Bogged down by fatigue, brain fog and added weight? Your thyroid could be starving for the mineral selenium. The gland relies on selenium to issue forth a hormone that boosts energy, lifts mood, speeds metabolism and even helps hair grow thicker! When selenium is in short supply, the thyroid becomes sluggish — and the rest of your body does too! And when you supplement with a specific form of selenium called selenomethionine, which costs as little as 20 cents a day, thyroid health dramatically improves. Keep reading to learn what doctors have to say about this and how selenium helped one woman heal her energy-sapping thyroid problem.
What does the thyroid do?
Deep in the lower part of your neck is a butterfly-shaped gland that produces a hormone that influences every cell, tissue and organ in the body. It’s the thyroid gland, which is involved in nearly every bodily function, affecting your metabolism, weight, energy as well as your mood, heart rate, digestive health, body temperature regulation, brain health and even bone health.
The thyroid gland works its physiological magic primarily through two hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The majority of hormones produced and released by the thyroid gland consists of T4, but T3 is more potent and is the active form of the hormone. Much of the T4 released by the thyroid gland is converted to T3 in peripheral tissues. The main actions of thyroid hormones:
Keeps your metabolism humming along: Thyroid hormones increase the rate at which cells produce energy, which is known as the basal metabolic rate. These hormones additionally stimulate the transformation of carbohydrates into energy (i.e., so they don’t get deposited as body fat.)
Ensures that your nervous system stays regulated: Thyroid hormones impact a wide range of other physiological processes that impact the nervous system and specifically mood. Studies have found that as many as 40% of people who suffer from clinical depression also suffer from subclinical hypothyroidism (which is a technical way way of saying “a slightly slowed-down thyroid”).
Maintains an ideal heart rate: Thyroid hormones increase heart rate, cardiac contractility, and cardiac output. Hypothyroidism, which is associated with a decrease in release of thyroid hormones, can affect the heart and circulatory system in a number of ways. Insufficient thyroid hormone slows your heart rate. Because a lack of thyroid hormones also makes the arteries less elastic, blood pressure rises in order to circulate blood around the body. Elevated cholesterol levels, which contribute to narrowed, hardened arteries, are another possible consequence of low thyroid levels.
Makes sure your body remains at the right temperature: As metabolism speeds up, so body temperature rises. And so by increasing metabolic rate, thyroid hormones also make you feel warmer. But researchers think it may be more than this: In animal research, thyroid hormones have been shown to relax blood vessels, which also helps to warm the extremities like hands and feet.
How common are thyroid problems?
Yet most of us don’t give our thyroid gland a thought — until something goes wrong. “People find out how important the thyroid is when it doesn’t function properly,” Christian Nasr, MD, division chief of Endocrinology for the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine told First for Women. “It can happen so slowly that they don’t realize it.”
And thyroid problems are more common than many people realize: An estimated 20 million Americans, most of them women, have a thyroid disorder. And yet as many as 60% of them don’t realize it, according to the American Thyroid Association. One women in eight will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime, according to the ATA.
What are the symptoms of a slow thyroid?
“Almost all of the symptoms of hypothyroidism [an underactive thyroid] are non-specific,” explains Laura Ryan, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University in Columbus. As a result, a woman may blame stress and aging for the symptoms instead of considering her thyroid. Below are the top 10 symptoms of a sluggish thyroid:
- Weight gain
- Blue /depressed moods
- Memory lapses
- Muscle or joint aches
- Hair loss
- Diarrhea or constipation
What is selenium?
Selenium is an essential trace element (also known as a trace mineral) that’s critical for many bodily functions, including protecting the body from oxidative stress and so functions as an antioxidant. Plants take up three forms of selenium from the soil — selenoamino acids, selenomethionine, and selenocysteine. When we eat the plants, we absorb the mineral into our bloodstream where it does its good work.
The connection between selenium and slow thyroid
“Selenium is absolutely necessary for healthy thyroid function. The active form of thyroid hormone can’t be produced in proper amounts unless selenium levels are adequate,” explains Ken Berry, M.D., author of Lies My Doctor Told Me. Indeed, a study in the Journal of Clinical Metabolism, people with low levels of the mineral were 69% more likely to suffer from low thyroid function.
Deficits in selenium can also can cause a thyroid-draining immune system response, notes Ridha Arem, M.D., founder of the Texas Thyroid Institute. “When selenium is low, the immune system starts attacking organs, particularly the thyroid gland,” he explains. The result, according to findings in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: Risk of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the most common cause of thyroid slowdowns, increases by 47%.
