenium help support thyroid function.
What are Signs and Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism?
- Sudden weight loss
- Rapid heartbeat
- Nervousness or irritability
- Extreme hyperthyroidism can cause elevated heart rate and blood pressure, extreme exhaustion, and high fever. This condition sharply increases the risk of stroke and heart attack, and it can be fatal in up to half of all cases.
What are Signs and Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?
- Sensitivity to cold
- Unexplained weight gain
- Dry skin and hair (and/or hair loss)
- Muscle cramps
- If left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to goiter, cardiovascular disease, and dementia.
What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Thyroid Regulation?
- Anti-thyroid drugs, such as methimazole or propylthiouracil, to inhibit the production of T3
- Radioactive iodine to destroy the overactive thyroid gland
- Surgical removal of the thyroid
- Βeta-blockers to control high blood pressure and increased heart rate
- Thyroid hormone replacement therapy
- Desiccated thyroid extract
Which Nutrients Support Thyroid Health?
- Iodine. Iodine is required to synthesize thyroid hormone. Iodine deficiency is a leading cause of mental retardation due to its significance in thyroid activity. Many table salts have added iodine, and certain foods such as seaweed contain high concentrations of iodine.
- Selenium. Selenium is a necessary component of the enzyme that converts T4 to T3. Patients with various thyroid disorders were shown to have lower selenium levels.
- Zinc. Zinc may contribute to the conversion of T4 to T3. In a group of patients with abnormal thyroid hormone levels, zinc supplementation normalized the levels.
- Iron. Iron deficiency hampers the production of thyroid hormone. One study showed subjects with subclinical hypothyroidism were more likely to be iron deficient than the control group.
- Copper. Copper is important for normal brain development; deficiency can cause ineffective regulation of thyroid hormone. Rat studies showed that copper-deficient mothers gave birth to T3-deficient infants.
- Vitamin E. Several preclinical studies indicate vitamin E may help reduce oxidative stress caused by hypothyroidism.
- DHEA and pregnenolone. Patients with hypothyroidism may have significantly lower levels of DHEA and pregnenolone than people with normal thyroid function.
- Ashwagandha extract. Ashwagandha extracts have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to alleviate stress. A small study indicated that the extract also improved thyroid function and thyroid-related hormone levels.
- Korean ginseng. Korean ginseng extract has shown promise in multiple clinical trials for a variety of conditions. In a trial of subjects with congestive heart failure and low T3 and T4, intravenous ginseng extract increased levels of both hormones.
- Vitamin A. Vitamin A (a family of related retinoic acids including retinol and beta-carotene) is important for thyroid health, and deficiencies are associated with thyroid dysfunction.
- Other natural interventions for thyroid health and function include guggul extract, vitamin D, vitamin B12, turmeric, and Rhodiola rosea.