Your thyroid gland is an important hormone-producing gland, playing a vital role in your metabolism, growth, and bodily development. The thyroid gland releases thyroid hormones into the bloodstream which help your body with many functions, including metabolic rate of all bodily systems, body temperature, cardiac output, reproductive functions, and more.
The functioning of the thyroid gland is controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain. These tell the thyroid gland to produce more or less thyroid hormones, depending on the needs in the body at a given time. The two major thyroid hormones are thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). T4 is an inactive form that can be converted to the active T3 form. This conversion process happens mainly in the liver, gut, and a few other tissues. Active thyroid hormone regulates the rate at which your body uses calories, or energy.
If your body is in need of more energy under certain conditions – for example, during pregnancy – the thyroid gland produces more hormones. Your thyroid also manages your overall metabolism.
Problems with thyroid function or output are relatively common, with up to 7% of the U.S. population experiencing imbalances in thyroid hormones. Such issues are usually treated through medication, but there’s evidence to suggest that nutrition, lifestyle, and dietary supplements can also be part of the solution. In what follows, you can learn more about which nutrition supplements can be good for your thyroid health.
Selenium is a mineral that’s necessary for your thyroid’s hormone production, and it protects the thyroid from oxidative stress-related damage. A selenium deficiency can contribute to thyroid issues, as selenium is necessary for the thyroid to convert the thyroxine (T4) hormone into triiodothyronine (T3), which is the active form of the hormone. Maintaining adequate selenium levels – whether through diet or supplementation – is necessary for thyroid health and your body’s overall health. Some foods rich in selenium include eggs, sardines, tuna, legumes, and Brazil nuts. Consult with a medical professional before taking a selenium supplement, as high levels can lead to other health problems.
Like selenium, zinc is necessary for your thyroid's production of hormones. You need a good concentration of zinc in order to ensure adequate levels of the thyroid hormones T3, T4, and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). A study showed that zinc supplementation has a positive impact on thyroid hormone levels, particularly T3, and that it also had a positive impact on the resting metabolic rate.
Iron is a mineral that you can find naturally in many foods, while being widely available in supplement form. When it comes to thyroid health, iron is essential, as it’s necessary for the thyroid to convert T4 into T3 hormones. Studies have shown that iron deficiency can be associated with thyroid dysfunction. It’s important, though, to consult a medical professional before starting an iron supplement, as high levels are bad for your body. You won’t get toxic levels of iron from eating foods naturally containing iron, however.
As far as we know, iodine has one known rule in the body – and that’s to support thyroid function. T3 and T4 hormones both contain iodine, and studies have shown that iodine deficiencies can lead to thyroid problems. Some foods rich in iodine include:
Vitamin D is an important vitamin for many reasons, including its role in strengthening our bones and promoting the growth of our cells. What you may not know, though, is that vitamin D is also important for thyroid health. Studies have shown that vitamin D deficiencies can negatively affect thyroid function and are more common in people with low thyroid function. You can up your vitamin D intake from sun exposure, some foods (where vitamin D is either added or naturally present), or in supplement form. Consider measuring your levels periodically.
A healthy gut is good for your immune system and may even be important for thyroid function. About 20% of thyroid hormone conversion to the active form occurs in the gut, with the help of gut bacteria. Probiotics can be hugely helpful to gut health, ensuring the presence of healthy gut microbiota. Indeed, preliminary animal studies show that probiotic supplementation can have benefits for your thyroid hormones by increasing the bioavailability and uptake of micronutrients and trace elements needed for healthy thyroid function. Additional studies involving healthy humans are needed to understand which strains of probiotics and the proper dose.
Diindolylmethane (DIM) supplements are most commonly used to address hormone imbalances among women, with the most notable imbalance being estrogen dominance. Excess estrogen can increase thyroxine binding globulin, a protein that decreases available thyroid hormone in the body. DIM is also found naturally in cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower. Any thyroid concerns should be addressed with your doctor who can do proper testing and create the best plan for you.
Ashwagandha is what we call an “adaptogen” – a natural substance believed to help boost the body’s resistance to physical, environmental, and emotional stressors. Stress is a known modulator of thyroid hormone regulation. Ashwagandha has been celebrated for its therapeutic qualities in the traditional practice of Ayurvedic medicine for over 3,000 years. It has many health benefits, including its ability to help optimize thyroid hormone levels in healthy individuals. The pilot study had participants take ashwagandha root extract for 8 weeks and suggests that the outcomes were mainly due to ashwagandha’s ability to regulate the HPA axis and manage cortisol levels while managing stress. Initial findings are promising and additional studies with a larger sample size and longer duration are warranted.
B vitamins support the conversion of food into usable energy in the body. Deficiencies in B vitamins are common in people with thyroid issues and can affect thyroid functioning. Vitamin B12 is generally lower in those with blood markers of reduced thyroid function. B12 is lower in those with thyroid disorders, due to multifactorial reasons. You should talk to your doctor about measuring your thyroid levels first to ensure your levels are adequate before starting any supplementation.
Omega-3 fatty acids, or often just called “omega-3s”, are a type of fat that is essential for survival. They are strongly associated with supporting cardiovascular, brain, and eye health. These healthy fats can become part of cell membranes, which may help favorably alter thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) receptor activity and thyroid hormone regulation.
Omega-3s are naturally found in fatty fish and seafood in the essential EPA and DHA forms, as well as in plant foods as the ALA form that can partially convert to the essential forms. Supplements are also an excellent way to get omega-3s.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that acts as a cofactor in over 300 processes in the body including energy production. That’s a lot of pressure on this mineral! Although it is a highly needed nutrient, most people do not get enough in their diet. A 2003 study%20among "2003 study") found that the majority of the US population of adults do not get enough magnesium through their diet to meet the minimum daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). On top of poor dietary intake, magnesium depletion can occur with stress. Increasing intake of foods rich in magnesium, such as pumpkin seeds, tuna, dark leafy greens, and nuts, or taking a magnesium supplement may help meet your needs.
