The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the throat that is integral to the hormonal and metabolic regulatory dance that your body orchestrates among its larger system of endocrine glands, brain and gut. It’s responsible for controlling metabolism, menstrual cycles and mood, as well as a myriad of other biological functions. The thyroid uses the mineral iodine to fuel its hormones–T3 and T4 which are the primary components in its signaling mechanism. For the most part, the inactive form or T4 is produced initially, and then it is converted to the active form of T3 as needed by the body.
It’s possible for these hormones to get out of balance if the thyroid is either over-active–called hyperthyroid—or underactive, which is referred to as hypothyroid. The medical community recognizes auto-immune versions of each of these disorders, known respectively as Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s is the most prevalent form of thyroid disease, and is much more prevalent in women than men, and incidence tends to increase with age. Nonetheless, many women with thyroid disorders remain undiagnosed.
Too little thyroid hormone is generally experienced as low energy and dryness, including symptoms such as fatigue, trouble concentration, dry skin, constipation, and cold intolerance. In more extreme cases it may take the form of depression, weight gain or body aches. On the flip side, an overly active thyroid gland can cause weight loss with strong appetite, anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea and rapid heart rate. Both hyper- and hypothyroid can have an impact on menstrual cycles, and may be behind things like excessive flow, missed menses, skipped ovulation, premenstrual breast tenderness and ovarian cysts.
As you can probably guess, having a well-functioning thyroid is important for fertility, and is critically important for proper fetal development and the increased metabolic demands of early pregnancy. For this reason thyroid hormone levels are routinely tested in women who are experiencing delays in conception, and pregnant women who are already taking medication such as levothyroxine for low thyroid function will have their medication increased. But it’s well worth being aware of what it takes to maintain thyroid health before symptoms begin to show up.
So what sorts of things contribute to irregular thyroid function, and what can we do to help support this essential gland? Here are some tips for proper nourishment, hindrances to avoid, and red flags that suggest a more complex imbalance that requires additional support.
Trace minerals: Our bodies can’t create these on our own, so make sure you’re getting proper levels of iodine, selenium and zinc, which are key for basic thyroid function. You may find these in your daily supplement or prenatal vitamin, but dietary sources are even better. The amount of iodine and selenium we need is measured in micrograms, so it really doesn’t take much to meet this in terms of quantity. As little as a daily tablespoon of sea vegetable is adequate for iodine, and a couple of Brazil nuts will cover basic selenium needs. A good daily maintenance dose of zinc is considerably larger–approximately 10-15 milligrams–but still relatively small as nutritional needs are concerned. It’s easy to incorporate this much zinc if you consume 2-3 portions daily of: red meat, dark meat poultry, shellfish, legumes such as chickpeas and lentils, hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds, almonds and eggs. Supplementation may be in order if you’re deficient or losing minerals due to high levels of stress or inflammation. If you’re using supplements, don’t overdo it as an excess of zinc will create a problem that your body will need to eliminate, and can upset your balance with copper. Iron is another mineral that is necessary for iodine utilization and thyroid hormone synthesis. If your iron or ferritin levels are low, be aware that it may be impacting your thyroid function.
Hormone building blocks: Are you getting adequate Vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics? We’ve written previously about the importance of Vitamin D, particularly where fertility is concerned. Both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids are important for overall hormone health, and insufficiencies in either can create challenges for thyroid function. Probiotics are also key. While they aren’t part of hormone composition like the lipids above, probiotics and overall gut health play an important role in stabilizing hormone fluctuations.
Hormone inhibitors: Sadly it’s nearly impossible to entirely avoid exposure to environmental toxins in our modern world. However there is a great deal we can do to reduce hormone disruptors and protect yourself from pesticides, BPAs, phthalates and other harmful chemicals through our choices of food, cosmetics and other consumer goods. Look here and here at our earlier blog posts for a more elaborate discussion. At Naturna we advocate for regular detox protocols as part of routine wellness care to help clear our body’s tissues and tonify organ systems.
