Thyroid Health Part-3: Gut Health, Treatment, & Nutrition

In this thyroid health series, we have gone over the Thyroid Basics (part-1) and the impacts of Stress, Cycles & the Pill (part-2) on thyroid function. Be sure to check those out for more helpful information. Here, in part-3, we will look into how the gut affects the thyroid and also the types of treatment for thyroid issues and nutrition-related care. I have had too many clients that cannot get to their doctor to test their thyroid, despite apparent symptoms, or to retest their thyroid, even if they are on medication. This should be a crime!

How does your gut health impact your thyroid health?

I could not end the thyroid series without addressing how the gut impacts our thyroid health. The gut-thyroid connection is often a vicious cycle since hypothyroidism causes poor digestion, which can contribute to poor thyroid function. The main ways in which your gut health can impact your thyroid health are:

  1. We need to digest and absorb the food we eat properly to get the nutrients required for optimal thyroid function.
  2. If parasites, pathogens, or yeast are present, thy act as a stressor on the adrenals and that stress can impact thyroid function (See Part-2 for more info).
  3. We need a healthy immune system, especially if autoimmune conditions are present, to keep out parasites/pathogens and avoid an attack on the thyroid.

90% of individuals with hypothyroidism have an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s, meaning their immune system is the root of their thyroid condition. Can you guess what affects your immune system? YOUR GUT! An essential step in any thyroid condition is to address your gut health.

What are the differences in conventional vs. functional treatment for thyroid health?

Another piece to the thyroid health puzzle is conventional treatment. Once individuals get treatment, their symptoms don’t always improve or only improve for a short period. Why does this happen? There is so much more to thyroid health than having enough thyroid hormone; that’s why I believe a functional approach gives the best results since you cover all of your bases.

The bottom line of the functional treatment for thyroid health is to find someone that will work WITH you on finding what more the needle most for your thyroid. Listed below are some of the functional approaches:

  • First things first have a FULL thyroid panel, not just TSH. A full panel consists of TSH, free T3, free T4, reverse T3, and antibodies.
  • Reduce stress. Our adrenals and thyroid are on the same axis and communicate with each other. If we have a lot of mental/emotional/physical stress, this will impact thyroid function.
  • Look at the gut as one way to reduce physical stress. If there is an imbalance, poor nutrient breakdown or absorption, or inflammation, that affects stress and, therefore, the thyroid.
  • Minerals are key! As previously discussed in this series, there are two critical minerals for thyroid health that could keep you from seeing success with medication.
  • Gluten can impact thyroid health due to molecular mimicry. If you have Hashimoto’s, eliminating gluten as much as you can is helpful. If you don’t, minimizing it is still beneficial. Try to focus on adding more nutrient-dense foods rather than eliminating foods. There are so many delicious and healthy foods that don’t contain gluten.
  • Prevent chemical disruption of halogens (bromine, chlorine, and fluorine). These have similar structures to iodine, meaning they compete with iodine in the body and disrupt thyroid function.

Which nutrients are essential for thyroid health?

If you recall from Parts -1 & -2 of this series, thyroid health is impacted by stress, our environment, medications, and so much more. Another vital factor of thyroid health and function is nutrition. Listed below are essential nutrients for thyroid health. Check out the image for where to find them!

