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The Best Vitamins for Thyroid Health
Thyroid disorders can cause significant changes in metabolism and development in the body. There are drugs and herbs for treating thyroid disorders. However, it is possible to prevent hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism by maintaining an excellent thyroid health. Thyroid health can be improved with vitamins. These vitamins can also serve as supplements when treating thyroid disorders. This article discusses the best vitamins to help your thyroid.
by Brad Chase
The thyroid gland is located in the neck. It is most noted for the two major hormones it produces. These hormones are triiodothyronine or T3 and thyroxine or T4.
The thyroid produces these two hormones from iodine, an essential mineral, and tyrosine, an amino acid.
The thyroid gland synthesizes more T4 than T3 (eleven times more). However, outside of the thyroid, T3 is produced from T4. Of these two hormones, T3 is the more bioactive compound. It is chiefly responsible for most of the metabolic effects of the thyroid hormones.
Besides, T3 and T4, the thyroid can produce other compounds from iodine and tyrosine. T1 (monoiodothyronine) and T2 (diidothyronine) are examples of other iodinated compounds found in the thyroid. These two iodine complexes do not contribute to thyroid function.
While T4 is chiefly converted to T3, it may also be converted to another triiodothyronine compound known as reverse T3.
Scientists once believed iodinated compounds like T1, T2 and reverse T3 had no biological activities.
However, recent findings indicate that reverse T3 is indeed active. Reverse T3 blocks the effects of T3. In addition, since it is also made from T4, its synthesis competes directly with that of T3. Therefore, the concentration of T3 is lowered by the presence of reverse T3.
The production and secretion of T3 and T4 from the thyroid depends on a feedback mechanism with which the body controls the levels of thyroid hormones. Therefore, the syntheses of thyroid hormones are under the control of TSH or thyroid-stimulating hormone.
TSH is released from the pituitary gland. However, even TSH is under the control of another hormone known as TRH (thyrotropin-releasing hormone) that is released from the hypothalamus.
Therefore, when the levels of thyroid hormones are low, TRH is released from the hypothalamus. It stimulates the release of TSH from the pituitary gland and then TSH triggers the production and release of T3 and T4 from the thyroid gland.
Thyroid disorders are medical conditions caused by wide variations (from the normal range) of thyroid hormone levels.
When the production of thyroid hormones is low, hypothyroidism results. However, when the thyroid is overactive and the syntheses of thyroid hormones rise above the normal range, hyperthyroidism is diagnosed.
There are different possible causes of hypothyroidism. Basically, hypothyroidism can be caused by iodine deficiency or damage to the thyroid gland.
Since iodine is used to make thyroid hormones, the levels of these hormones are well below the normal values when there is iodine deficiency.
To prevent hypothyroidism caused by this deficiency, iodized salt is commonly sold in most countries.
Besides iodine deficiency, damage to the thyroid is another major cause of hypothyroidism. Such damage can be caused by autoimmune attack on the gland, oxidative stress, surgical removal of the thyroid and the use of radioactive iodine in the treatment of hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, is caused by factors that increase the production of thyroid hormones. Therefore, high levels of iodine, toxic goiters and the enlargement of the thyroid gland can trigger hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is treated with iodide salts, thyroid hormone replacement and any other medicinal agent that increases thyroid function.
The treatment for hyperthyroidism involves reducing thyroid function. This can be done by surgically removing part of the thyroid gland or by reducing the size of enlarged thyroid with radioactive iodine.
Hypothyroidism is easily treated with natural supplements such as vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts.
Therefore, before resorting to thyroid drugs or invasive treatment options like surgery or radiotherapy, you should try these supplements.
Discussed below are the most important vitamins for maintaining thyroid health.
Vitamin A is important to thyroid functioning in many ways. However, the thyroid gland is also involved in determining how the body uses dietary sources of vitamin A.
Hypothyroidism impairs the conversion of carotene forms (especially beta carotene) of vitamin A to the bioactive vitamin A compound. This means that dietary sources of vitamin A which contain carotenes cannot be used to improve thyroid function since a normal thyroid function is needed to even activate these carotenes.
Therefore, non-carotene vitamin A supplements are recommended for thyroid health.
Low levels of vitamin A affects the production of TSH. This means that vitamin A deficiency reduces the amount of TSH released from the pituitary gland and, by extension, this reduces the production of thyroid hormones and also thyroid functions.
In addition, the body requires vitamin A to convert T4 to T3. Since T3 is the more active thyroid hormone, vitamin A is absolutely essential for improving all the metabolic functions of the thyroid gland.
All these benefits of vitamin A supplementation on thyroid health are well studied.
In one study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2004, a group of researchers recruited 138 children with vitamin A deficiency, goiter and iodine deficiency disorders (by extension, poor thyroid functions).
All of these children were given iodized salt at the beginning of the trial and then at the 5th month. One group also received vitamin A while the other received placebo.
The results of the study showed that iodine from iodized salt was effective at improving thyroid functioning in all the children. However, better results were obtained in the children who received vitamin A supplements along with iodized salt.
A 1993 study published in the Austrian medical journal, Acta Medica Austriaca, examined the relationship between beta carotene, vitamin A and thyroid diseases.
In that study, 16 hyperthyroid patients, 8 hypothyroid patients and 12 euthyroid subjects were recruited.
Serum samples were taken from all 36 participants and these samples were analyzed for beta carotene (provitamin A), retinol (vitamin A), proteins binding vitamin A and zinc.
The results of the study showed that beta carotene levels were at the highest in hypothyroid patients and at the lowest in hyperthyroid patients. This result confirms the belief that thyroid hormones are required for the conversion of provitamin A to bioactive vitamin A.
The B vitamins are essential for general health and they are involved in many physiological and biochemical processes in the body.
