Are you one of the 27 million Americans with thyroid dysfunction? If so, it’s very possible that you’re low in at least one of the four minerals your thyroid needs to produce its hormones—and that your body needs to correctly respond to those hormones.
As I explain in my book, “The Thyroid Connection,” if you’re low in any of these four essential minerals you can become hypothyroid, which means your thyroid is underactive and your metabolic processes slow down. Hypothyroidism causes symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, hair loss, mood swings, and more.
The four rock-star minerals that support thyroid function are iodine, selenium, zinc, and iron. Although adding them into your diet is simple, their impact on your health can be dramatic. I have seen many patients’ thyroid symptoms improve significantly—or even disappear—just by restoring optimal levels of these four essential minerals.
Let’s talk about why each of these nutrients is so important for thyroid health, and the best way to boost your levels.
Iodine is one of two major building blocks for your thyroid hormones. But it’s hard to get enough in your daily diet (table salt only provides a small fraction of the iodine you need), and other compounds like fluoride, chlorine, and bromine are often stored by your body in place of iodine in a process called iodine displacement. Wild-caught fish and seaweed provide solid amounts of iodine, but you can also supplement with an iodine-specific supplement or a high-quality multivitamin.
As an antioxidant, selenium plays a key role in the enzyme glutathione peroxidase (GPx), which reduces the free-radical damage that can wreak havoc on your thyroid. Selenium also plays a key role in the enzyme that converts T4 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (the active form). Without sufficient selenium, your thyroid hormones remain in their inactive state and hypothyroidism occurs. Certain foods like Brazil nuts provide an excellent source of selenium, but many people are allergic to tree nuts—and a food allergy can negatively affect thyroid function and nutrient absorption. I recommend avoiding nuts while following the 28-day plan in my book “The Thyroid Connection,” and then adding them back in if you discover you can tolerate them. Meats, fish, and shellfish also provide sufficient selenium levels. Ideally, you can supplement with at least 200 micrograms daily, which you’ll find in a quality multivitamin or thyroid support supplement.
Zinc is another antioxidant that plays a role in converting T4 to T3; it’s also necessary to trigger your hypothalamus’ thyroid hormone receptors. Insufficient zinc means your hypothalamus can’t properly regulate hormone production. Studies link zinc deficiency with decreased thyroid production and hypothyroidism. Foods including grass-fed beef, free-range turkey, oysters, mussels, and spinach are excellent sources of zinc, and I also recommend that my thyroid patients supplement with at least 25 milligrams daily.
I find that many of my female patients, especially vegan and vegetarians—but even Paleo diet followers—are iron-deficient. Iron is necessary for converting iodide (the ion state of iodine) to iodine, which is then used to produce thyroid hormones.
Beef or chicken liver, clams, mussels, oysters, and spinach provide dietary iron, which you can also get from a quality supplement. Rather than the standard iron tests that measure your hemoglobin and hematocrit levels—hemoglobin is protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to tissues, and the hematocrit level tells the volume of red blood cells in the body—ask your doctor to test your ferritin levels, the major iron storage protein in the body. Your ferritin levels should be between 50 to 100 nanograms per milliliter, but it varies between men and women.
If you find that you’re deficient in any of these four nutrients essential for thyroid health, I recommend eating a diet full of whole, nutrient-rich foods and taking supplements where necessary.
Have you ever struggled with hypothyroidism or other thyroid issues? What strategies did you find worked or didn’t work in your healing journey? Share your story in the comments below or on my Facebook page.
Dr. Amy Myers is a functional medicine physician and New York Times bestselling author of “The Autoimmune Solution.” Her second book, “The Thyroid Connection,” explores why thyroid disease is such an epidemic and what truly causes thyroid dysfunction, and provides a 28-day plan to jumpstart your health and reverse thyroid symptoms, whether you have Graves’, Hashimoto’s, thyroid cancer, nodules or cysts, or have had your thyroid removed or ablated.