by Dr. Will Cole
In many ways, your thyroid is queen of the castle, influencing how you feel, how you look, and how well your metabolism, digestion, and immune system function. It’s also no secret that thyroid problems are often misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed and that many underlying thyroid problems won’t show up on basic labs run by your conventional doctor.
That is why those of us in functional medicine dig deeper to consider the big picture in terms of how the thyroid works. For example, a conventional doctor may not consider that nutrient deficiencies can compromise healthy thyroid function, but nutrition is essential for a thyroid that does the important work of keeping you going. Here is my guide to the essential aspects of thyroid function and how to support each through nutrition.
Meet your Thyroid Hormones
Thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH, is released from your pituitary gland to communicate with your thyroid. For healthy, happy TSH, you need four things:
Great bioavailable sources of protein are wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, and blue and green algae.
2. Vitamin B12
A great source of B12 is grass-fed beef. Additionally, B12 can be found in egg yolk, salmon, and organ meats such as liver.
Dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale are good sources, as well as nuts and seeds (preferably soaked in water for a few hours then dried before eating).
Grass-fed beef is the highest food source. Shellfish like lobster, mussels, and oysters also contain zinc. Nuts and seeds are good plant-based options.
T4 is another thyroid hormone that is typically inactive in the body and has to be converted to T3 to be usable, except in your brain, which needs straight-up T4 to work optimally. For T4 production you need three essential nutrients:
The “4” of T4 represents four iodine molecules. The best iodine-rich foods are sea vegetables like dulse, kombu, nori, arame, and kelp.
2. Vitamin B2
The best sources for B2 are grass-fed liver and lamb. Mushrooms and greens are decent plant sources.
3. Vitamin C
Your thyroid needs to draw iodine in to make T4 through what’s called a symporter, which requires both vitamin B2 and vitamin C. The symporter won’t work unless you have these two nutrients! Oranges and red peppers are the best foods to get your vitamin C.
This is the more active, usable form of thyroid hormone, which is converted from T4. Think of T3 as your body’s gasoline.
Without selenium we won’t convert T4 to T3, and we make more of an unusable thyroid hormone that can actually block thyroid function. The best way to get your selenium is Brazil nuts. I suggest getting your selenium levels tested and eating two to four Brazil nuts (soaked in water for a few hours before eating) each day to get all the selenium you need.
Thyroid Receptor Site
In addition to the necessary thyroid hormones, you need healthy receptor sites for your hormones to work. Like a lock and key, hormones and their receptor site need to line up and function properly. To keep your thyroid receptor sites in tip-top shape, you need:
1. Vitamin A
Low levels of vitamin A and vitamin D can stop T3 from activating. Grass-fed liver and tuna are the highest sources of true vitamin A, which is only found in animal meat. Sweet potatoes and carrots are good sources for the plant-based vitamin A precursor known as beta-carotene.
2. Vitamin D
Responsible for over 200 genetic pathways, this sunshine vitamin is super important, especially when it comes to supporting thyroid hormone receptor sites. The best food sources of vitamin D are fatty fish like salmon, beef liver, and egg yolks. Even more importantly: Get out in the sun whenever you can!
You can use food as medicine to support your thyroid function.
Now that we understand what your thyroid hormones need to thrive, let’s put it into action! Here’s a sample meal plan to get all those nutrients into your day:
Breakfast: Thyroid Booster Smoothie
Lunch: Wild-Caught Salmon with avocado sauce + Brussels sprouts
Dinner: Probiotic Superfood Burger with greens + asparagus
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