Woman having her doctor checking her thyroid during a check up

Thyroid Supplements: Do They Work?

Your mood, your weight, and even your cognitive function may depend upon a healthy thyroid. So maybe you’ve thought about taking a thyroid supplement. But do they work?

“Optimizing thyroid health with supportive nutrients becomes increasingly important for aging individuals,” said Life Extension registered dietitian Holli Ryan. Which supplements support thyroid health, exactly?

What are thyroid supplements?

Woman taking thyroid supplement that often contain L-tyrosine

Dietary supplements provide nutrients that can support the health and function of the body, and more specifically, the thyroid gland. To function optimally, the thyroid requires certain nutrients. This includes iodine, the amino acid L-tyrosine, selenium and vitamins A and B12. Selenium is also an important trace mineral for thyroid health.

Iodine deficiency affects approximately 2 billion people worldwide. This mineral is vital for thyroid health. Active thyroid hormone, T3, contains three iodine atoms – hence its name, tri-iodo-thyronine. Supplements might be especially important for vegans and some types of vegetarians, who won’t be getting iodine from animal sources like seafood and dairy. (Seaweed is a great vegetarian source of iodine, on the other hand, but many people don’t eat it regularly.) Referring to a completely plant-based diet, Ryan pointed out, “Some plant-based foods, such as beans and potatoes, contain iodine, but are not reliable sources since the amount will vary based on regional growing practices … Because plant-based options are lacking, vegans are at risk of deficiency and should consider iodine supplementation, especially if pregnant or breastfeeding.”

Minerals including zinc and selenium can impact your thyroid hormone health in different ways. Selenium can activate (or inactivate) certain thyroid hormones. This means it plays a role in your development, growth, and metabolism. Selenium additionally helps protect the thyroid from free radicals. A deficiency of this mineral can compound health implications stemming from iodine deficiency.

The same rings true for vitamin A and iron. Zinc can influence thyroid function. Zinc helps form thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). TRH triggers the pituitary gland to release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

Research has found a strong correlation between vitamin B12 and thyroid function. Ensuring you are getting enough B12 may help provide support for optimal thyroid health.

L-tyrosine is needed for the synthesis of thyroid hormones, such as triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Both T3 and T4 play a role in supporting metabolism.

There are a lot of variables and moving parts at play. But research indicates that ensuring you have adequate intake of these vitamins and minerals will help the thyroid gland function optimally.

How do thyroid-supporting supplements work?

Senior man eating salad with thyroid supplement for filling nutritional gap

In a perfect world, you get everything you need from food. But for most of us, this isn’t feasible. The standard American diet isn’t perfect, and soil and food quality make it difficult to get enough of certain vitamins and minerals. That’s where dietary supplements come in. They come in various forms—like capsules, tablets, liquid and lozenges—and pick up where diet leaves off.

The definition of the word supplement is “something that is added to something else in order to make it complete.” In other words, supplements should be tacked onto a healthy diet, rather than attempt to replace it.

Now, what about thyroid supplements? As we discussed above, selenium, iodine, and L-tyrosine are essential nutrients to support thyroid hormone production. If you’re looking to support healthy thyroid function, these are likely the first thyroid supplements you should discuss with your health provider.

Animal studies also show that the guggul gum resin from the Commiphora mukul tree may promote healthy thyroid function, particularly when combined with ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).

Thyroid health supplements might be particularly important for you if you’re trying to manage stress, which can impact thyroid function. Furthermore, there might be a domino effect where your hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and gastrointestinal system could also be affected by stress. Other research has found that there appears to be a relationship between your body's main stress hormone, cortisol, and TSH.

If supporting a healthy stress response is important to you, ashwagandha might be especially beneficial. This herbal extract may help the body respond to everyday stressors in a healthy manner. It may also support normal, healthy thyroid function—potentially by supporting already-healthy levels of cortisol.

The best thyroid supplements

Woman holding white thyroid supplement in her hand

What supplements are good for thyroid health? If you’re shopping around for a thyroid support supplement, here are a couple of suggestions.

  • Overall thyroid supplement.

    Triple Action Thyroid is a comprehensive supplement that contains vitamin A, vitamin B-12, iodine, and L-tyrosine, ashwagandha and guggul gum resin…all of which help you promote normal thyroid hormone levels.
  • Iodine supplements for thyroid.

    Iodine is essential for thyroid hormone production. Note, however, that too much iodine can have health implications. We get most of our iodine from food—like dairy products, grains, iodized salt, and seaweed (a great natural source of iodine). But if these iodine-rich foods aren’t a part of your diet (and particularly if you’re cutting back on iodized salt), iodine supplements might help.
  • Selenium supplements for thyroid.

    Selenium is important for the conversion of T4 into the active thyroid hormone, T3, and helps to promote thyroid gland function. Like iodine, though, keep in mind that there can be too much of a good thing, so be mindful of your intake.

How to start taking thyroid supplements: quick tips

Before you begin to use any thyroid supplement, check with your doctor first to see how your thyroid gland is currently functioning. You also may want to assess how your body is handling stress by doing adrenal gland lab tests.

How to choose high-quality vitamins and supplements for your thyroid

With so many options available on the market, it can be hard to find the right thyroid support for you.

Which vitamins are not good for thyroid?

As we’ve mentioned a couple of times, remember that taking excessive or higher doses of thyroid supplements won’t offer more thyroid support. For instance, some people will take very high doses of iodine, thinking it’ll continue to optimize thyroid function. But too much iodine isn’t beneficial, either.

Thyroid supplement side effects

Thyroid supplements generally will not have adverse side effects. Always check with your medical provider before starting a new supplement, read the label, and stick to taking the recommended dose. Always buy your supplements from reputable companies that are transparent about their sourcing and formulating processes. Ryan suggests checking “if the ingredients have been shown in studies to address the mechanisms that support the health goal.”

How can I support my thyroid?

Man doing yoga as part of self-care to support stress management and thyroid health

Be proactive! With the right lifestyle choices, you can support optimal thyroid health.

  1. Practice self-care. That means getting enough sleep and doing things to manage your stress. You now know that there’s a link between stress and thyroid function. So, make a point of avoiding stress triggers and leaving time for self-care. Also, pay attention to how spending time on social media makes you feel. This might be causing you stress without you even knowing it. Give meditation a shot—research suggests it can help maintain already-healthy cortisol levels.
  2. Try a gluten-free diet. Research says that for certain individuals, following a gluten-free diet can promote thyroid function. This approach might not be for everyone, so be sure to check with your doctor or a registered dietitian before proceeding with it.
  3. Supplement. Make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of nutrients that are necessary for healthy thyroid function! By this point, you’re well-acquainted with your options when it comes to thyroid supplementation. Check with your doctor if one of these supplements might be a good fit for you.

References

By: Michael A. Smith, MD

Dr. Michael A. Smith received his medical doctorate from the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center, and he practiced Internal Medicine and Radiology in Dallas, Texas in the early 2000s. Dr. Smith is the author of The Supplement Pyramid: How to Build your Personalized Nutritional Regimen. He is also the host of Live FOREVERish, a podcast and Facebook Live show for Life Extension.