Most people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions have nutrient deficiencies. In some cases these nutrient deficiencies might be directly causing the thyroid condition, while in other cases nutrient imbalances might indirectly lead to these conditions. In this blog post I’ll discuss some of the more common reasons for nutrient deficiencies, and I’ll explain what you can do to correct these deficiencies and prevent future deficiencies from developing.
Before I talk about some of the causes of nutrient deficiencies, I’d like to talk about some of the more common types of these deficiencies. Obviously someone can be deficient in any vitamin, mineral, or other nutrient, but some of the more common nutrient deficiencies include magnesium, zinc, chromium, selenium, iron, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin A, the B vitamins, and omega 3 fatty acids. How can one determine if someone has one or more nutrient deficiencies? Well, there are different tests available, such as regular serum testing, micronutrient testing, a hair mineral analysis, and urine testing. What’s important to keep in mind is that all of these methods have limitations, and there is no single method of testing that will accurately reveal all nutrient deficiencies.
For example, serum testing can be valuable for looking at nutrients such as vitamin D, as well as iron (through an iron panel evaluating ferritin, iron saturation, along with serum iron), and vitamin B12 (through methylmalonic acid). However, for most other nutrients, serum testing isn’t reliable for determining whether someone has a mild to moderate deficiency. A good example of this is magnesium, which usually won’t show up as being depressed in the blood unless if someone has a severe deficiency. Micronutrient testing measures all of the different nutrients, but there are no research studies I’m aware of which prove this type of testing is accurate. I use hair mineral analysis testing, although I realize that there are limitations to this test as well with regards to the minerals. Organic acid testing can also be used to determine certain nutrient imbalances, and can provide other useful markers as well.
How Do Nutrient Deficiencies Affect Thyroid Health?
As I briefly mentioned in the opening paragraph, nutrient deficiencies can both directly and indirectly affect thyroid health. Certain nutrients such as iodine, zinc, selenium, and iron are essential for thyroid hormone production. As a result, if any of these nutrients are deficient then they can lead to a hypothyroid condition. In addition, many nutrient deficiencies can have a negative effect on the health of the immune system. For example, selenium, zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin A are all important for optimal immune system health. As a result, if someone is deficient in one or more of these nutrients, then this can make them more susceptible to an autoimmune condition such as Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
In fact, over the last few decades the prevalence of autoimmune conditions have skyrocketed, and so has the consumption of refined foods and sugars. So it is very possible that the increase in nutrient deficiencies is at least partially responsible for the rise in autoimmunity. Obviously other factors need to be considered as well, such as an increased exposure to toxins. I think it’s a combination of different factors which have contributed to this, as if someone has a weakened immune system due to multiple nutrient deficiencies, then it makes sense that other factors such as toxins and infections would make them more likely to develop an autoimmune condition.
4 Common Reasons For Nutrient Deficiencies
There are numerous reasons why many people have nutrient deficiencies, and I’m going to focus on four of the more common reasons:
Reason #1: Overconsumption of refined foods. Many of the people I work with have already made some wonderful changes to their diet before speaking with me for the first time. While this is great, a high percentage of my patients ate an abundance of refined foods and sugars for many years prior to speaking with me for the first time. And when this is the case, it will take a good amount of time to correct nutritional deficiencies. So for example, if someone was eating refined foods for 20+ years, but then switched to a whole foods diet, it can take a few years to correct these deficiencies. This is why supplementation is usually required to help correct moderate to severe nutritional deficiencies. But even when taking supplements it will take time to correct these deficiencies.
Reason #2: Soils depleted of nutrients. Crops which were grown many years ago were much richer in nutrients than the crops of today. The reason for this is due to the agricultural methods used today, as they strip a lot of nutrients from the soil, which affects foods grown in this soil. The truth is that the focus isn’t on the nutrient density of food, but instead is to try to do things to increase the size and growth rate of these foods, and to make them resistant to pests. One of the benefits of using organic growing methods is the increased nutrient density, yet even organic foods aren’t as nutrient dense as they were in the past.
Reason #3: Antinutrients. Recently I wrote a blog post on this topic entitled “Antinutrients and Thyroid Health“. Certain antinutrients, such as phytic acid, will interfere with the absorption of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. These antinutrients are commonly found in grains, and this is a major reason why you want to minimize your consumption of grains…even if they are gluten free. However, there are antinutrients in other foods as well, such as legumes, nuts, and seeds. Of course these foods have some great health benefits, but when eaten in excess they can prevent the absorption of nutrients, and over a period of time can cause or contribute to nutritional deficiencies.