What’s more, selenium is needed to form selenoproteins that protect the thyroid from cell-damaging oxidation. In fact, authors of a report in the journal Inflammopharmacology dubbed the selenium-dependent proteins “antioxidant warriors” for their powerful ability to defend the gland. And in a European Journal of Endocrinology study, women with healthy levels of selenium were 80% less likely to suffer from thyroid damage than their low-selenium counterparts.
Top causes of thyroid-draining selenium deficits
“Selenium deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies I see,” asserts thyroid expert Izabella Wentz, PharmD. The National Research Council maintains that getting 55 mcg of selenium daily safeguards against deficiency. But experts reporting in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined optimizing levels of the mineral required 105 mcg per day — nearly twice as much! That can be tough to achieve through diet alone, due to the following reasons:
Soil levels of selenium have become depleted
Selenium enters the food chain through plants, which get selenium from the soil they’re grown in. But the amounts of selenium in soil can vary widely from region to region. That’s why a report in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology found selenium concentrations were significantly lower in people who lived in the southern and northeastern United States than in those in the Midwest.
Processed foods are stripped of selenium
Levels of selenium found naturally in foods can dip when they’re processed. In a Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry study, refining grains lowered their selenium levels by as much as 29%. And as authors of a report in the journal Molecules point out, heat processing of grains, beans and leafy greens can decrease the amount of selenium that’s absorbed and utilized by the body by more than 50%. No wonder a study published in PLoS One found diets high in processed fare increased the risk of selenium shortfalls by 97%.
Digestive disorders trigger selenium malabsorption
Inflammation produced by irritable bowel disease (IBD) can damage the intestines to impede selenium absorption. A study in the journal Clinical Nutrition determined selenium was 32% lower in people who suffered from Crohn’s disease compared to their healthy counterparts. Plus, scientists in the journal Gut Liver found 31% of patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis were selenium-deficient.
And ironically, the diets folks adopt to avoid distressing GI symptoms can deprive them of selenium by eliminating sources of the mineral such as grains, meats and dairy. As Wentz points out: “Often, an attempt to find a more gut-friendly diet — for example, a gluten-free plan — only further lowers a person’s selenium intake.”
How to boost selenium for your thyroid health
Lifting your selenium levels revs the thyroid to boost energy, mood and metabolism almost immediately. And the strategies that do the trick are easy. Simply:
1. Taking selenomethionine can heal your thyroid
Researchers reporting in the journal Endocrinology, Diabetes and Nutrition found that thyroid function normalized in patients with sluggish thyroids who supplemented with the mineral for 16 weeks. What’s more, a study in the Journal of Nutrition and Health Science found selenium supplementation improved thyroid function to increase fat-burning by 101%.
And in a survey of more than 2,000 adults with slow thyroids, Wentz found that 58% experienced improvements in energy and 48% experienced improvements in mood after supplementing with selenium. “My clients typically report that they no longer have panic attacks, they have fewer heart palpitations and they lose less hair,” says Wentz, who saw her own frequent panic attacks vanish after taking selenium. “Most women see symptoms start to improve within five days,” she adds.
To shore up stores, Sanul Corrielus, MD, CEO of Corrielus Cardiology in Philadelphia, recommends taking 100 to 200 mcg daily, and opting for a product that contains selenomethionine, a form of the mineral the body caan readily use. One to try: Swanson Premium Selenium L-Selenomethionine 100 mcg (Buy on Amazon, $9.79 for 200 capsules, which turns out to be 20 cents a day!) For best results, take your supplement on an empty stomach. “Foods can interact with the absorption to selenium, says Wentz. “In my experience, the clients who took a selenium supplement on an empty stomach experienced more symptomatic improvements.”
Note: Since too much selenium can trigger nausea, hair loss and other symptoms of toxicity, check with your doctor before supplementing.
2. Enjoy foods high in selenium to heal your thyroid
Dr. Berry recommends including selenium-rich options such as beef, poultry, fish, seafood and egg yolks in daily menus. (Tip: If you’re a fan of tuna fish, choose yellowfin tuna when possible. It’s up to 155% higher in selenium than albacore.)
