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Understanding How Thyroid Supplements Help Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is a common thyroid disorder and it is one of the diseases in which natural supplements are widely recommended. The supplements that can improve thyroid functioning include vitamins, minerals, herbs, omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids. These natural thyroid supplements are effective and well tolerated but how do they improve thyroid functioning? Read on to find out.
by Brad Chase
Hypothyroidism is a medical condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce sufficient amounts of thyroid hormones.
Once, it was believed that hypothyroidism is an uncommon medical condition. However, new clinical data are suggesting that the condition is more prevalent than believed and that most sufferers are not getting the right treatment.
These hormones are synthesized in the thyroid gland from iodine and tyrosine. However, the thyroid gland makes more T4 than T3.
Even though T3 is the more bioactive of the two hormones, only 20% of the T3 produced in the body is made in the thyroid gland. The rest is obtained from the conversion of T4 to T3 in other sites in the body.
Because of the importance of iodine to the syntheses of thyroid hormone, iodine deficiency is one of the major causes of hypothyroidism.
Other common causes include chronic stress, autoimmune thyroid disorders such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid gland and the destruction of the cells of the thyroid gland by radioatherapy used in the treatment of hyperthyroidism.
The production of hormones in the thyroid gland is under the control of thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH) which is released from the pituitary gland. The TSH itself is under the control of another hormone produced in the hypothalamus and known as TRH or thyrotropin-releasing hormone.
Hypothyroidism can be caused by disruption in any of these 3 levels of control. Therefore, hypothyroidism can be classified into three.
Endocrinologists depend on the measurements of T3, T4 but especially TSH levels to diagnose hypothyroidism. Primary hypothyroidism is usually diagnosed if TSH levels are higher than normal while T3 and T4 levels are low.
However, sometimes TSH levels are high but still within the normal range even though T3 and T4 levels are low. In such cases, subclinical hypothyroidism is diagnosed.
Subclinical hypothyroidism is even more common than hypothyroidism. It occurs more frequently with age and it affects more women than men.
Subclinical hypothyroidism and other forms of silent hypothyroidism may persist for a long time without being correctly diagnosed. Even though it is difficult to diagnose such cases of hypothyroidism, they may still present with known but undefined symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is associated with a long list of symptoms. Some of these are fatigue, weight gain, edema, reduced sweating, dry skin, depression, low heart rate, high cholesterol levels, constipation, joint pain, muscle cramps and increased sensitivity to cold.
Later symptoms include goiter, low body temperature, edematous swellings, slow speech, sluggish reflexes, abnormal menstrual cycle, female infertility and decreased libido in men.
Hypothyroidism may also impair cognitive function and memory, cause hair loss, anemia, deafness, psychosis and hypoglycemia.
Hypothyroidism is commonly treated with iodine supplements or thyroid hormone replacements.
However, there are other natural supplements that can support thyroid functioning either by protecting the thyroid gland from injury or by increasing the production of thyroid hormones.
Discussed below are some of the most effective thyroid supplements for treating hypothyroidism.
Iodine is the classic remedy for hypothyroidism and there is a reason for that. Iodine is one of the two ingredients needed by the thyroid gland to synthesize thyroid hormones.
T3 and T4 both contains iodine. In fact, they are named after the amount of iodine they contain: each T3 molecule contains 3 atoms of iodine and T4 holds 4 iodine atoms. Without iodine, the syntheses of these hormones cannot proceed even when TSH keeps stimulating the thyroid gland to produce these hormones.
Most countries mandate the sale of iodized salt and other iodine-fortified food products for this reason.
Supplementing iodine in food is the single most effective and affordable means of reducing the incidence of hypothyroidism, infertility and cretinism in the population. And such supplementation is absolutely essential for people living far away from the coast.
For those who restrict their salt intake, sea vegetables are another important source of iodine. Kelp is an excellent example of sea vegetables taken for their iodine content.
Where iodine cannot be adopted into the diet, iodine dietary supplements can be taken to improve the level of this essential mineral.
However, care must be taken when taking iodine for hypothyroidism. It is important to constantly monitor the levels of the thyroid hormone during iodine supplementation because there is only a thin line separating a euthyroid state (normal thyroid levels) from hyperthyroidism.
Furthermore, iodine is not the magic pill for every case of hypothyroidism.
Iodine supplementation only works when the cause of hypothyroidism is low levels of the mineral. In hypothyroidism cases due to other causes, iodine supplementation can actually worsen the patient’s condition.
For example, when hypothyroidism is caused by autoimmune thyroid disorders or low levels of TSH, giving the patient more iodine will only cause iodine toxicity.
Therefore, it is important to determine if a hypothyroid patient also suffers from iodine deficiency before recommending this supplement.
Besides iodine, selenium is another essential mineral needed for proper thyroid functioning.
In fact, the thyroid gland contains more selenium than other body parts and during selenium deficiency, the body meets the selenium needs of the thyroid even before it sends selenium to the brain.
