Selenium May be the Missing Link for the Treatment of Hypothyroidism
Selenium is a mineral that is important for thyroid hormone metabolism. People who don’t get enough selenium may develop thyroid problems such as thyroiditis, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), and Graves’ disease. Your body doesn’t make selenium, so the only way you can get it is through food and/or supplement
Selenium is a necessary micronutrient needed by the thyroid and has been shown to be beneficial in a number of ways. Many people struggle with hypothyroidism, a group of medical conditions that prevent the thyroid from producing enough hormones to sustain health. Hashimoto’s disease is the most common form of hypothyroidism. In this condition, sometimes referred to as Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. A sustained assault on the thyroid eventually leads to inflammation ultimately resulting in poor thyroid function, or hypothyroidism.
Many environmental factors influence the development of hypothyroidism, including gluten, gut health, stress, excess iodine and vitamin D deficiency. We strongly support dietary changes as the first step in the treatment of Hashimoto’s. We also recognize the need for thyroid hormone replacement therapy to ensure a positive outcome in some cases. However, we are interested in new research that shows a strong link between selenium deficiencies and various types of hypothyroidism including Hashimoto’s disease.
While it is uncommon for a healthy adult to suffer a selenium deficiency, a person with a digestive problem may be unable to absorb selenium and other nutrients properly. Someone with Crohn’s disease, serious gastrointestinal inflammation due to infection, celiac and even IBS disease is likely to have low levels of the nutrient.
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Why Your Thyroid Needs Selenium- Improved T4-T3 Conversion
By itself, a selenium deficiency does not cause any specific condition but it does make the body more susceptible to illness. Selenium plays a strong role in immune function that protects your body from the nutritional, biological and infectious stresses that can make you sick. Selenium optimizes metabolism, supports the synthesis of thyroid hormone and protects the thyroid from damage resulting from overexposure to iodine.
Selenium is essential to the process that converts T4 to T3. As we explain to our thyroid clinic patients, T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone; low T3 levels can cause hypothyroid symptoms. Selenium improves this conversion of T4 into T3
A severe selenium deficiency can interfere with this conversion, resulting in low T3 levels and symptoms of hypothyroidism. Research supports our scientific view that selenium supplements are beneficial in the treatment of autoimmune thyroid conditions.
One study shows selenium supplementation positively impacts inflammatory activity in autoimmune disease affecting the thyroid; reducing this inflammation decreases the amount of damage to thyroid tissue. Researchers in this study think this benefit is the result of increases in glutathione peroxidase and thioredoxinreductase activity along with lowered toxic concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and lipid hydroperoxides resulting from thyroid hormone synthesis.
Another study suggests selenium supplements lowered thyroid peroxidase antibody levels in the blood even in people with adequate selenium levels. This study seems to indicate selenium supplementation prevents further thyroid damage, although researchers need to continue working to determine the long-term effects of selenium treatment of inflammatory immune thyroiditis. Several studies have shown that supplementing with selenium reduces thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO) and the severity of hypothyroidism symptoms.(1)
Symptoms of Selenium Deficiency
So what does a selenium-deficient individual experience? If you’re not getting enough of the trace mineral, here are some of the signs you may encounter. Everyone is different, however, and it’s important to note that you may be deficient and only experience some of these symptoms. Additionally, selenium deficiency on its own typically does not cause symptoms or illness. For any of the below to occur, additional stresses (such as additional nutritional deficiencies) are usually also present.
This nonspecific symptom is, unfortunately, quite common with a number of mineral deficiencies. It’s frequently reported with selenium deficiency, too, and may have to do with the role this mineral plays in your normal thyroid function.
2. Foggy mental state
Mental fog can happen if your selenium intake dips low enough to cause deficiency. This symptom is also nonspecific but may help your healthcare provider diagnose you when considered in combination with other symptoms.
One study did find that low selenium levels were associated with poorer function on cognitive tests by older adults, though the researchers say that more research is needed (Shahar, 2010).
3. Weakened immune system
Low levels of selenium may make you more susceptible to infectious diseases or even turn other harmless pathogens into life-threatening illnesses.
Researchers believe this happened in the cases of Keshan disease, which gained attention after affecting a region of China where the soil was particularly deficient in selenium. This disease is caused by selenium deficiency combined with infection with coxsackievirus (the virus responsible for hand, foot, and mouth disease).
Research revealed that selenium deficiency amplifies the virus’s ability to cause cardiotoxicity, a condition in which there’s damage to the heart muscle that can compromise blood flow (Levander, 2000).
4. Hair loss
Thyroid hormones play an important role in hair growth and regeneration. Without selenium, the production of thyroid hormone is slowed. The cells in hair follicles respond to this drop in thyroid hormone, and your hair may fall out faster than usual (Ventura, 2017).
5. Muscle weakness
When we think of muscles, we think of our skeletal muscles specifically and forget about our cardiac muscles. Skeletal muscle disorders that cause weakness, pain, and fatigue have been reported in patients with low selenium levels (Chariot, 2003).
But selenium deficiency is also known to affect the heart muscles, as it does in the case of Keshan disease. Muscle weakness can also happen with patients receiving parenteral nutrition (when they’re “fed” nutrition through an IV, bypassing the digestive system entirely) because liquid nutrition tends to be low in this micronutrient.
Deficiencies in this micronutrient can not only cause issues with infertility but also problems during gestation if a woman is able to get pregnant.
There’s a correlation between selenium levels and fertility, but low levels in the early stages of pregnancy are also associated with miscarriage, low birth weight, and damage to the immune and nervous systems of the fetus (Pieczyńska, 2015).
Selenium’s Impact on the Thyroid- Summary
In adults, the thyroid has the highest concentration of selenium in the body. This mineral plays a key role in your thyroid gland’s ability to produce thyroid hormone. A selenium deficiency is associated with a variety of thyroid issues, including:
- Subclinical hypothyroidism
- Autoimmune Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- An enlarged thyroid (goiter)
- Thyroid cancer
- Graves’ disease
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