Many recognize vitamin D as the “sunshine vitamin” because our primary method of acquiring it is by exposing our skin to direct sunlight. There are many benefits associated with vitamin D including better bone and heart health, improved hormone regulation, greater immune function, and enhanced memory retention. Conversely, a deficiency of vitamin D may increase the risk of serious health issues including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and chronic infection. Recent research suggests that poor levels of vitamin D may also increase the risk of developing an autoimmune thyroid disorder called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Understanding Hashimoto’s, the influence of vitamin D on its development, and methods of improving vitamin D levels may facilitate better treatment and prevention of this impactful condition.
What is Hashimoto’s?
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune thyroid condition that involves destruction of the thyroid gland. In the case of Hashimoto’s, the body’s own immune system is the primary source of damage. Hashimoto’s develops when the immune system misidentifies a protein in the thyroid gland as a threat. This triggers the release of thyroid antibodies to attack the thyroid. The result is destruction of thyroid tissue.
A damaged thyroid gland has difficulty producing the thyroid hormones necessary to maintain healthy bodily function. Reduced thyroid activity caused by Hashimoto’s is one of the leading causes of hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid. Because of this, Hashimoto’s patients often exhibit symptoms associated with hypothyroidism. However, as Hashimoto’s progresses and thyroid tissue continues to be destroyed, thyroid hormones are released resulting in temporary surges of the hormones. The sudden increases accelerate bodily function and triggers symptoms more often associated with hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid function.
Because of its unique influence on thyroid hormone prevalence, those with Hashimoto’s typically alternate between symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. However, patients ultimately reach a point of sustained and severe hypothyroidism due to the significant damage done to the thyroid.
The Connection Between Hashimoto’s and Vitamin D
Studies show that a lack of vitamin D may allow for excessive and imbalanced immune activity that may contribute to the development of autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s. Therefore, decreased levels of vitamin D may be a useful marker or warning sign of Hashimoto’s.
Recent findings suggest that those with autoimmune thyroid disease are likely to have reduced levels of vitamin D. One study found that 72 percent of participants with autoimmune thyroid disease were deficient in vitamin D while only 31 percent of the healthy control group presented reduced levels. Another study found that 85 percent of participants with Hashimoto’s had reduced levels of vitamin D and elevated thyroid antibodies. This data suggests that vitamin D deficiency may be indicative of underlying thyroid dysfunction and irregular immune activity.
A Chinese study found that, when compared to a control group, patients with autoimmune thyroid disease had lower levels of vitamin D. Furthermore, participants with elevated levels of TPO antibodies, a major indicator of thyroid autoimmune disease, had exceptionally low vitamin D3 levels. This led researchers to conclude that deficiency of vitamin D is associated with increased levels of thyroid antibodies, which increases the risk of autoimmune thyroid disease. Uncovering this potential link between vitamin D and Hashimoto’s allows for new and potentially impactful approaches to treatment.
Increasing Vitamin D to Prevent and Treat Hashimoto’s
There is a growing population of the medical community who believe that improving or optimizing levels of vitamin D in Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune patients may be hugely beneficial. In fact, many integrative and holistic physicians already recommend that autoimmune patients maintain elevated vitamin D levels near the 75th percentile or higher.
Fortunately for Hashimoto’s patients, there are multiple ways to improve vitamin D levels. Perhaps the most effective approaches are increasing dietary intake, greater exposure to sunlight, and healthy supplementation.
Because there are few natural foods containing a high volume of vitamin D, improving dietary intake of vitamin D is unlikely to resolve an existing deficiency. However, eating more foods containing natural vitamin D does improve levels and may help prevent future deficiency.
The following foods are good sources of vitamin D and are listed in highest concentration to lowest:
- Cod Liver Oil
- Tuna fish
- Fortified orange juice
- Fortified milks
- Fortified yogurt
- Beef Liver
- Fortified cereals
Vitamin D is fat soluble. Therefore, eating healthy fats along with vitamin D improves its absorption and utilization.
Enjoy the Sun
Spending time in the sun is one of the best methods of increasing the body’s natural production of vitamin D. Experts typically recommend being in direct sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes daily without sunscreen. For those with darker skin, additional time may be required to effectively penetrate the natural melatonin present in the skin.
Those who are concerned about skin damage due to sun exposure may apply sunscreen to the hands and face but leave the limbs unprotected and exposed to sunlight. This allows enough surface area to trigger vitamin D production. In situations where natural light is limited, such as during the winter months, supplementation may be the best option for improving vitamin D levels.
Supplementing with Vitamin D may prove to be an effective method for preventing and treating thyroid disease. When selecting a vitamin D supplement look for a product that contains vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. This form of vitamin D is produced naturally in the body and is more easily converted and utilized. It is important to carefully read the IU per dose of vitamin D supplements to acquire the appropriate doctor recommended dosage for your individual situation.
The upper limit of the recommended daily amount of vitamin D for adults is 4,000 IU. However, those who are deficient or experiencing autoimmune dysfunction may require substantially more. Speak with a doctor before supplementing heavily with vitamin D.
Defend Against Hashimoto’s with Vitamin D
In the United States, an estimated 40 percent of men and 50 percent of women have suboptimal levels of vitamin D. Furthermore, nearly 25 percent of all adults have severe vitamin D deficiency. As discussed above, reduced levels of vitamin D may increase the risk of developing autoimmune disorders and thyroid issues such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Therefore, improving vitamin D levels or resolving an existing deficiency through healthy diet, sun exposure, and supplementation may prove to be greatly beneficial for improving wellness.
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