Reason #4: Digestive and absorption problems. Many people have problems with digestion and absorption, and this obviously can lead to nutrient deficiencies. For example, if someone has low levels of hydrochloric acid due to an H. Pylori infection, then they will have a difficult time breaking down protein and other nutrients. If they have a condition such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) then this can lead to malabsorption of nutrients. A condition such as Celiac Disease can cause many nutritional deficiencies. I’ve spoken about leaky gut syndrome numerous times, and this condition can also affect the absorption of nutrients.
How Can You Correct and Prevent Nutrient Deficiencies?
Based on the reasons I just gave for nutrient deficiencies, the following methods of correcting and preventing nutritional deficiencies shouldn’t be surprising:
1. Minimize your consumption or refined foods and sugars. I probably don’t need to expand on this, as most people reading this realize that it’s best to eat whole foods, and try to avoid the refined foods and sugars. You especially want to focus on eating a lot of vegetables, both raw and cooked, and a wide variety of them. Eating nutrient dense foods is important, which includes organ meats, other types of meats, nuts and seeds, avocados, kale, spinach, arugula, and eggs.
2. Eat more organic foods. Even though organic foods of today aren’t as nutrient dense as they were in past, they still have more nutrients than non-organic foods. And of course with organic foods you don’t need to worry as much about toxins, although even organic foods aren’t completely toxin free. But eating organic foods isn’t just about minimizing your exposure to toxins, as you are getting more nutrient dense foods.
3. Don’t eat too many grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Although nuts and seeds are nutrient dense foods, since they have antinutrients such as lectins and phytic acid you want to minimize your consumption of them. Plus, if you do eat nuts and seeds, as well as legumes, it’s a good idea to soak them, as this will decrease the amount of antinutrients. As for grains, although people don’t need to eat grains to survive, I realize that some people enjoy eating grains. This includes myself, as I’m not 100% grain free. However, I do limit my consumption of grains, and I don’t eat them on a daily basis. I remember many years ago when I routinely loaded up on grains for breakfast, as I would have cold cereal and toast on a regular basis. In fact, I often had a couple of bowls of cereal in a single day, one large bowl of cereal for breakfast, and frequently another one as a snack.
This describes many people, and eating processed cereals, bread, and baked goods on a daily basis can lead to nutrient deficiencies over time. Some might question this since many of the processed foods add vitamins and minerals after the refining process. However, this still isn’t sufficient to maintain a healthy state. Similarly, one can’t replace the nutrient values of whole foods by taking a good quality multivitamin. This doesn’t mean that taking a daily multivitamin can’t be beneficial, but of course if you eat a lot of foods with antinutrients then these will interfere with the nutrients in the multivitamin as well.
This is important to understand for those people like myself who have smoothies on a daily basis. Some people will load up their smoothies with chia seeds, and may even add other nuts and seeds. Having a small amount of these foods won’t cause problems with most people, but if you add a lot of nuts and seeds to your smoothies then this can interfere with the absorption of the nutrients from the fruits and vegetables which you add to your smoothies. Once again, I’m not suggesting that people can’t add nuts and seeds to their smoothies, but you don’t want to overdo it. If you eat nuts and seeds it might be best to eat them as a snack, in between meals, rather than add them to your smoothies. And those with gut problems ideally should avoid eating nuts and seeds until the gut is healed, which I’m about to discuss.
4. Heal the gut. If someone has gut issues that is affecting the absorption of nutrients, then of course this needs to be resolved. For example, if someone has intestinal dysbiosis due to a Candida infection or SIBO, then it’s important to address these health conditions. I’ve written separate articles on both Candida and SIBO, but there are other pathogenic infections which can affect the absorption of nutrients. Earlier I mentioned H. Pylori, which is another common pathogen which can affect nutrient absorption. I also briefly spoke about Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition involving gluten that will cause damage to the cells of the small intestine if the person continues to consume gluten.
Speaking of which, other food intolerances can lead to gut inflammation and thus affect the absorption of nutrients. So what you want to do is cautiously eradicate any pathogens, avoid foods which are causing inflammation, and if someone has a leaky gut then this of course needs to be corrected.
In summary, it’s common for people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions to have nutrient deficiencies. Some of the more common nutrient deficiencies include zinc, magnesium, chromium, selenium, iron, iodine, vitamin D, the B vitamins, vitamin A, and omega 3 fatty acids. Four common reasons for nutrient deficiencies include 1) overconsumption of refined foods, 2) the soils are depleted of nutrients, 3) antinutrients are in certain foods, and 4) many people have gut problems which affect the absorption of nutrients. As a result, in order to correct and prevent nutrient deficiencies it’s important to minimize the consumption of refined foods and sugars, eat more organic foods, don’t eat too many foods with antinutrients, and you need to restore the health of the gut.