The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck that regulates metabolism. It is an important part of the endocrine system, which makes and controls the body’s hormones.
There are several different types of disorders that can impact the thyroid, affecting its function, and in turn your metabolism.
Depending on how the disorder changes the function of the thyroid, it can cause all sorts of problems with your health from extreme fatigue, to blood pressure issues, to sleep disturbances.
Specific nutrients and herbal supplements can help manage some of these symptoms.
Common Thyroid Disorders
Twelve percent of the US population is affected by some type of disease of the thyroid (1). Thyroid disorders can arise when the thyroid starts to produce too much or too few thyroid hormones.
There are a few common diseases of the thyroid with different underlying causes: Hashimoto’s disease, Grave’s disease, goiter, and thyroid nodules, and thyroid cancer (2).
Although these are different diseases, they impact the thyroid by altering hormone production in some way.
Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland is producing too much thyroid hormone. It mostly affects women and is less common in men.
Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroid, followed by thyroid nodules and too much thyroid medication (3).
Symptoms of hyperthyroid include:
- Racing heart
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weight Loss
- Skin changes (thickening or thinning)
- Breakable hair and nails
- Bulging eyes
As you can see, having too much thyroid hormone can really impact many different aspects of your health.
Hypothyroidism is more common than hyperthyroidism, impacting about 4.6% of people in the United States (4). Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones.
It is frequently caused by an autoimmune disease called, Hashimoto’s Disease. It can also be caused by surgical removal of the thyroid gland due to cancer or damage from radiation treatment.
Hypothyroid can cause many undesirable symptoms as well, these may include:
- Dry skin
- Weight Gain/resistance to weight loss
- Cold sensitivity
- Memory problems/brain fog
- Slower heart rate
Both hyper- and hypothyroid can leave you feeling pretty awful. Luckily, there is a lot you can to nutrition-wise to help you feel better.
Before Taking Thyroid Supplements
Before starting any supplements for thyroid health, you first want to understand the type of thyroid dysfunction you have and the root cause. Is it autoimmune? Caused by a secondary condition such as cancer?
All of these factors can impact the type of supplements you want to take.
Also, consider getting a full thyroid panel from your doctor to be sure you actually have thyroid dysfunction.
Many people assume that trouble losing weight or feeling tired all the time indicates a thyroid problem. These symptoms can be caused by other conditions and should be diagnosed by a doctor before taking any supplements for treatment.
The ideal thyroid panel should include TSH, T4, T3, and Free T4. Many doctors only test TSH, which does not fully assess the health of your thyroid (5).
Once you have a complete picture of the health of your thyroid, you can then begin to look for supplements to help manage symptoms.
Always be sure to check with your doctor first before starting any supplements because they may interfere with prescribed treatment. Some supplements can impact how thyroid medications work, so you want to run anything by your doctor first.
Here’s a quick look at the ones we’re about to go over in greater detail in this article.
10 Helpful Supplements for your Thyroid
Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to thyroid dysfunction. Correcting these deficiencies with proper supplementation and diet can help improve thyroid health.
Before randomly taking supplements to address deficiencies, ask your doctor for a blood test to confirm you actually have them.
This will allow you and your doctor to come up with a personalized plan for which supplements to take and what dosages are right for you.
Vitamin D acts much more like a hormone than a vitamin, so it’s no surprise it can impact the hormones of the thyroid as well, as all hormones are interconnected. Vitamin D is also responsible for calcium absorption, helping keep bones strong, and immune function.
Your body can actually make all the vitamin D it needs from exposure to the sun. Vitamin D deficiency, which impacts 42% of people, may increase the risk of all thyroid diseases, including cancer (6, 7).
Deficiency in vitamin D is so high, primarily because we spend too much time indoors. But, this widespread deficiency may also be an underlying cause of thyroid disease.
A 2013 study evaluated the vitamin D levels of subjects with known thyroid dysfunction. Researchers found that vitamin D levels were significantly lower in those with hypothyroidism, as were serum calcium levels.
The degree of deficiency was associated with the severity of thyroid dysfunction. Researchers suggested that based on these results, a deficiency in vitamin D can severely impact the diagnosis and progression of hypothyroidism. Based on these results, researchers recommended that all people with thyroid disease should be screened for vitamin D deficiency (8).
How to Take Vitamin D
Vitamin D is not easily found in food; milk, wild-caught fish, eggs, mushrooms, and other fortified foods are moderate sources of this vitamin. If you want to naturally increase your vitamin D, spend some time outside in direct sunlight.
This will help boost your body’s natural production of this vitamin and improve your mood.
The RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU, but many experts believe this number is too low, considering the widespread deficiency. The RDA is a good place to start if you want to take a vitamin D supplement, but you might need more.
The best way to know exactly how much vitamin D you should take is to get a blood test. This will help your doctor determine if you need a prescription-level dose or if an over the counter supplement will do, depending on the severity of your deficiency.
The omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory fats essential for human health. They must come from the diet, unlike other types of fat that the body can make itself. EPA, DHA, and ALA (the omega-3s) are commonly found fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
Many of the conditions that impact the thyroid are autoimmune diseases, triggered by excessive inflammation in the body. Supplementation with omega-3 fats can help manage the underlying cause of autoimmune diseases of the thyroid, like Hashimoto’s, and improve symptoms.
Supplementation with omega-3 fats has been shown to work just as well as many anti-inflammatory medications (9).
How to Take Omega-3 Supplements
Omega-3 supplements are a great way to boost your intake of these important anti-inflammatory fats, especially if you don’t eat a ton of fish. There are many different options available when choosing an omega-3 supplement.
The most important thing is that it contains EPA and DHA, the active omega-3s, in a 2:1 ratio. Although ALA is also an omega-3 it must be activated into the other two, a highly inefficient process. EPA and DHA give you the most bang for your buck.
Choose an omega-3 supplement that is sourced from smaller fish such as sardines or anchovies, which have less risk of heavy metal contamination. Or consider krill oil or algal oil, which are also less contaminated. Algal oil is the only vegan source of DHA and EPA.
Aim to supplement with 1000-3000 mg per day of omega-3s. But, don’t forget the fatty fish in your diet. Try to eat fish high in omega-3s, such as wild salmon, at least twice a week.
Selenium is a micronutrient that is necessary to preserve thyroid function. It is responsible for clearing out hydrogen peroxide that is formed when iodine is activated to make thyroid hormones.
With inadequate selenium, the hydrogen peroxide builds up leading to inflammation and eventually thyroid damage and disease. For this reason, the thyroid gland contains the largest concentration of selenium in the body (10).
How to Take Selenium
The best natural source of selenium are Brazil nuts. Just two nuts a day meets 100% of your daily value for selenium. Sardines and poultry are also good sources.
A 2014 study of selenium and autoimmune thyroiditis found that supplementing with 200 mcg L-selenomethionine helped improve thyroid function (11).
It is important to note that supplementing with selenium can make iodine deficiency worse, so be sure your thyroid issues are not being caused by iodine deficiency.
Zinc is another trace mineral and a common deficiency in people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This is because Hashimoto’s can cause low levels of stomach acid, making the absorption of minerals like zinc very difficult.
This is problematic because zinc is required for thyroid hormone synthesis, therefore a deficiency can make Hashimoto’s worse.
A zinc deficiency can be the underlying cause of a major symptom of thyroid disease: hair loss.
Unless zinc deficiency is corrected, hair loss may persist even when thyroid levels are being well-managed by medications (12). If one of your symptoms is hair loss, you may consider a zinc supplement.
How to Take Zinc
Zinc is a trace mineral, therefore very little is needed. The RDA for zinc is 11 mg/day for men and 8 mg/day for women. Zinc supplements should not be taken long-term only to correct a possible deficiency.
Zinc can block the absorption of copper, another important mineral. Sometimes it is recommended to take a copper supplement in addition to the zinc to prevent a second deficiency.
It is always acceptable to include food sources of zinc in the diet, such as eggs, poultry, beef, and pumpkin seeds.
Copper is a micro-mineral also important for thyroid hormone function. Too much or too little copper can impact the thyroid. Copper levels have been found to be significantly above normal in people with hyperthyroidism (13).
How to Take Copper
Copper should only be used in the short-term and only for those who are taking a zinc supplement. People with hyperthyroid should avoid copper supplements. Most women’s and men’s multivitamins contain 2 mg of copper, which is adequate to meet most people’s needs.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is involved in the production of thyroid hormones, particularly converting T4 to T3. It can also help regulate TSH levels.
A 2014 study evaluated the effect of vitamin A supplementation on thyroid function of obese women at risk for hypothyroidism. Eighty-four subjects were given either 25,000 IU per day of vitamin A or a placebo for four months.
Various thyroid markers were measured during this time. Vitamin A significantly reduced TSH concentrations during the study period, reducing the risk of hypothyroidism (14).
