Protect Your Thyroid against Stress

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

January 11, 2021

Protect Your Thyroid against Stress
You may not think about stress affecting your thyroid, but it does. Stressors come in various shapes and sizes. Common forms include emotional and life stress that triggers the autonomic nervous system fight-flight response and stress from unmet nutrient needs. These two common factors directly impact the function of your thyroid and speed of your metabolism. Mindful attention and support of these factors aids thyroid stress tolerance and helps you embark on a healthy 2021!

Stress, HPA and Thyroid

Many individuals find that with high stress levels, they experience weight gain. Often the concern is to get through the stressful situation with thoughts of dealing with the sluggish metabolism later. Stress changes your body’s physiological response. As the strain progresses, it leads to a stressed thyroid and slower, dysfunctional metabolism.

Acute stress triggers a cascade of physiological effects. Stress causes increased activity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, an endocrine relay communications system. Because of this increased activity, more cortisol is released, which pushes the body into overdrive. The high stress sympathetic nervous system sends signals to the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) endocrine relay system which puts the brakes on thyroid gland activity. This results in slower metabolism and often leads to weight gain. This self-preserving action initially helps to protect the body from overdrive and high oxidative stress. In addition, acute stress and high cortisol provoke oxidative stress and cellular inflammation, which creates more thyroid stress.

If the stress response is not resolved, the immune system and inflammation management may become dysfunctional. Further weight gain ensues with increasing leptin and insulin resistance. Higher risk of autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s or Grave’s disease is also more likely to occur.

Evidence shows that engaging in healthy stress management positively impacts thyroid hormone function without needing thyroid hormone intervention. A randomized control trial demonstrated that improvement in stress management and magnesium status in adults helped reduce the stress reaction and supported thyroid function. Once the stress toll was modified, thyroid function improved without need for direct hormone intervention.

Another study measured job stress and thyroid function in petrochemical workers. Those employees who experienced higher levels of job stress and control imposed upon them experienced the most changes to thyroid metabolism. Total T4 levels and the protein activation of thyroid hormone in the liver were reduced, reflecting decreased metabolism.

Thyroid Function and Essential Trace Minerals

Another common factor that adversely stresses thyroid hormone metabolism is inadequate nutrients to meet daily demands. Trace minerals are critical for thyroid gland and hormone function. A lack of these nutrients can impair signals to the thyroid gland, thyroid hormone production, activation, and metabolism throughout your body. Some of the most important trace minerals needed by the thyroid include iodine, iron, selenium, and copper.


Iodine along with the amino acid tyrosine are required to produce T4 and T3 thyroid hormone. Each molecule of T4 and T3 thyroid hormone contains 4 and 3 atoms of iodine respectively attached to tyrosine. Certain compounds like chlorine, fluoride, and bromide, perchlorate/jet fuel byproducts, certain foods, i.e. large amounts of raw cruciferous vegetables, and even some medications compete against iodine absorption. This makes it harder to form thyroid hormone. If iodine is inadequate, it may trigger the pituitary gland to send more thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to the thyroid gland. This may cause the gland to enlarge.

An estimated 2 billion people lack adequate iodine intake. No/low salt diets, use of non-iodized sea salt, environmental toxins, pregnancy, and breast feeding increase the need for adequate iodine. Dosage for Iosol Iodine starts with the basic recommended dietary allowance (RDA) to as much as 5 drops or more per day. Start with a small dose mixed in water or applied directly onto your skin. Iodine works best to nourish the thyroid gland with adequate selenium.


Iron supports T4 and T3 thyroid hormone levels in the blood stream. It aids in converting T4 into T3 and metabolism of T3 throughout your body. Iron affects tissue oxygenation, body temperature, hair growth, stamina and energy, and central nervous system control over thyroid metabolism.

Researchers found that when iron levels were restored in women, i.e. serum ferritin level above 100 µg/l, they experienced improved thyroid hormone function without changing thyroid support. Like iodine and selenium, adequate iron is needed to help protect against swelling or enlargement of the thyroid gland.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficit in the world. An estimated 1.24 billion individuals worldwide have iron deficiency anemia and nearly 2.5 billion have iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is depletion of iron stores, which occurs before iron deficiency anemia. Plant-based diets often fail to provide adequate iron. Athletes, children and adolescents, pregnant or menstruating women, and those with gastric bypass, gastrointestinal inflammation or malabsorption often need more iron.


The thyroid gland is a storage site for selenium. It must have this trace mineral to protect itself from the daily stress of producing thyroid hormone. Selenium plays an essential role in thyroid hormone activation, converting non-active T4 into the active T3.

Selenium combines with protein, or amino acids like methionine, to form selenoproteins. These selenoproteins are very important in protecting the thyroid gland from oxidative stress and immune attack. Selenium helps manage thyroid-immune homeostasis protecting it from stress and toxins in our environment.

Selenium also helps protects against excess iodine intake and risk of thyroid gland swelling. Epidemiological studies show that approximately one billion people lack adequate selenium in their diet.


Zinc plays multiple complex and critical roles in thyroid hormone metabolism. It is especially important for how hormone signals (TRH) are produced in the brain (hypothalamus and pituitary) and then communicated via thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to the thyroid gland. Numerous zinc transporters are found in the hypothalamus, pituitary, and thyroid relay system that influence thyroid hormone metabolism.

Zinc helps convert T4 into T3 and is needed for adequate levels of these hormones in the blood stream. Zinc is also required for the attachment of T3 onto cell membranes throughout your body.

Inadequate dietary intake of zinc is a major worldwide concern. It is readily depleted in high stress, athletic and heavy physical activity, immune challenges, and gastrointestinal distress and is not adequately supplied in plant-based diets. It can take up to 12-24 months to replenish zinc stores once depleted.


Copper is a trace mineral known for its role in connective tissue health and neurotransmitter production. In thyroid metabolism, copper contributes to the production of T4 thyroid hormone and affects TSH activation.

If you take high doses of zinc for immune support on a long-term basis, it can deplete copper and lead to sluggish thyroid function. Zinc and copper should be taken in a properly balanced ratio (8:1 – 10:1) for maximum benefit.

Copper excess, or build-up in the body, may impair and stress thyroid function. Birth control pills and genetic disorders like Wilson’s disease may cause copper build-up in the body. Work with your provider to evaluate your copper status, via serum copper, ceruloplasmin, and 24-hour urinary copper measurements.

Healthy thyroid function affects everything from your immune system and ability to fight germs, to cholesterol and blood pressure management, skin and hair quality, gallbladder function, mood, digestion, and of course weight management. Critical nutrients include iodine, iron, selenium, zinc and others. Inadequate intake of even one of these nutrients directly impacts your thyroid gland’s function, which can affect your whole body. Thyroid hormone metabolism also uses vitamins A, B, and D, calcium, magnesium, protein, tyrosine, manganese, glutathione, and others. Optimize your nutrients status and stress management techniques to help keep your thyroid metabolism in peak performance. Take the Thyroid Quiz to see how you are doing!

Other helpful resources:

Low Iron Linked with Muscle Health, Sleep, Mood, and Mitochondria 

Help Keep Your Thyroid Nourished 

The Pear Shape is Not So Safe After All 

Zinc Essential for Immunity, Sense of Smell, and More 

Thyroid Health Affected by EMF and Wireless Technology 

Is Sluggish Thyroid Function Stressing Your Mood?

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