The thyroid is a small but highly influential organ effecting many bodily processes. As such, dysregulation of the thyroid can cause a notable decline in wellness.
One of the most common sources of thyroid disruption is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. A possible, but often overlooked cause of Hashimoto’s is a deficiency of zinc. Being familiar with Hashimoto’s, understanding the role of zinc in its development, and learning how to improve zinc values may help you prevent or resolve Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s own immune system to attack the thyroid gland. This triggers chronic inflammation that damages thyroid tissue. As the thyroid becomes increasingly damaged, its capacity to produce regulatory thyroid hormones declines. Without enough thyroid hormone, numerous forms of malfunction may begin to develop throughout the body. This is exemplified by many symptoms including but not limited to:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Difficulty tolerating heat or cold
- Hair loss
- Hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, or tightness in the throat
- Menstrual irregularities
- Muscle and joint pain, weakness, or aching
- Panic attacks
- Unexplained changes in weight
Many symptoms of Hashimoto’s are shared with or overlap with other conditions. This can make it exceptionally difficult to correctly diagnose Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Perhaps the best way of identifying Hashimoto’s is a thorough thyroid assessment.
Properly testing for Hashimoto’s requires assessment of multiple hormones including TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). More importantly, a Hashimoto’s test must include thyroid antibodies like thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibody and antithyroglobulin antibody. If thyroid antibodies are elevated it is a clear indicator that an autoimmune thyroid condition such as Hashimoto’s has developed.
The Important Role of Zinc
There are many factors involved in the development of Hashimoto’s. Zinc deficiency being one of them. Zinc is an essential nutrient that functions as a catalyst for over 100 different enzymatic reactions. Through its participation in these and other processes zinc influences gut health, immune function, tissue regeneration, and thyroid activity.
Unfortunately, zinc deficiency has become a common problem. Studies estimate that up to 25 percent of the United States population is deficient in zinc. There are several conditions, medications, and lifestyle factors that may be contributing to this issue including:
- Absorption issues
- Birth control, proton pump inhibitors, and other medications
- Celiac disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Diets without adequate zinc (malnutrition)
- Excessive intake of alcohol, refined sugars, white flour, or other zinc-depleting foods
- Foods containing phytates (grains, legumes, nuts, seeds etc.)
- Genetic predisposition
- Iron supplementation
- Stress (increased cortisol)
The Connection Between Zinc and the Thyroid
Zinc deficiency is frequently seen among those with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s. This is no coincidence. A zinc deficiency can reduce gut health, impede hormone conversion, disrupt hormone signaling, reduce hormone receptivity, and encourage immune malfunction. Each of these factors contribute to thyroid malfunction and the development of Hashimoto’s.
Studies show that zinc deficiency is associated with greater intestinal permeability (also known as leaky gut) and increased susceptibility to infection. These factors are major contributors to Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune disorders. Fortunately, it is possible to improve intestinal permeability and junction integrity by restoring zinc values.
Zinc is integral for the conversion of inactive thyroid hormone T4 into the active form T3. A lack of zinc may result in reduced values of T3. Poor T3 levels encourage hypothyroidism and autoimmune issues while also slowing numerous bodily processes.
Zinc is used in the construction of TSH which regulates the production of thyroid hormone. A deficiency of zinc can result in a reduction of TSH and subsequent decline in thyroid function.
Reduced zinc values may contribute to poor hormone receptivity. T3 receptors in cells throughout the body require zinc to function properly. This means that even if there is enough T3, a zinc deficiency can block the cell’s ability to access and utilize it. Therefore, poor zinc values can result in Hashimoto’s and hypothyroid symptoms even if T3 values appear to be normal.
Irregular immune function is a critical component of Hashimoto’s. Studies show that low zinc values are associated with increased autoimmune activity as displayed through greater prevalence of thyroid antibodies. Furthermore, zinc deficiency may encourage allergies, recurrent illness or infection, and respiratory issues. Immune issues such as these can contribute to the development and continuation of Hashimoto’s.
Ways to Safely Increase Zinc Values
If a zinc deficiency is contributing to autoimmune thyroid disease, it is essential that zinc values be restored. Dietary improvements and supplementation are the two most common ways of resolving deficiency.
One of the best ways of naturally increasing zinc values is by eating more zinc-rich foods. Meats are the best source for dietary zinc. This is because the body can more easily extract zinc from meats than vegetables. Eating more of the following foods may help resolve zinc deficiency:
For those with dietary restrictions or limited access to the above foods, supplementation may prove to be a more effective option.
When done correctly supplementation can resolve zinc deficiency and by extension notably improve Hashimoto’s. Multiple studies show that Hashimoto’s and hypothyroid patients who supplemented with zinc saw improvement in T4 and T3 values, metabolic activity, and weight.
The recommended dose for those deficient in zinc is 30mg taken daily with food. Doses over 30mg should only be taken under close supervision as too much zinc can deplete other nutrients like copper and iron. After 30 days of supplementation, an individual’s zinc values, and dosage should be reassessed. It may take up to 60 days for the body’s zinc stores to be fully replenished but doing so should provide notable improvement of Hashimoto’s and general thyroid function.
Resolving Deficiencies to Restore Wellness
Hashimoto’s is a complex condition that involves many underlying factors. Studies have found that zinc deficiency can contribute greatly to the development and continuation of Hashimoto’s. This is likely due to the significant influence that zinc has on gut health, hormone activity, and immune function. Fortunately, it is possible to resolve zinc deficiency and thereby improve Hashimoto’s through dietary optimizations and supplementation.
If you are suffering from thyroid issues or autoimmune disease, talk to your doctor about testing for and resolving nutrient deficiencies.
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