Our body is mainly made up from carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. Other elements present in larger amounts are: calcium, potassium, sulphur, phosphorous, chlorine, sodium and magnesium.
We also need essential trace minerals. They are required in only small amounts and these are selenium, iodine, vanadium, manganese, iron, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, molybdenum, chromium, boron, silicon and arsenic.
Our bodies also need few other minerals in much lesser amounts, such as lithium. The total number of chemical elements that are absolutely needed is not known for any organism.
The main minerals thyroid needs to make hormones are: iodine, selenium, manganese, iron, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, chromium, potassium, sulphur, zinc and copper. Potassium is needed for conversion of T4 into the active form, T3. The production is also dependent on the abundance of tyrosine amino acid, vitamin B complex, A and C.
I would like to focus on the conditions of Graves’ disease (main cause of hyperthyroidism) and hypothyroidism.
Two main minerals thyroid needs to make hormones are iodine and selenium. Iodine is needed for making of thyroid hormones and selenium for protection of thyroid against oxidative damage that may occur as iodine is processed in the thyroid. Selenium is a part of enzymes which convert T4 hormone into T3 (the main bio-active) thyroid hormone in the thyroid gland and other tissues.
Therefore the balance of these two minerals is important, if you have too much iodine and not enough selenium, then you can damage thyroid cells, generating thyroid molecules. This can confuse the immune system of a genetically predisposed individual resulting in thyroid autoimmune disorder. Therefore people with thyroid autoimmune disorders (Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) might benefit from adequate selenium levels.
It might be beneficial to test selenium levels (urine test) and iodine (iodine loading test) in people with autoimmunity and thyroid problems as well as for people suffering from under active thyroid issues.
As mentioned previously, excessive iodine can be a problem for people low in selenium and genetically predisposed to Graves’ disease. In fact excessive iodine can trigger Grave’s disease. It has been reported that extremes of iodine consumption may trigger Graves’ disease (both lack and excess of it). Hyperthyroidism may be triggered by amounts greater than 150mcg/day in some sensitive people. It may be triggered by excessive ingestion of iodine containing food (seafood, sea vegetables and iodised salt), supplements containing iodine (such as kelp), some medications (like Amiodarone) and exposure to medical contrast dyes and surgical iodine. Also is someone is deficient in iodine and takes high dose of iodine, induced hyperthyroidism may develop.
No matter what got you there, once you are diagnosed with Graves’ disease, most literature recommends limiting iodine (not avoidance). Generally, it is regarded as pouring fuel on a fire. A minimum of 60 mcg of elemental iodine per day is required to make thyroid hormone. Recommended Daily Intake for adults is 150mcg and for children 90-120mcg. The general recommendation in the literature is not to exceed these amounts when a person has Graves’ disease. Iodine is an essential and important nutrient. It is used by the whole of endocrine system. Iodine seems to be very important for breast and reproductive system health. You need enough iodine but not too much. The exact mechanism of how iodine might trigger Graves’ is not known. Possibilities might include defects in iodine processing and selenium deficiency resulting in free radicals and cellular damage.
Some iodine deficient people with Graves’ disease respond well to iodine supplements (depending on their iodine level, selenium levels and individuality) when they have GD. Iodine deficient people may need to supplement with iodine but it needs to be done in a very careful and slow manner as indicated by a medical professional. However, I believe that selenium status needs to be checked and corrected first before iodine supplementation. If someone is deficient in Iodine, there is more possibility of damage to the thyroid by environmental pollutants and toxins (especially with low selenium intake). However, there is some debate whether it is the low selenium level, low magnesium and zinc and copper imbalances and not high iodine level that predispose people to GD.
Iodine in the diet usually comes in the form of a compound such as sodium iodide or potassium iodide (iodized salt often contains these forms of inorganic iodide). However, the main source of iodine is seafood. Sea food contains iodine, mostly in its molecular form, I2. Both I-(iodide) and I2 (iodine) forms are important for the body. Iodine is water soluble when Potassium iodide is present.
The effects of Iodine intake and GD process may be connected with coexisting selenium status as selenium seemed to play a protective role against iodine toxicity. People, who had low iodine diets in the past, might be more sensitive to an excess of iodine intake. Many areas in the world are iodine depleted, however Australia is not too bad in that respect. However, children and pregnant women are more vulnerable to iodine deficiency.
High iodine content foods would not be recommended in GD. Sufficient selenium in the diet is also important. One teaspoon of iodized salt contains around 150 mcg of iodine and therefore I do recommend being aware of how much iodized salt you are having when you have GD. According to Dr Sandra Cabot and Margaret Jasinska in their book: ‘Your thyroid problems solved, holistic solutions to improve your thyroid’, if you eat fish three times a week, (smaller varieties are lower in mercury) you are most likely getting enough of iodine. Meat, poultry and eggs also contain some iodine. Oysters are very high in iodine, best avoided.