How to Take Vitamin A
Vitamin A comes in two forms, either active vitamin A or beta-carotene. Most supplements contain a combination of both. Dosages range from 2,500-10,000 IU. The upper limit for active vitamin A is 10,000 IU, but since most supplements also have beta-carotene, the active vitamin A is likely nowhere near that level.
Also, consider increasing vitamin A in your diet. It can be found in any orange or green colored vegetable, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach. The liver, eggs, and beans are also good sources.
The eight B-vitamins are water-soluble vitamins that are important for a healthy metabolism. Problems with absorption and digestion caused by thyroid disease can lead to deficiencies in these vitamins.
Deficiencies in B-vitamins can mimic symptoms of thyroid disease, such as fatigue, muscle pain, weakness, and anxiety.
Of all the B-vitamins, vitamin B12 is particularly important for those with thyroid disorders. A 2009 study evaluated 116 hypothyroid patients for signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. They also measured several blood markers for thyroid function and B12-related anemia.
Researchers found that almost 40% of hypothyroid patients had low vitamin B12 levels. Those with the low levels of B12 also reported symptoms typical of this deficiency, even though they were not all overtly deficient. These symptoms improved when supplemental B12 was provided (15).
How to Take B-complex
B-complex is a common and inexpensive vitamin. They are water-soluble, therefore there isn’t a major risk for toxicity. B-vitamins are also found in most multivitamin formulations, in case you don’t want to take a separate supplement.
If you have thyroid disease, you may want to consider being tested for vitamin B12 deficiency, particularly if you don’t eat a lot of meat. If you are deficient, your doctor may give you a B12 injection or recommend sublingual B12 to improve your levels.
Magnesium is an important mineral that plays a role in over 300 different reactions in the body. One of these is the conversion of the thyroid hormone T4 into T3. A 2015 meta-analysis found a connection between low magnesium levels and an increased risk of thyroid cancer (16).
How to Take Magnesium
A high dose of supplemental magnesium can cause diarrhea, so if you want to supplement proceed with caution. The upper limit for supplements is 350 mg/day.
Magnesium can be absorbed through the skin, via a lotion or Epsom salt bath. These might be better options if you don’t want to deal with the digestive concerns.
That being said, many people with hypothyroid do struggle with constipation. If this is the case, magnesium citrate can help move things along. Start with a half dose to see how your body reacts.
Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that has been used for centuries in India for its medicinal properties. It is an adaptogen or an herb that can help mitigate the effects of stress on the body.
It can also impact the thyroid. It increases levels of thyroid hormones, which may be beneficial for people with hypothyroidism (17).
How to Take Ashwagandha
The recommended dose is 300-500 mg per day. It should be avoided for people with hyperthyroid since it can increase thyroid hormone levels.
It can also change how thyroid medications work, therefore you should ask your doctor before taking ashwagandha.
Iodine is frequently associated with thyroid disease, but iodine supplements are not usually recommended for people with thyroid disorders. Yes, iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones.
A lack of iodine in the diet can cause a goiter, or enlargement of the thyroid gland, one cause of hypothyroidism. But, does that mean you should automatically take iodine if you have a thyroid disorder? Not so fast.
In the 1920s, goiters were extremely common from lack of iodine in our food supply. Therefore, public health officials decided to add iodine to salt, to help supplement everyone’s intake. This worked because rates of goiters decreased by significantly within just 10 years and they are very rare today. But this caused another problem, in countries where iodine is added to food there are higher incidences of Hashimoto’s (18).
The important thing with iodine intake and thyroid health is a balance, you don’t want too much and you don’t want too little.
How to Take Iodine
The RDA for iodine is 150 mcg per day. Most people are able to meet this requirement with food alone, therefore it is best not to take supplements unless recommended by a doctor.
Final Thoughts on Thyroid Health
Managing the health of your thyroid requires a multi-faceted approach.
First, always speak to your doctor before taking any supplements, particularly if you are taking thyroid medications. Some supplements can interfere with the function of these medications or your doctor may have to adjust your dose.
Improving thyroid health also involves some lifestyle changes, such as stress management and reducing the toxic load from environmental chemicals or heavy metals. Diet modifications may help as well.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet high in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help support the health of the thyroid as well.
Tackling your thyroid health from a medical, lifestyle, and nutritional approach is the most effective way to manage your symptoms and support the function of your thyroid.
Keep Reading: 9 Supplements for an Energy Boost
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Stock Photos from Albina Glisic / Timonina / art4stock / Shutterstock
About the Author
Ana Reisdorf is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with 11-years experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics. After graduating from California State University, Long Beach, she began her career as health educator, helping educate patients on a variety of nutrition-related conditions. Email Ana.