Could you be deficient in these two essential nutrients and not even know it?
Written by Dr. John A. Robinson
For those of you who have been diligently exploring the best nutrient strategies for your thyroid health, your research has likely brought you to things like iodine, selenium, tyrosine, and zinc. Iodine tops the list as one of the most important nutrients for the thyroid, as do the others, but there are two other nutrients that are not that often properly lauded with the accolades they deserve. These nutrients are also massively misunderstood in respect to their role in health and thyroid function but also highly misdiagnosed as being deficient in the first place. But misunderstood and misdiagnosed are two phenomena that spark me to dig deeper, which is why I am a thyroid disease advocate and why I am going to shed some much needed light on these nutrients for you right now.
Unusual Thyroid Nutrient Suspect #1: Magnesium
Now this really isn’t earth-shattering (or thyroid-shattering) news for some of you, but magnesium isn’t always at the top of the list for thyroid health. It’s often viewed as an after-thought and if it is prescribed, then the dose is often more of a maintenance dose that does not really improve body magnesium stores. Let’s dig into this now and see how magnesium not only helps your thyroid, but countless other mechanisms in your body.
The thyroid cannot function without magnesium. Here is a list of very important functions of magnesium and how it relates to your thyroid gland health.[i]
- Magnesium is responsible for converting the inactive T4 thyroid hormone into the active form of T3. This is extremely important because the metabolism of your body cells are enhanced by T3, not inactive T4.
- Magnesium deficiency is related to goiter, or an enlarged thyroid gland. Another important nutrient in preventing goiter is iodine, but magnesium is right there helping too.
- Magnesium helps you to make more T4 in the thyroid gland. Without magnesium, many of the thyroid enzymes that make thyroid hormone simply could not function.
Where is all the Magnesium?
We live in a calcium dominant and magnesium deficient society. Simply, we ingest many foods that have plenty of calcium but not a lot of magnesium. We tend to hear more about the importance of calcium supplementation than we ever do about magnesium supplementation, although that is starting to change. High amounts of calcium not only compete with your magnesium stores in your body, the excess intake of calcium has been associated with kidney stones and atherosclerosis.[ii] [iii] One of the reasons we are seeing the excess accumulation of calcium deposits is that we are not properly absorbing calcium due to being deficient in magnesium and even vitamin K2.
Where Do I Get Magnesium? How Much Do I Need?
Be sure to focus on magnesium-rich foods which include almonds, pumpkin seeds, chard, spinach, avocado, figs, and even dark chocolate. Unfortunately, the quality of most foods, even organic, do not contain consistently adequate amounts of minerals including magnesium. So supplementation is key to getting your magnesium stores up for your thyroid health.
For supplementation for your thyroid and general health, I suggest two different categories of magnesium, depending on whether you have constipation or not.
If you have constipation, then I recommend Magnesium Citrate at a dose of 400 mg to 1000 mg to relieve the constipation and start to increase magnesium stores. I’ve included links to high quality brands.
If you do not have constipation, but many of the other symptoms, then I recommend Magnesium Glycinate or Magnesium Taurate at a daily dose of 400 mg to 800 mg. These are two magnesium “amino acid chelates” that help you to increase magnesium stores and will not increase bowel motility for those that do not really need it.
Magnesium, Your Thyroid & The Bottom Line
The rest of your body benefits from magnesium too. In fact, there are over 300 different enzymatic reactions in your body and cells that require magnesium. When magnesium is deficient it leads to a host of problems:
- Thyroid problems (low or high)
- Muscle aches
- Tingling in the extremities
- Raynaud’s Syndrome
- Anxiety and depression
- Personality changes
- High blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
- To name a few…
Do those symptoms sound familiar to you? For many here at Hypothyroid Mom, they may be extremely familiar. It may be that many of you read that list of magnesium deficiency related signs and symptoms and discover that you have always thought it was related to your existing or suspected low thyroid condition. That still may be true. But it is also very important to note that the symptoms could be from a magnesium deficiency directly and/or hypothyroidism (low thyroid) from the magnesium deficiency. Either way, magnesium can help you and your thyroid.
Unusual Thyroid Nutrient Suspect #2: Vitamin A
Here is the second nutrient that is not only deficient in most patients with low thyroid, but is often avoided because of a huge misconception about what it is and how it can help you.
