LOSING WEIGHT TOPS your list of health goals, you may be tempted to try different kinds of supplements to help you get there. But there’s one group of supplements that you should be wary of.
Several supplements sold as “thyroid health” or “thyroid support” products promise to assist you in shedding some extra pounds—but doctors say they can be risky.
“Some people take thyroid supplements thinking it will help them lose weight because an underactive thyroid, a condition called hypothyroidism, can cause weight gain,” explains Florence Comite, M.D., an endocrinologist and founder of the Comite Center for Precision Medicine and Health.
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But, the only way to know if your weight gain is related to a thyroid condition is to have your thyroid hormone checked at your doctor’s office. Then, your doctor might prescribe medication to balance your thyroid hormone levels.
“Prescription medications to treat hypothyroidism may lead to weight loss,” Dr. Comite says. “But that doesn’t mean thyroid supplements are useful for weight loss or even safe in those who have optimal thyroid function.”
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck. Its main job is to create a hormone that helps regulate your metabolism, according to the American Thyroid Association.
Thyroid supplements don’t necessarily boost your metabolism, however, and could actually do more harm than good. Jean Chen, M.D., a board-certified endocrinologist at Texas Diabetes and Endocrinology, says there’s no over-the-counter or lifestyle way to really “directly boost your thyroid health.”
Some thyroid supplements have been shown to have high amounts of thyroid hormone, which might trigger the condition hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, and bring a slew of health consequences, like irregular heartbeats, hand tremors, sweating, anxiety, and muscle weakness.
Still, you’ve probably seen thyroid health supplements and wondered if they can help you lose weight. Here’s what you should know about them, according to endocrinologists.
Can Thyroid Supplements Help You Lose Weight?
Probably not. Dr. Chen says there’s not a proven thyroid supplement that can help with weight loss.
Supplements aren’t required to be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And, they’re not the same as the thyroid medications that doctors prescribe for thyroid conditions, Comite says.
Some thyroid supplements might contain nutrients, like iodine, iron, selenium, zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin A, which are necessary for healthy thyroid functioning. But if you already have a healthy thyroid, taking too much of these nutrients could actually cause a thyroid problem.
Taking extra amounts of these substances might also interfere with some thyroid medications or affect thyroid blood tests for people with thyroid conditions.
Dr. Comite recommends talking to your doctor before taking thyroid supplements. They’ll likely want to check your thyroid hormone levels.
The Benefits of Thyroid Supplements
There are no proven benefits to taking supplements to support or enhance your thyroid, Dr. Chen says.
However, a 2018 study suggested that selenium supplements might be beneficial for Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that leads to an underactive thyroid. But more research is needed on the subject.
Iodine deficiency can cause thyroid conditions. Doctors often prescribe drugs that contain the hormones T3 and T4, the main ones that your thyroid produces, Dr. Comite says. The gland uses iodine to make these hormones.
But some supplements contain much higher levels of T3 and T4 than the prescription medications used to treat thyroid conditions. Taking in too much hormone can cause an overactive thyroid.
If you think your thyroid isn’t functioning well, a doctor, not supplements, is the way to get to the root of the problem and get an effective solution.
The Risks of Thyroid Supplements
Thyroid health supplements often contain high amounts of thyroid hormone or excess iodine.
“It’s difficult, rather impossible, to know how much of either you may be ingesting in an over-the-counter supplement,” Dr. Comite says. “Supplements are not regulated.”
Too much thyroid hormone could lead to hyperthyroidism. Too much iodine might cause an underactive or overactive thyroid.
“Over time, this can lead to iodine toxicity and cause thyroid dysregulation,” Dr. Chen says.
The thyroid is “sensitive and precise,” Dr. Comite says. “Deviation of thyroid hormone levels may lead to health issues, such as racing heart rate, bone thinning, or poor muscle formation, and it also affects memory and cognition.”
How to Take Thyroid Medication Correctly
Doctors generally don’t recommend thyroid supplements, since they’re unregulated, Dr. Chen says.
“It is hard to know if these supplements really contain the ingredients that are listed,” she adds. “However, if a patient does decide to start a supplement, I usually recommend stopping if they do not feel an improvement or develop new symptoms.”
The safest way to take any thyroid health supplement is to talk to your health care provider first, Dr. Comite says.
They may check your thyroid hormone levels and prescribe medication if your levels are out of whack. If not, they might offer other advice to help you achieve your weight loss goals, such as adopting or changing your exercise routine or diet plan.
Are There Natural Ways to Improve Thyroid Health?
There’s really no way to directly boost your thyroid health, Chen says.
“I always tell patients that they are welcome to try to eat less processed foods or even cut out certain foods that have gluten or dairy,” she explains. “However, there is no strong data that diet or lifestyle changes help or protect the thyroid gland.”
Still, making dietary and lifestyle changes could help you manage some symptoms and improve your general health, Dr. Comite says. This might also lead to weight loss.
Here are some tips, according to Dr. Comite:
Lower and manage stress, which can affect how your body and mind functionGet plenty of sleep and exercise regularly (cardio and strength training), which will support optimal thyroid activityAdopt restorative activities like yoga and meditation to promote overall health
While certain nutrients are needed for your thyroid to function at its best, it’s more beneficial to get these nutrients from foods rather than supplements. Follow a healthy diet plan that includes:
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fatsAntioxidant-rich foods, like berries, oranges, and spinach, that have anti-inflammatory propertiesFish, lean meats, legumes, and nuts that contain omega-3s, selenium, and zinc, which are good for your thyroid functioning
Avoid overdoing it on iodine-rich foods, like kelp, seaweed, cod, dairy products, tuna, and eggs, Dr. Comite says.