What are thyroid supplements, and who takes them?
Thyroid supplements are sold over the counter at pharmacies and nutrition stores. However, many of these products haven’t been tested — and they might not contain the nutrients you need for your thyroid. Learn more about which supplements are good for the thyroid, which are questionable, and how to tell the difference.
You must visit your doctor if you have a diagnosed condition and wish to take supplements along with your medication. If you’re considering vitamins, herbs, or other nutrients for your thyroid, read these descriptions of two common thyroid disorders to understand the differences in symptoms and the potential treatment options.
Hypothyroidism is typically thought of as a middle-aged woman’s disease. This population does develop hypothyroidism more than others, but anybody of any age and gender can have this condition. When you have hypothyroidism, your body will feel slowed down. Symptoms might include the following:
- Hair loss
- Puffy face
- Heavier periods
- Weight gain
- Chronic pain in muscles and joints
If you’re struggling with an underactive thyroid, you might wish to help alleviate fatigue and chronic pain with supplements. Most doctors prescribe a dose of synthetic thyroid medication to treat hypothyroidism.
This thyroid condition involves the gland producing too many thyroid hormones for your body. It’s often caused by the autoimmune condition Graves' disease, which causes your immune system to attack your thyroid. Symptoms might make you feel “sped up." You might notice the following symptoms:
- A racing heartbeat
- Hot flashes
- Trembling hands
- A faster metabolism that causes weight loss
- Eye dryness or bulging eyes
What supplements are good for your thyroid?
Most people don’t need thyroid supplements. In fact, experts recommend avoiding products that contain bovine glandular extract or high doses of iodine. If you wish to boost the health of your thyroid, consider the following nutrients first.
Most people can maintain their thyroid health by eating a balanced diet. If you have to eat a restricted diet (for any reason), your doctor might recommend you take a multivitamin to fill in the nutritional holes in your eating pattern. Look for a product that meets the daily value of nutrients like iodine and selenium. These two nutrients help the body produce thyroid hormones.
Don’t take more iodine than recommended (this is usually around 150 micrograms per day). Too much iodine can be very bad for your thyroid, leading to your body developing lasting health problems — including hypothyroidism.
Be cautious when taking calcium-containing multivitamins as well if you take levothyroxine for hypothyroidism. Multivitamins that contain calcium should be taken separately — at least four hours apart from levothyroxine — so that the calcium doesn’t interfere with the absorption of your medication.
If you’re female, you need around 18 milligrams of iron daily. If you’re male, you only need eight. Consider looking for food sources of iron such as lean red meat, shrimp, beans, leafy greens, and fortified cereal before taking a supplement.
As with calcium supplements, you should be careful to take any iron supplements (or multivitamins containing iron) four hours before or after your levothyroxine. Taking iron at the same time as levothyroxine can greatly reduce its effectiveness.
Turmeric, a popular South Asian natural medicine that’s been given to patients for thousands of years, is not a thyroid-specific supplement. However, many physicians and natural medicine practitioners recommend using it for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and heart disease.
Studies show that turmeric can be helpful for people with goiters (swollen thyroids). If you’ve ever had this condition or if you have hypothyroidism, speak to your doctor before adding turmeric to your daily routine.
Who should not take a thyroid supplement?
While taking specific nutrients isn’t always a terrible idea, you should exercise caution if you’re considering a thyroid health supplement that contains several ingredients. Don’t use this type of product if you fall into these categories.
You have (or think you have) a thyroid condition
It’s not always a good idea to pick a thyroid supplement off the shelf at random and hope that it will improve your health. Seek medical advice first if you have been diagnosed with thyroid disease. Supplements can interfere with your condition — and your medication — if you take them at the wrong time or the wrong dose.
If, on the other hand, you suspect a thyroid condition but haven’t been evaluated, don’t try to self-medicate. See your doctor for a blood test to get an accurate diagnosis first.
Avoid experimenting with new supplements when you're pregnant. Taking a prenatal vitamin, extra vitamin D, and extra iron if your doctor recommends it can be helpful for you and your baby’s development.
Thyroid conditions, though, must be treated by a professional — not a nutritional supplement — for your baby's health. Having thyroid disease in pregnancy predisposes your unborn child to several health risks, including poor brain development, problems with motor development, and even miscarriage. The good news is that many women can have healthy pregnancies with thyroid disease when managed correctly.
You aren’t sure what’s in your supplement
Many thyroid supplements contain high levels of iodine. Some even contain thyroid hormones that were sourced from cows. Studies have shown that because many supplements are unregulated, it’s nearly impossible to tell if what you’re taking matches the nutrition label on the bottle. Taking an inconsistent dose of thyroid hormones (and many other nutrients) could be dangerous to your health.
Are thyroid supplements safe with medication?
Maybe. Knowing which thyroid condition you have before choosing a supplement is important. Many products that are given names like “thyroid health” aren’t appropriate for a medical condition. If you’re taking levothyroxine for hypothyroidism, know that many supplements interfere with how well your body absorbs this medication.
Consider the following list of medications you should take care to space far apart from your dosage of levothyroxine:
- Antacids that contain aluminum
- Proton pump inhibitors that can reduce the availability of thyroid hormone in your bloodstream
- Medications for high cholesterol like cholestetyramine
- Antibiotics like ciprofloxacin
- Weight-loss drugs like orlistat
- Birth control pills that contain synthetic estrogen
- Other medications that may bind to levothyroxine, including but not limited to sevelamer, raloxifene, and sucralfate. Consult your caregiver before combining thyroid medication with supplements and additional medications
Some thyroid supplements can boost the health of this organ, but many products are untested and unsafe. Do your due diligence and see your doctor for a full panel of thyroid tests before choosing thyroid supplements for your condition. If you have been diagnosed and wish to try a supplement, ensure that it does not contain large doses of iodine or interfere with any medication you take.
American Thyroid Association: "Thyroid support" supplements contain significant amounts of thyroid hormone."
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: "Thyroid Disorders and Pregnancy."
Consumer Reports: "5 Reasons You Should Never Take Thyroid Supplements."
Frontiers in Endocrinology: "Iron Deficiency, a Risk Factor of Thyroid Disorders in Reproductive-Age and Pregnant Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis."
Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Turmeric use is associated with reduced goitrogenesis: Thyroid disorder prevalence in Pakistan (THYPAK) study."
March of Dimes: "Vitamins and other nutrients during pregnancy."
Mayo Clinic: "Can calcium supplements interfere with treatment?", "Levothyroxine (Oral Route)."
Medline Plus: "Levothyroxine."
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai: "Turmeric."
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Iron."
OASH Office on Women's Health: "Thyroid Disease."
St. Luke's Health: "Thyroid Superfoods."
UCLA Health: "How Should I Take Thyroid Hormone (L-thyroxine)?"
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