It is important to know your iodine/selenium status. It is difficult to assess how much iodine one is ingesting. The best way to tell is by having the levels of iodine tested. Iodine loading test assesses iodine body levels. There is an increase of iodine excretion in urine during pregnancy.
24hr urine test can determine selenium deficiency. Selenium deficiency is common in people with Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It is important mineral for the formation of glutathione peroxidase, which detoxifies excess hydrogen peroxide in thyroid gland. Hydrogen peroxide is needed to oxidize iodine in order to make thyroid hormone. Excessive hydrogen peroxide may be a problem when not enough selenium (as it cannot be neutralized) and can damage healthy thyroid cells. Selenium intake can lower thyroid specific antibodies. Selenium has been used in Graves’ disease therapy. There are some studies indicating that it helps with eye problems connected to GD.
Selenium is important for detoxification of toxic molecules and is body’s best antioxidant. People with mercury toxicity (connected to Grave’s disease in some individuals) may be deficient in selenium. Selenium is also a major component of enzymes that convert T4 into the main bio-active T3 thyroid hormone and also convert T3 into T2 in the peripheral tissues. Selenium is important for DNA methylation and its deficiency may possibly trigger GD.
You can find selenium in Brazil nuts (2 Brazil nuts/day provide the recommended daily intake) as well as in organ meats, beef, mushrooms and sunflower seeds. People with thyroid autoimmunity and selenium deficiency might benefit from supplements as indicated by a medical professional. Usual dose is 70mcg/day. It works with vitamin E.
Too much supplemented selenium can toxic especially for pregnant women.
Other important minerals for people with Grave’s disease are: magnesium, calcium, copper (only in deficiency) and possibly others such as boron, lithium and iron. Calcium and Magnesium work together and should be in the right balance. Calcium needs to be added in supplement or diet when magnesium becomes effective.
Under active thyroid (not related to autoimmunity)
People with under active thyroid may be low in iodine as it is the necessary ingredient for the production of thyroid hormones. This can be due to diets low in iodine, toxins from the environment (such as perchlorate), some medications with bromine, bromine in food and excessive fluoride.
Selenium is essential for our body to convert T4 into T3, the most active form of thyroid hormone. It is also required for the health of the thyroid gland.
Zinc is required for the conversion of T4 to T3 and proper functioning of thyroid hormones at DNA level. Adequate levels of copper, iron and zinc are important for the thyroid gland and a person deficient in zinc will have imbalance in copper and iron. Vitamin A works with zinc so adequate levels of vitamin A are also needed. Zinc is plentiful in seafood (oysters, sardines) and meats. Split peas, whole grains and sunflower seeds are also good vegetarian sources.
Most people diagnosed with low thyroid may need to discuss possible supplement of these minerals with their doctor. Most underactive thyroid patients are prescribed thyroid hormone T4 (levothyroxine), however getting optimal levels of minerals and vitamins is also important. Adequate stomach acid is also important to absorb minerals and vitamins.
Reasons for an under active thyroid problems might be many. Low iodine and selenium are only tips of an iceberg.
T4 hormone can be made into T3 (active hormone) and Reverse T3 (inactive hormone) in the peripheral tissues. Some people may have increased production of Reverse T3 instead of free T3. Reverse T3 can block thyroid hormone receptors. The blood test result would show the right levels of free T4 and free T3 but a person may have many hypothyroid symptoms as free T3 (the active hormone) would not work because its receptors within cells are blocked by reverse T3.
The reason for problems with a proper T4 into T3 conversion can be many. They can be: inflammation, illness and autoimmune antibodies, such as TPO antibodies (seen in autoimmune thyroid disorders), low growth hormone, other hormonal imbalances, poor nutrition low in vitamins A, D, B, C, chromium, iodine, selenium, zinc and others, high sugar intake, low stomach acid, excessive soy intake, some medication (such as beta-blockers), heavy metals(especially mercury), birth control pills, environmental estrogen, obesity, toxins, certain pollutants, high stress, low protein intake, severe diet, liver problems and adrenal insufficiency.
Some of the possible solution (depending on a problem) may include: stress reduction, nutrition rich food, correcting stomach acid, adrenal support and detoxification.
- Dr Sandra Cabot, Margaret Jasinska ND; Your thyroid problems solved, holistic solutions to improve your thyroid, WHAS Pty Ltd, Australia, 2006
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Published online 2008 Jun.
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