Reduce inflammation: Inflammation is the body’s response to stressors that are tangible or intangible. It can be localized, as in the case of a joint injury, or systemic, as is often the case with leaky gut, for example, or to food sensitivities such as gluten. Click here for a broader overview inflammation on this blog. Regardless of the cause or extent, if you are experiencing any form of chronic, low-grade irritation, please consider it a signal from your body that something is in need of attention, see what can be done to minimize that, and get help if you need to.
Manage stress: Excessive production of stress hormones can lead to weakened adrenals, which in turn weakens the thyroid. Stress depletes our minerals as well as our hormones, causing our glandular system to work overtime. It also disrupts our blood glucose balance which can increase insulin production, which in turn suppresses thyroid function and can result in altered gut microbiome as well as chromium depletion. This essentially adds fuel to the fire when it comes to low thyroid function.
Look here for tips on adrenal health, and support your blood sugars by keeping your carbohydrate intake relatively low, eating meals at consistent times (don’t skip breakfast!), including quality protein and fats in each meal, and consuming several servings of fruits & veggies daily. If you think you are covering your bases but are somehow still feeling depleted or experiencing symptoms, it may be a sign of a deeper or longer-term issue such as leaky gut, insulin resistance or systemic inflammation that needs a more focused assessment and individualized treatment program. Contact Naturna to schedule a consultation—we look forward to working with you!
Akçay, M. N., & Akçay, G. (2003). The presence of the antigliadin antibodies in autoimmune thyroid diseases. Hepato-gastroenterology, 50 Suppl 2, cclxxix–cclxxx.
Benvenga, S., Elia, G., Ragusa, F., Paparo, S. R., Sturniolo, M. M., Ferrari, S. M., Antonelli, A., & Fallahi, P. (2020). Endocrine disruptors and thyroid autoimmunity. Best practice & research. Clinical endocrinology & metabolism, 34(1), 101377. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beem.2020.101377
Drutel, A., Archambeaud, F., & Caron, P. (2013). Selenium and the thyroid gland: more good news for clinicians. Clinical endocrinology, 78(2), 155–164. https://doi.org/10.1111/cen.12066
Fenneman, A. C., Rampanelli, E., Yin, Y. S., Ames, J., Blaser, M. J., Fliers, E., & Nieuwdorp, M. (2020). Gut microbiota and metabolites in the pathogenesis of endocrine disease. Biochemical Society transactions, 48(3), 915–931. https://doi.org/10.1042/BST20190686
Hubalewska-Dydejczyk, A., Duntas, L., & Gilis-Januszewska, A. (2020). Pregnancy, thyroid, and the potential use of selenium. Hormones (Athens, Greece), 19(1), 47–53. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42000-019-00144-2
Knezevic, J., Starchl, C., Tmava Berisha, A., & Amrein, K. (2020). Thyroid-Gut-Axis: How Does the Microbiota Influence Thyroid Function?. Nutrients, 12(6), 1769. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12061769
Lee, H. J., Li, C. W., Hammerstad, S. S., Stefan, M., & Tomer, Y. (2015). Immunogenetics of autoimmune thyroid diseases: A comprehensive review. Journal of autoimmunity, 64, 82–90. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaut.2015.07.009
Lerner, A., Jeremias, P., & Matthias, T. (2017). Gut-thyroid axis and celiac disease. Endocrine connections, 6(4), R52–R58. https://doi.org/10.1530/EC-17-0021
Triggiani, V., Tafaro, E., Giagulli, V. A., Sabbà, C., Resta, F., Licchelli, B., & Guastamacchia, E. (2009). Role of iodine, selenium and other micronutrients in thyroid function and disorders. Endocrine, metabolic & immune disorders drug targets, 9(3), 277–294. https://doi.org/10.2174/187153009789044392