This is the second of a two-part article on my experience overcoming Graves Disease, a common thyroid problem, especially for women older than age 60. I was 54 years old when I became an expert on Graves Disease through first-hand experience.
The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in the front of the neck which secretes hormones vital to regulating the body’s metabolic rate and protein synthesis.
The thyroid needs iodine to do its work and, since the body can’t store iodine, we must include daily iodine sources from foods we eat to ensure proper thyroid function.
The thyroid produces T4 (thyroxine, the primary hormone produced by the gland) which, in turn, is converted to T3 (triiodothyronine, the most active hormone). When thyroid hormone secretion levels become unbalanced – too powerful or too weak – bad health things start to happen. The cells in your body don’t receive enough thyroid hormone, causing all bodily processes to start slowing down.
Here are the classic symptoms of hypothyroidism:
- Feeling cold
- General fatigue and tiring more easily
- Dry skin
- Forgetfulness and depression
TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) causes the thyroid gland to release T4 to make T3. An annual blood test for TSH is important for patients with hypothyroidism – and their relatives since this condition runs in families.
Dr. Jeffrey R. Garber of the Harvard Medical School wrote a guide about overcoming thyroid problems. He explained in simple terms what the thyroid does for us and why that is important:
“Think of your thyroid as a car engine that sets the pace at which your body operates. An engine produces the required amount of energy for a car to move at a certain speed. In the same way, your thyroid gland manufactures enough thyroid hormone to prompt your cells to perform a function at a certain rate.
“Just as a car can’t produce energy without gas, your thyroid needs fuel to produce thyroid hormone. This fuel is iodine. Iodine comes from your diet and is found in iodized table salt, seafood, bread and milk.”
Another thyroid expert, Raphael Kellman, MD, is a functional medicine physician in New York City who wrote a book called The Microbiome Diet: The Scientifically Proven Way to Restore Your Gut Health and Achieve Permanent Weight Loss.
Dr. Kellman believes that the bacteria in our intestines (microbiome) control what we eat, foods we crave, how hungry we are, and how many calories are extracted from the food we eat. He also sees a link between diet and restoring thyroid balance:
“Vitamins and nutrients can help fight the underlying causes of thyroid disorders, such as autoimmune processes and inflammation, and help improve a dysfunctional thyroid.”
People like me who live with a daily T4 thyroid supplement to treat hypothyroidism – an underperforming gland – are always on the look-out for natural ways to boost thyroid levels. Here are seven nutrients thought to help an under-achieving thyroid:
- Iodine. The Office of Dietary Supplements says adults need 150 micrograms a day of iodine. Dr. Kellman identified milk, cheese, poultry, eggs, kelp, and other seaweeds as excellent sources of iodine. “But,” he added, “you have to be careful with supplementing iodine because too much can be problematic and actually cause hypothyroidism.”
- Vitamin B. B vitamins are involved in many thyroid functions and regulate hormones. Look for a supplement with the entire vitamin B complex and rely on a blood test to confirm you are getting enough. Whole grains, legumes, nuts, milk, yogurt, meat, fish, eggs, seeds, and dark leafy greens are all high in vitamin B.
- Selenium. Selenium helps the thyroid convert T4 to T3. It also aids metabolic efficiency. Food sources for selenium include tuna, shrimp, salmon, sardines, scallops, lamb, chicken, beef, turkey, eggs, and shitake mushrooms. As a supplement, the recommended dose is 100 to 200 micrograms daily.
- Zinc. Zinc is also vital to the conversion of T4 to T3. Among the foods loaded with zinc are shellfish, mollusks, meat, legumes, and nuts. Alternatively, take a 30-milligram supplement every day.
- Tyrosine. This amino acid “is a nutrient involved in thyroid hormone production and conversion,” according to Dr. Kellman. Tyrosine comes from protein-rich foods. 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from protein every day.
- Vitamin D. vitamin D deficiency has been linked to hypothyroidism so get plenty of fortified milk, yogurt, and orange juice. Get a blood test and discuss with your doctor if you need to take an additional supplement, and how much.
- Probiotics. Dr. Kellman wrote, “The microbiome in the gut plays a critical role in many physiological processes, including thyroid function.” He recommends supplements with diverse bacteria and to switch formulas often.
Because thyroid diseases occur when the body’s immune system is weak, keep it pumped up with plenty of fruits and vegetables, choose unprocessed foods, and limit sugar (including alcohol).