Therefore, the deficiencies of B vitamins can have very serious medical consequences. For example, the signs of vitamin B12 deficiency closely resemble the signs of thyroid disorders. This is because vitamin B12 and thyroid health are closely linked.
Most B vitamins are best at supplementing iodine in the treatment of hypothyroidism.
However, some of them are also required for hyperthyroidism. Vitamin B1 is an example of a B vitamin that is commonly prescribed as a supplement in the treatment of overactive thyroid. In addition, vitamin B12 deficiency has been strongly linked to Graves’ disease which is a type of hyperthyroidism.
The body needs thyroid hormones to efficiently absorb vitamin B12. Since vitamin B12 deficiency can cause neurological disorders and cardiac problems, vitamin B12 supplement is often recommended along with the treatment hypothyroidism.
A 2008 study published in The Journal of Pakistani Medical Association confirmed the co-occurrence of vitamin B12 deficiency and hypothyroidism.
In that study, 116 hypothyroid patients were tested for vitamin B12 levels and antithyroid antibodies.
The results of the study showed that 40% of the hypothyroid patients were also experiencing vitamin B12 deficiency. Given the high rate of this vitamin deficiency, the researchers recommended that that screening for vitamin B12 levels should be routinely done for hypothyroid patients.
Furthermore, the researchers demonstrated that watching out for the classic signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency is not an accurate means of diagnosing the deficiency in hypothyroid patients.
The reason for this is explained in a 1979 study published in the journal, Nuklearmedizin. In this study, the serum levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid were measured in 48 hyperthyroid patients and some euthyroid subjects.
The study results showed that vitamin B12 levels were lower in hyperthyroid patients than euthyroid subjects. This is expected since both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can reduce the absorption and/or utilization of vitamin B12 in the body.
However, the second result of the study showed that folic acid levels were either the same or higher in hyperthyroid patients as compared to the euthyroid controls.
This is an interesting finding since folic acid can mask vitamin B12 deficiency.
Therefore, normal folic acid levels may prevent the classic signs of vitamin B12 deficiency in people with thyroid problems but folic acid cannot prevent the serious damage caused to the heart and nervous system by low levels of vitamin B12.
Lastly, vitamin B2 or riboflavin is another important B vitamin for thyroid health.
Vitamin B2 deficiency suppresses both the thyroid gland and adrenal gland. Therefore, this deficiency severely reduces thyroid function.
A 1992 study published in the journal, Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, found that low levels of vitamin B2 was strongly associated with low levels of thyroxine.
Therefore, vitamin B2 supplement can also help improve thyroid function by increasing the production of thyroid hormones.
Vitamin C is one of the antioxidant vitamins. Therefore, it can promote thyroid health by reducing the oxidative stress placed on the gland either by foreign toxins and harmful free radicals or from the reactive oxygen species produced during the syntheses of thyroid hormones.
In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Thyroid Research, a group of researchers investigated the benefits of vitamin C on the thyroid glands of rats.
In this study, 40 Wistar rats were divided into 4 equal groups. The rats in group I were given 2 ml/kg of soya oil; group II rats received 100 mg/kg vitamin C; group III rats got 4.25 mg/kg chlorpyrifos plus 250 mg/kg lead; and group IV rats received 100 mg/kg vitamin C followed 30 minutes later by the drugs given to group III rats.
These drug regimens were followed for the 9 weeks of the study.
Both lead and chlorpyrifos are chemical pollutants found in the environment. They represent foreign toxins that can damage the thyroid.
The results of the study showed that both of these toxic chemicals reduced the production of thyroxine and triiodothyronine while increasing TSH levels and lipid peroxidation in the thyroid.
All of these happen because the free radicals and reactive oxygen species produced caused significant damage to the thyroid and reduced thyroid hormone production. However, the feedback mechanism controlling thyroid functioning increased the production of TSH to stimulate the thyroid to secrete more hormones even though the thyroid was too damaged to respond.
The results also showed that the rats in group IV were able to increase their production of thyroid hormones. This proves that the antioxidant effects of vitamin C was sufficient to protect the thyroid from damage caused by the chemical pollutants.
Vitamin D can affect thyroid health in different ways. First, vitamin D deficiency is known to cause hyperparathyroidism. It is also quite useful in the treatment of both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Vitamin D modulates the immune system and has been shown to be useful for preventing autoimmune thyroid diseases.
To do this, vitamin D can bind to specific receptors on certain immune cells and therefore prevent them from destroying the cells of the thyroid gland. The kinds of immune cells affected by vitamin D include monocytes, natural killer cells as well as T and B cells.
Yet another benefit of the immunomodulatory effect of vitamin D on the thyroid gland is its proven ability to reduce the risk of thyroid cancers.
Lastly, vitamin D has an antioxidant effect that can also contribute to thyroid health.
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant vitamin. It is also well-studied in the treatment of thyroid diseases and has been used successfully in this regard.
Like the other antioxidant vitamins discussed above, vitamin E prevents tissue damage of the thyroid gland which can be caused by free radicals especially the reactive oxygen species formed from lipid peroxidation.
By mopping up these harmful radicals, it protects the thyroid from damage which can either cause hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
However, the popular recommendation is not to take vitamin E for thyroid disorders without including selenium.
Selenium is an antioxidant mineral and multiple studies have confirmed that it works best with vitamin E. The body uses selenium to make a family of antioxidant enzymes known as selenoproteins.
Both of these antioxidants are interlinked and are needed for normal thyroid function.
Vitamin E promotes selenium metabolism. Therefore, taking vitamin E without selenium will quickly deplete the body’s store of the mineral and lead to hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
In fact, vitamin E deficiency affects the thyroid more severely when it is accompanied by selenium deficiency.
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