The body uses selenium to make selenoproteins, a group of antioxidant enzymes required for different biochemical reactions.
The thyroid gland needs 11 different selenoproteins to make T3 and T4 and to also function properly. For example, the selenoproteins making up a family of enzymes called iodothyronine deiodinases are required for the conversion of T4 to T3.
This conversion is important for 2 reasons. First, T3 is the more active of the two thyroid hormones. Secondly, 80% of the T3 found in the body are made from T4.
However, the benefits of selenium to the thyroid extend beyond increasing the amount of T3 produced.
Selenium is also known to prevent some of the presentations of iodine deficiency. Iodine deficiency causes severe hypothyroidism only when it is followed by selenium deficiency.
For example, selenium deficiency is required before iodine deficiency can cause cretinism. In addition, selenium prevents the formation of goiter. However, goiter is not the only thyroid presentation worsened by selenium deficiency. Other conditions that get worse without selenium include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ hypothyroidism.
Because the relationship between the two minerals are intertwined, selenium supplementation is regularly recommended along with iodine supplementation for hypothyroid patients with iodine deficiency.
Selenium, T4 and Reverse T3
Recent clinical studies have also established that selenium reduces the serum levels of T4 and reverse T3. This effect is important for a number of reasons.
First, high serum levels of T4 means that its conversion to T3 is low. Since T3 is the bioactive thyroid hormone, high levels of free T4 can be an indication of hypothyroidism.
Secondly, T4 production is accompanied by the release of hydrogen peroxide in the thyroid gland. Therefore, if T4 levels are high, it follows that the thyroid gland may be under considerable oxidative stress. By reducing T4 production, selenium prevents the oxidative destruction of the thyroid gland.
Thirdly, reverse T3 is an antithyroid hormone. It works by blocking the effects of T3.
Therefore, a high level of reverse T3 is another indication of hypothyroidism. By reducing the amount of reverse T3, selenium ensures that more T3 is produced from T4 (T4 can also be converted to reverse T3) and that the metabolic functions of the thyroid hormones remain unblocked.
Other minerals that contribute to thyroid functions include zinc and copper. These metals fulfil smaller roles but they are also important.
Zinc, for example, is required for the release of TRH from the hypothalamus.
Since TRH stimulates the release of TSH which then induces the thyroid to produce T3 and T4, zinc supplementation can also be used to treat hypothyroidism.
However, zinc competes with copper for absorption. When the zinc level rises, copper levels fall. Therefore, copper supplements should be given alongside zinc during hypothyroidism therapy. In addition, copper is an antioxidant that may help protect the thyroid gland from oxidative damage by reactive oxygen species.
Of all the vitamins, vitamin D is the most important one for thyroid functioning.
The “sunshine vitamin” mostly serves a protective role in this regard. Several studies have established the immunomodulatory property of vitamin D and how the vitamin protects the thyroid gland from autoimmune destruction.
One of the common causes of hypothyroidism is autoimmune attack on the cells of the thyroid gland. Once the specialized cells of the immune system destroys a considerable number of thyroid cells, the production of T4 and T3 permanently drops.
Therefore, vitamin D is important in the treatment of hypothyroidism caused by autoimmune factors. For example, it can prevent the development or stop the progression of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
In addition, vitamin D has also been proven to protect against thyroid cancers.
All of these benefits show that low vitamin D level is detrimental to thyroid functioning.
Vitamins A, C and E are the antioxidant vitamins, and they can also be used in the treatment of hypothyroidism.
These vitamins are not only essential for a long list of biochemical and physiological processes in the body, they are needed for the optimal functioning of antioxidant enzymes. Vitamin E, for example, works best when combined with selenium (selenium forms the antioxidant enzymes known as selenoproteins).
These vitamins can help mop up harmful free radicals and eliminate reactive oxygen species. Therefore, they can reduce the oxidative stress placed on the thyroid gland. This translates to improved thyroid functions and increase in the syntheses of T3 and T4 for hypothyroid patients.
Another essential supplement for hypothyroid patients is essential fatty acids group.
This include both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The essential fatty acid supplement to take must contain more omega-3 fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are useful in the management of chronic and autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism.
Amino acids are the building block of all proteins in the body including hormones such as T3 and T4.
With regards to thyroid hormones, the most important amino acid is tyrosine. This is because thyroid hormones are synthesized from tyrosine and iodine. Therefore, tyrosine supplementation can help increase the production of these hormones and relieve the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
To effectively treat hypothyroidism with these supplements, the best approach is to combine them. This will provide maximal benefits and a speedy resolution of symptoms.
There are various thyroid supplements containing different combinations of these natural remedies and by reading this article you should be able to choose the right one.
Thyax is an example of such thyroid supplements. It contains most of the remedies discussed above and then some other effective ones.
Supplements like Thyax are effective for treating different types of hypothyroidism including those caused by iodine deficiency and autoimmune attack on the thyroid. They are also safe and well tolerated.
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