  • Iodine.  One of the building blocks of thyroid hormones. Without enough iodine, your thyroid can’t produce T1, T2, T3, and T4. Supplementing with iodine should not be done unless under the supervision of a doctor or healthcare practitioner. You only need a tiny amount of iodine to support thyroid health. What I often see in practice is that minerals like calcium block our thyroid receptors. So no matter how much iodine we take, it doesn’t help and can make things worse. This is why I do an HTMA with the majority of my clients to look at mineral balance.
  • Selenium.  Supports the enzyme that converts T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) to T3 (active version). Without enough selenium, you can experience hypothyroidism symptoms.
  • B vitamins, especially B12.  It helps support the production of thyroid hormone.
  • Zinc.  Plays a role similar to selenium and supports the enzyme needed to convert T4 to T3. We also need zinc to trigger the hypothalamus, which monitors thyroid hormone levels.
  • Iron.  Supports the enzyme that converts iodide to iodine, and is also essential for converting T4 to T3. This doesn’t mean you need to supplement with iron. It’s best to test your levels, so you’re not guessing. Low copper leads to low iron. If you struggle with iron and have been recommended iron supplements, please consider an HTMA test and using things like organ meats and chlorophyll to boost copper. Iron supplements are extremely inflammatory. 
  • Vitamin D.  90% of those with Hashimoto’s are deficient in vitamin D. The primary role of vitamin D is bone health. Still, it also supports the immune system, which is crucial for those with autoimmune conditions. You want to test your levels and make sure you’re not guessing when it comes to vitamin D. It is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it is stored in the body; therefore, you can overdo it. Too much vitamin D and lead to excess calcium and also slow thyroid function, so it’s best to test and not guess. 

Which minerals best support thyroid health?

One of the best ways to support thyroid health is to ensure your minerals are well balanced. When it comes to the thyroid, much of the focus is on iodine and selenium, which are essential, but are not the full picture.

Calcium and your thyroid.  95% of calcium is in the bones and teeth. When calcium starts to move out of the bones and teeth, it causes problems. The main issue is that calcium binds to iodine receptors and impacts the use of thyroid hormone in the body.

I see high calcium on many HTMA tests, which means calcium isn’t where it should be (in the bones and teeth) and is leaving through your hair–showing us that it’s likely binding to iodine receptors slowing down your thyroid function.

Symptoms of high calcium include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Muscle aches
  • Memory loss
  • Tendinitis
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Stiff joints
  • Weakness
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Constipation
  • Kidney stones

Potassium and your thyroid. Potassium is such an important mineral. It regulates blood pressure, maintains fluid balance and pH of the body, impacts nerve conduction of the heart, and dilates arteries. Potassium also has a significant impact on thyroid health because it sensitizes our cell to thyroid hormone. When we don’t have enough, this can also impair thyroid function.

Symptoms of low potassium include:

  • Allergies
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Low blood sugar
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Skin issues
  • Water retention

The best way to see if you have an imbalance is to do a hair mineral analysis or HTMA test. I do these with almost all of my clients since they are helpful for many reasons, especially those struggling with thyroid health or suspected thyroid dysfunction.

What areas to focus on for optimal thyroid health?

Thyroid dysfunction used to be thought of as requiring medication to fix either an over- or under-achieving thyroid. (I am not against medication–many of my clients use it). Luckily, now we have a better understanding of why the thyroid becomes dysfunctional and how to support it better. Nutrition, lifestyle (particularly stress), and gut health are what I believe have the most significant impact on thyroid health and toxic exposure. Let’s dig into each area!

  • Stress: mental/emotional/physical stress all impact our adrenals. Our thyroid plays a huge role in the stress response. Chronic stress can eventually lead to an underactive thyroid.
  • Nutrient needs: our thyroid requires specific minerals, like iodine, zinc, selenium, etc. to properly function. If we are not meeting these needs or undereating in general, this can impair thyroid function.
  • Digestive function: we need to properly break down and absorb our food to get the nutrients our thyroid requires. We also need enough stomach acid to keep parasites and certain bacteria from entering our gut.
  • Gut microbiome balance: if our gut bacteria are imbalanced, this creates a beneficial environment for parasites, pathogens, and yeast. An imbalance in gut bacteria creates inflammation, which can alert our immune system and affect our digestive capacity.
  • Toxic exposure: specific chemicals called halogens (bromine, chlorine, and fluorine) compete with iodine and bind to thyroid receptors, preventing thyroid hormones from working properly. Filtering fluoride and chloride out of your drinking and bath/shower water helps those with thyroid dysfunction.

I hope that you enjoyed this series of thyroid health.  If you haven’t read the entire series, I strongly recommend that you do, to get a full understanding of thyroid health.  If you enjoy this type of information, I highly recommend joining my weekly Feminine Periodical newsletter.

Photo by Eiliv-Sonas Aceron on Unsplash

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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