The world of supplements is vast, and if you’re like most people, a bit confusing and intimidating to sort through all of the information. With approximately 29,000 supplements on the market today (just in the US) and around 1,000 more added to the mix annually (also just in the US), you’d hardly be to blame. [According to the FDA]
Whether you’ve been taking supplements for years “just because” or are asking yourself whether you should be, follow our Supplement Series for an overview of the whats, whys, and whos of individual supplements. (And please read our disclaimer at the end of this post.)
So, what is the thyroid anyway?
Glad you asked! The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that covers your windpipe (AKA your trachea). And assuming all is well and good with your thyroid, you shouldn’t be able to feel it.
The thyroid is responsible for sending out hormones, usually referred to as “thyroid hormones,” including T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine). These essential hormones aid in the production of adrenaline and dopamine, which have an active role in many physical and emotional responses.
Your thyroid also plays an important role in your metabolism and the way your body processes nutrients.
So, the thyroid and its hormones are pretty important.
What happens when something is wrong with the thyroid?
Given all of the thyroid’s responsibilities in the body (including breaking down proteins, absorbing carbohydrates and vitamins, and your physical and emotional responses), if something isn’t functioning correctly, you’ll feel it sooner or later.
Symptoms vary from condition to condition. For some, you may deal with an enlarged thyroid, weight gain or weight loss, or anxiety or depression. While some conditions need immediate attention, others may go unnoticed for years.
Common thyroid conditions
Let’s take a look at four of the most common thyroid conditions.
Translation: Your thyroid is underactive and doesn't produce enough of those crucial hormones.
Some symptoms to watch out for:
- Dry skin
- Slow heart rate
- High intolerance to cold
- Memory issues
- Inexplicable weight gain
- Increased depression
This diagnosis requires a hormone analysis, which usually measures your TSH levels. Depending on the results, your doctor may order more tests and prescribe thyroid hormone pills for treatment.
The cause is often unknown, but it can include Hashimoto's thyroiditis (more on this in a bit), radiation therapy, or surgery.
Translation: This happens when your thyroid becomes overactive. (The opposite of hypothyroidism.)
Common symptoms include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Feeling restless or anxious
- Unexplained weight loss
- Brittle hair and nails
Diagnosing hyperthyroidism will likely involve your doctor measuring your TSH and T4 levels to start and will sometimes lead to more tests for a diagnosis, such as taking radioactive iodine.
Don’t let the word “radioactive” scare you. This tracer test uses a small amount of radiation that is not associated with any dangerous side effects and measures how much iodine your body has absorbed (an overactive thyroid will absorb more than usual).
Radioactive iodine is often a treatment for hyperthyroidism, but it should only be taken under medical supervision. Other treatments can include antithyroid drugs or even surgery.
Translation: Your thyroid is enlarged, meaning you have a goiter.
Goiters are NOT cancer. They are caused by an iodine deficiency, which affects approximately 200 to 800 million people worldwide. Radiation exposure or certain medications could also lead to goiters.
Symptoms of goiters include:
- Swelling in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- A feeling of tightness around the neck
- Hoarse voice
Diagnosis involves a physical exam as well as blood work to test the thyroid hormones.
Treatment depends on the cause. Iodine supplementation is recommended when the cause of goiters is iodine deficiency. If goiters result from Graves' disease, for instance, treatment might include other medication besides iodine.
4. Hashimoto's thyroiditis
Translation: This is an autoimmune condition that happens when the body’s immune system starts attacking your thyroid.
Symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Mild weight gain
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Puffy face
- Irregular menstruation in females
Some people will have mild symptoms for years, which will cause them to go undiagnosed.
Obtaining a diagnosis may also prove difficult. Tests include analyzing T3, T4, and TSH levels, a physical exam, and an ultrasound. Because this is an autoimmune condition, abnormal antibodies may be present.
There is no treatment for Hashimoto's, but supplements, iodine, and even hormone therapy may help. It all varies on a case-to-case basis and will have to be discussed with your doctor.
What does iodine have to do with any of this?
Iodine is crucial to thyroid health. While some conditions aren’t influenced by it, you can be sure a long-term deficiency will have unwanted side effects.
Your body, especially the thyroid gland, quickly absorbs iodine and uses it to make T3 and T4. As we’ve already discussed, these two hormones are kind of a big deal when it comes to regulating your body's functions.
How much iodine you need varies with age, but also in different stages of life. Iodine also reduces the risk of goiters and can treat an overactive thyroid and even thyroid cancer.
Sources of iodine
Now that you know how important iodine is for thyroid health, it's time to look at the best sources of iodine. Here are some of the foods that are richest in iodine:
- 10 grams of seaweed have around 232 mcg of iodine
- 3 ounces of cod gives you about 158 mcg
- 1 cup of plain yogurt has 116 mcg
- 1 cup of low-fat milk has 85 mcg
- Enriched white bread has 185 mcg
- 1 large egg has 26 mcg
The introduction of iodized salt during the last century has made it easier to hit daily requirements. For instance, 1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt will give you about 76 mcg of iodine. Add a cup of plain greek yogurt, and you're already meeting the requirements for a person over the age of 14.
And as you’ve probably already guessed, supplements are another source of iodine to consider.
When to consider iodine or thyroid support supplements
While obtaining nutrients in food is usually your best bet (as you know by now if you’ve read our previous blog posts), there is a time and place for iodine or thyroid support supplements.
While these supplements are generally safe, it is important to remember it is best to talk to a doctor before starting a new supplement. So, keeping this in mind, who should consider iodine or thyroid supplements?
The first group is people with diets low in iodine. While it is true that hundreds of millions of people are deficient in iodine, it is also true this isn't an issue for most people in the USA or other developed countries. Iodized salt has greatly reduced this issue, but there are still people who may be at risk.
For instance, pregnant women, those who need a diet low in salt, and those who consume goitrogenic foods such as soy or cruciferous vegetables may need to consider a supplement.
A note about goitrogenic foods:
Goitrogenic foods contain goitrogenic compounds, meaning they can interfere with thyroid function and affect those who barely consume enough iodine to meet requirements. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid soy or cruciferous vegetables, but keep in mind a possible relationship between those foods and your thyroid. That exact relationship will depend on your unique situation.
People taking different medications or even those going through radiation therapy may also benefit from an iodine supplement.
Keep in mind that you can overdo it with iodine. Exceeding the recommended iodine doses can be a problem and has been linked to autoimmune conditions. That's why it is best to talk to your healthcare provider before using these supplements (and be careful when consuming seaweed, as it’s very easy to overeat and go over your iodine intake).
Other vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, selenium, vitamin B12, or manganese, support the function of the thyroid gland. For instance, a magnesium deficiency increases your risk of Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Zinc and selenium, on the other hand, may benefit those with thyroid cancer.
The bottom line
Your thyroid is responsible for many processes in the body. Your metabolism and your emotional and physical responses are all regulated by this powerful butterfly-shaped gland.
If something feels off and you believe your symptoms could be related to your thyroid, talk to your doctor! This may lead to blood tests, a physical exam, or even an ultrasound to assess your thyroid health.
And, of course, supplements can be an easy way to prevent or even treat thyroid conditions. If you and your doctor agree that an iodine and vitamin supplement would be appropriate for you, then check out our Thyroid Support Complex. All the ingredients are non-GMO, and they will help your thyroid function properly.
This blog post does not provide health or medical advice. This blog post is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health or medical advice. Before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate medical and healthcare professionals. We do not provide any kind of health or medical advice. The use or reliance of any information contained on this blog is solely at your own risk.