In this article:
- Understanding zinc deficiencies
- The relationship between zinc and thyroid hormone production
- Should you take zinc supplements with thyroid medication?
- How to boost your zinc intake
Zinc is an essential mineral that is involved in numerous cellular processes. It is required for protein and DNA synthesis, wound healing, and cellular division. It also plays a pivotal role in the immune system and is necessary for synthesizing thyroid hormones. Our bodies do not naturally produce zinc, so we must get this mineral from our diet or supplements.
Understanding zinc deficiencies
In the past few decades, zinc deficiencies have come to be defined on a spectrum. The effects of a deficiency can range from mild to severe. People with severe zinc deficiencies are not ordinary among the general population in the United States.
Those at risk for a moderate to severe zinc deficiency often follow specific diets or have health conditions that interfere with zinc absorption. For example, vegetarians are at risk for zinc deficiency, as are people with Crohn’s disease, sickle cell anemia, or alcohol use disorder.
Many people, however, are likely on the milder end of the spectrum. People with mild zinc deficiency are likely not optimizing their zinc intake. One of the main culprits preventing people from getting their recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc is a poor diet. People who do not meet their RDA for zinc may have an increased risk of getting sick and may have a more challenging time keeping chronic diseases in check.
The relationship between zinc and thyroid hormone production
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces thyroid hormones. These thyroid hormones play an essential role in the body's ability to maintain a stable internal environment by regulating metabolism, energy, and temperature. Various nutrients, like zinc, play an essential role in the proper metabolism and action of these thyroid hormones.
Zinc is sometimes referred to as "the catalyst" when it comes to thyroid hormone production. It plays a role in both the formation and metabolism of these hormones.
Studies show that zinc helps regulate deiodinases enzymes activity (selenium-containing enzymes used for the synthesis of the active form of thyroid hormone, T3), thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) from the hypothalamus, and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary gland.
It also changes the structures of essential transcription factors (proteins that control the rate of transcription of genetic information from DNA to messenger RNA) involved in forming thyroid hormones.
Zinc helps produce thyroid hormones
People who have hypothyroidism produce too much TSH. Consequently, people with hypothyroidism are at an increased risk of depleting zinc in the body. Thus, it is essential to stabilize your TSH to keep zinc levels steady in your body. If you have an underactive thyroid, you will need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication to decrease your TSH.
Zinc helps restore immune function
Zinc plays a crucial role in optimizing the immune system. It helps to mediate innate immunity, which is the first line of immune defense intended to prevent infection and attack invading pathogens. (Note: the innate immune response is different from the adaptive immune response, which targets against a previously recognized toxin.) Additionally, zinc can function as an antioxidant, which may help prevent harm caused by free radicals released during the inflammatory response.
When zinc levels are in balance, your body may better protect itself against autoimmune diseases, chronic inflammation, illness, and allergies. Because zinc performs such an influential role in the immune system, many common cold and flu remedies contain zinc to help fight off infection.
Zinc helps heal the gut
One of the more plausible theories behind autoimmune thyroiditis and autoimmune diseases is intestinal permeability—also known as leaky gut. Leaky gut is where the cellular junctions between intestinal cells are not tight enough to prevent pathogens and toxins from entering your bloodstream.
When harmful substances escape the digestive tract and circulate throughout the body, they can lead to chronic inflammation over time. Inflammation affects not only the tight junctions in your intestines, but it can wreak havoc on other organs as well, including the thyroid.
Taking zinc supplements, and ensuring you get enough zinc in your diet, can help support the immune system and help tighten the intestinal junctions.
Should you take zinc supplements with thyroid medication?
People with hypothyroidism need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication to normalize the amount of thyroid hormone in their bodies. However, optimizing your thyroid function goes beyond taking your daily medication.
Taking vitamin supplements can help ensure you are getting the right vitamins, minerals, and medicinal herbs to reduce inflammation and promote thyroid hormone production.
Before starting any supplement, it is wise to talk to your thyroid doctor. You will want to be sure that you are using the right supplement in the proper dosage. Some supplements can interfere with your thyroid hormone medication. For example, thyroid glandular supplements contain ground-up thyroid tissues from animals which can affect your thyroid medication. In general, it is best to avoid taking any glandular-containing supplements, as they are not always well-regulated and may overtreat your thyroid.
How to increase your zinc intake
Aside from taking a zinc-containing supplement, you can boost your zinc intake through your diet. Meat is an excellent source of zinc, which is why people who eat meat-free diets are more likely to have zinc deficiencies. Eating red meat and shellfish can naturally boost your zinc levels.
Aside from meat products, zinc is also in:
- Whole grains
Some foods can block zinc absorption. For example, although legumes are high in zinc, they also contain phytates, which block zinc absorption. However, soaking and heating legumes can increase zinc bioavailability, which is beneficial for people who do not get their zinc intake from meat.
A note from Paloma Health
Paloma Health offers a Daily Thyroid Care vitamin supplement that is iodine-free and glandular-free. It contains ten necessary essential nutrients, including zinc, to support optimal thyroid function. Meet with your thyroid doctor to discuss your specific thyroid needs and treatment options.