Along with the other important fat-soluble vitamins, D, E, and K, Vitamin A acts on the cells of the body like a hormone because it directly affects the DNA of the cell nucleus directing cellular protein production. It’s a fancy vitamin and has many important functions in your body including reproduction, eye function and vision, skin health, immune enhancement, and cellular growth.
Vitamin A and the thyroid has been highly researched and its deficiency is related to low thyroid issues and the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s thyroiditis:
- In a study done in 2012 with pre-menopausal women who were both obese and non-obese, 25,000 IU of retinyl palmitate daily was able to significantly reduce serum TSH levels and increase T3. Remember that the higher the TSH goes, the lower thyroid function may be, and T3 is the most potent thyroid hormone we have. This study showed that vitamin A alone was able to improve thyroid status, at least from a lab work standpoint.[iv]
- Another study demonstrated how Vitamin A supplementation can help reduce goiter (enlarged thyroid) and hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) in children who were also iodine deficient. In other words, the Vitamin A supplementation protected from thyroid problems even when iodine was deficient.[v]
- Vitamin A has been found to decrease autoimmune reactions in the body and therefore lessens the risk for thyroid autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.[vi] Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a very common reason why patients have low thyroid and it can complicate the treatment outcomes if you are not working with a doctor who understands the condition.
How Do I Know If I Am Deficient in Vitamin A?
Some of the potential symptoms or conditions related to Vitamin A deficiency can be:
- Thyroid disease
- Gastroenteritis or inflammatory bowel disease
- Poor digestion and absorption
- Frequent colds and upper respiratory infections
- Increased infertility in women
- Low sperm count in men
- Frequent miscarriage
- Vision problems
- Night blindness
- Dry eyes
- Dry hair
- Hyperkeratosis (dry, rough, scaly skin)
- Acne, particularly on the extremities
Sound familiar? Every one of these conditions or symptoms can be related to low thyroid (hypothyroidism). The thyroid is known as the “great pretender” because it either mimics other disease processes or is associated with them directly. Vitamin A can help either directly or indirectly with your thyroid and the related symptoms you are suffering with.
Where Should I Get Vitamin A?
The answer to this question starts off with understanding what REAL Vitamin A really is. Real Vitamin A is retinol, the active form of Vitamin A. Beta carotene, a very common precursor to retinol, is often mistaken as real active Vitamin A. But beta carotene must be converted into retinol and herein lies the real problem. Beta carotene, the inactive form found in plant sources such as the beloved “vitamin A” source of carrots, must be converted into active retinol. But here are some interesting facts about thyroid hormone and beta carotene conversion in the body. Firstly, thyroid hormone is needed to convert beta-carotene (and the other carotenes) into ACTIVE Vitamin A or retinol. And the readers of this article know the rampant issue of low thyroid creates a problem right off the bat for beta carotene conversion. Additionally, research has found that beta-carotene from raw carrots converts into active Vitamin A by a rate of only 3%. But cooking the carrots in oil (fats) increased the conversion to up to 39%.[vii]
This leads me to my next point about the best source for real Vitamin A and that is animal sources. Vegetables simply cannot keep up with Vitamin A demands because they need to be converted by the body. The best sources of real Vitamin A retinol are animal sources such as liver, particularly fermented cod liver oil, raw dairy, and cultured butter. A great brand for cultured butter is Organic Valley which can be found at Whole Foods. Raw milk is sometimes challenging to find, depending on the region. It is very important to explore the Weston A. Price Foundation and their Real Milk Finder. In Arizona, I get my raw milk from Healthy Habits Food Stores in Phoenix, where they obtain it from a local dairy. It’s delicious and I highly recommend it! These sources have a low likelihood of toxicity due to the presence and balance of the other fat-soluble vitamins D, E, and K. It is very important to balance real Vitamin A retinol with adequate amounts of these vitamins, particularly Vitamin D.
The landscape out there for those suffering with thyroid problems is a vast and rocky desert at times, but filled with the occasional oasis of wisdom. I hope this article stands as an oasis of simple wisdom for you and a reminder that there are answers for you, there are advocates for you, and there are doctors who will listen. Keep exploring and realize the answers are sometimes very elegantly easy.