Severely low levels can impact thyroid function since magnesium is needed as a cofactor to convert T4 to T3 active thyroid hormone. Magnesium is also needed for metabolizing vitamin D, which we know is also important for thyroid health. You can have your blood levels of magnesium checked, but red blood cell (RBC) levels of magnesium may be a more accurate measure of true levels of magnesium available in the body.
L-tyrosine is a key amino acid needed to make dopamine and norepinephrine. It is considered a non-essential amino acid since it can be made from another amino acid in the diet called phenylalanine. Tyrosine is involved in thyroid health as an amino acid that acts as a precursor for thyroid hormones, combining with iodine to help synthesize thyroid hormones.
One of the main benefits of L-tyrosine is its ability to replenish levels of catecholamines in the brain. By this mechanism, supplementation with tyrosine has been shown to enhance working memory when experiencing stress.
Eating enough protein-rich foods is a great way to get tyrosine in the body.
Turmeric is a popular yellow spice known for its health benefits mainly, due to its active compound curcumin. The antioxidant-like properties of curcumin can support thyroid function by managing oxidative stress, which can impact thyroid gland function. An animal study found that turmeric supplementation resulted in increased thyroid hormone levels. Additionally, the curcumin compound is known to support gut health as well as modulate the body’s immune response, both of which can impact thyroid health.
Bladderwrack is a seaweed that has been traditionally used as a natural remedy to support thyroid health, particularly in cases of reduced thyroid function. Perhaps this seaweed’s most promising benefit for thyroid health is that it is rich in iodine, a mineral crucial in the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Bladderwrack also contains an antioxidant called fucoxanthin and others that can help reduce oxidative damage that could impact the thyroid gland. Of note, clinical studies on bladderwrack are limited, and it is best to avoid this seaweed if pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid overdosing on iodine.
Guggul is a gum resin obtained from the Guggul tree native to India and other parts of Asia. It has been used for centuries in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to support various aspects of health, including thyroid function. It contains active compounds called guggulsterones have been shown in animal studies to boost thyroid function. While preclinical research shows some promise, there is not much clinical research to understand this in humans.
There is stronger research, however, for guggul in promoting cardiovascular health by maintaining healthy cholesterol levels already in normal range. It is best to avoid taking guggul if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen that can help you feel energized and alert. The active compound called salidroside that is prevalent in species of Rhodiola has demonstrated thyroid supportive effects. Rhodiola’s adaptogenic properties can also support thyroid health indirectly. Studies have shown that rhodiola rosea can help manage regulation of the stress hormone cortisol, which has a known impact on thyroid function. By modulating cortisol levels, Rhodiola rosea may promote a healthier balance in the body's stress response system, potentially benefiting the thyroid. Due to lack of evidence on its safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding, it is best to avoid during those stages of life.
Forskolin is a plant compound derived from a coleus plant native to India that exhibits health benefits potentially impacting thyroid health. Animal studies have shown stimulating properties of forskolin on levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. While more human research is needed, the animal studies are promising for the use of forskolin in the cases where thyroid hormone production needs support. Forskolin is possibly unsafe during pregnancy, and there is limited research on its safety during lactation. So it is best to avoid using forskolin during either of those times. Always consider having blood work done with your doctor before trying herbs or supplements to support thyroid function.
There are some easy ways to boost your thyroid naturally. First of all, you can try maintaining a healthy balanced lifestyle. Exercising can promote and maintain healthy thyroid hormone production. It’s important, too, to ensure proper energy and nutrient intake, as insufficient caloric intake can slow down thyroid hormone production. You may also want to try to take steps to reduce stress. Stress causes your body to release cortisol, and too much cortisol can interfere with thyroid hormone production. Lastly, you can make adjustments to your diet – more on that below.
There are fortunately quite a few foods that are great for thyroid health. Some of these options are high in selenium, including:
Some iodine-rich options include:
Other foods that are good for your thyroid include leafy greens.
As a rule, you want to be careful with thyroid supplements when you’re taking thyroid medication. Thyroid medication should be taken away from other supplements. Consult with a medical professional before embarking on thyroid supplements.
Certain lifestyle factors can negatively impact thyroid health, including smoking, drinking alcohol, insufficient nutrient intake, too little or too much iodine intake, infections, and stress. Lack of quality sleep and regular exercise are also associated with reduced thyroid health.
Talk to your doctor about measuring your thyroid levels periodically. A basic thyroid panel might just include TSH and Free T4 levels. But a full thyroid panel can include TSH, Total T4, Free T4, Total T3, Free T3, Reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies. Periodically testing for a full panel of thyroid markers can help identify areas that may need support and can also get ahead of potential future problems. A great place to get thyroid lab markers tested is during your annual physical exam.
Symptoms of low thyroid function can include fatigue, weight gain, intolerance to cold temperature, dry skin, thinning hair, menstrual cycle irregularities, and fertility challenges. However, it is important to note that these symptoms may have origins from something other than thyroid function, so it is important to speak with your healthcare practitioner about how you are feeling and to identify root causes. Thyroid supplements may help, but you first want to be sure that you have identified if a thyroid issue might be present.
Your thyroid needs certain vitamins and minerals to be able to function properly. When your thyroid lacks the necessary nutrients, you may experience thyroid issues as a result. Additionally, lifestyle factors can impact thyroid health, and some dietary supplements may promote better thyroid regulation. There are steps you can take to help keep your thyroid healthy, including making lifestyle and diet adjustments, and consulting with a medical professional about the use of certain supplements.