Brazil nuts are a stellar selenium source, too. In fact, they’re considered the world’s most selenium-dense food. But the amount of selenium in the crunchers can vary wildly based on where they were grown. Indeed, while the average nut contains 96 mcg of the mineral, findings in the journal Chemosphere reveal they can contain as much as 202 mcg. per nut. As a result, you could get more than the safe upper limit of 400 mcg. from just two nuts. That’s why Aviva Romm, M.D. suggests thinking of Brazil nuts as a “sometimes” food. “If you like Brazil nuts, eat them occasionally — but don’t treat them as a daily supplement because you could technically overdose on selenium.” In fact, if you take a selenium supplement, she suggests skipping your dose on days when you enjoy the nuts.
3. Supplement with vitamin D and selenium to heal your thyroid
Taking 2,000 to 4,000 IUs of vitamin D3 daily can help. The vitamin activates enzymes that convert thyroid hormone into its active form, according to research in the International Journal of Molecular Science. And a study in the journal Endocrinology suggests supplementing improves thyroid function by 136%. (Click through for more on vitamin D and fatigue and how the “sunshine vitamin” can send energy soaring.)
Selenium thyroid success story, Christine Street, 45
Why do I feel like I ran a marathon? Christine Street thought as she showered and got ready for work. “For months, I had been dragging myself through my days, with every little chore like getting the mail or making dinner feeling like a monumental task,” she recalls. “That was the new norm for me. Along with constantly being exhausted, I battled relentless brain fog. Focusing and concentrating on work, a television show or even doing laundry was nearly impossible.
Christine was tired all the time
“After several months, my tiredness grew, along with stress and agitation, which I assumed were due to always feeling so worn out. Like so many busy women, I explained away my health issues, telling myself they were due to my workload and the stress that came with it. But then one day, a headache and an achiness in my arm, along with unusual sweating and my heart racing like I’d just exercised for hours, triggered fear that I was having a heart attack.
“I had always been fairly healthy — outside of an addiction to all things bread and cheese and a few extra pounds. But knowing these symptoms could signal a heart attack, I was scared and went to the ER, where several tests all came back normal.
“Being told I was healthy wasn’t new: My primary care physician had repeatedly told me I was in great health. But as I talked to the ER physician about my job, he thought my symptoms were due to anxiety and stress. How can that be? I thought, dumbfounded, as I struggled to accept his diagnosis. But I was committed to following the ER doctor’s recommendation to manage stress, so I incorporated relaxation techniques like taking light walks, meditating and trying to get adequate sleep every night.
The moment Christine knew something was wrong
“My method worked until it didn’t when, in 2019, I noticed my leg started to shake when I drove, my hand shook at times and I wasn’t sleeping a full night. Fed up, I decided to change doctors and found one who actually listened to me. Blood tests indicated that my vitamin D levels were very low and that I also needed to see an endocrinologist, as my thyroid was going haywire. After more tests, the specialist determined I had hyperthyroidism and possibly borderline Graves’ disease. I had two options: medicine to essentially kill my thyroid, or surgery to remove my thyroid. Both options would leave me on medication for the rest of my life. I listened, took notes and told her that I’d make a decision. But I left knowing neither option was for me.
“A few weeks later, I informed the doctor that I wanted to try natural remedies and told her if they didn’t work, I’d revisit our discussion and her suggestions. She scoffed at the thought and reminded me that she’d been an endocrinologist for more than 20 years, adding that she knew of no natural remedy that would help. Then I started researching how the thyroid functions and what diet, nutrients and life changes would need to be made.
“To increase my vitamin D levels, my primary care physician recommended I supplement with 5,000 IU of vitamin D-3 daily for one month, then drop down to 2,000 IU of vitamin D-3 daily forever. I also started taking 200 mcg. of selenium five days a week because studies have found that it’s beneficial for thyroid health. And I started adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of oregano to my daily diet because I read that it relieves inflammation, which damages the thyroid.
Today, Christine feels like a new person!
“Six months later, the endocrinologist was mystified when blood tests indicated that my thyroid health had greatly improved. A blood test a few weeks later, showed my thyroid numbers were even better. Equally exciting was that my fatigue and brain fog were also no longer dictating how I lived my life. I was actually looking forward to those ‘little things’ that were previously so hard to do. I would wake up looking forward to showering and starting my day instead of trying to muster the energy to will myself to walk around my house.
“I started my health journey a little over three years ago and haven’t looked back. I am so thankful to feel better and that I advocated for myself and found a doctor who listened to me and didn’t dismiss my symptoms with a wave of her hand.”
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
For more thyroid-healing strategies, keep reading!