thyroid: signs, symptoms and selenium

thyroid: signs, symptoms and selenium

If you look more deeply, more functionally, at two clients with the same diagnosis, you may see that what led to their ‘shared’ condition are two different sets of circumstances.

Written by Andrea Nakayama

I’m not quite done waxing on about the beauty of the butterfly nestled within your neck.

I know, I know, your thyroid gland may not currently be something that makes you feel or think about beauty.

Last week I introduced you to my thyroid and one sign of an underlying infection (manifesting in my aching ear), that’s likely a trigger for my Hashimoto’s – Part 1 hello hashimoto’s.

If you’re thinking, I don’t have Hashimoto’s, I don’t need to read this. Think again! There are so many factors that affect thyroid health and that ultimately affect you.

That’s why when I talk about thyroid health, I’m talking to you, whether you have issues with thyroid hormone production or autoimmune thyroiditis or not.

Thyroid health isn’t just of concern to those of us with diagnosed or suspecting Hashimoto’s. . .

We all have a thyroid (as long as, for some reason, it has not been removed). And we all want it to function properly. Believe me, we do.

Just like you don’t think about the big toe on your left foot and how you need it to be able to walk properly until you stub it, or consider your molars and how they help you grind and chew your food until you have a tooth infection, the thyroid is one of those glands we tend to ignore until it let’s us know, quite clearly with a number of signs and symptoms, that it needs our attention.

Why should you care about the health of your thyroid?

Let’s look at the main functions of your thyroid and the hormones it produces:

  • your thyroid is the primary control center for your metabolism
  • your thyroid impacts growth rate if you’re young
  • your thyroid helps you to breakdown and utilize the carbohydrates and fats you eat
  • your thyroid aids in the conversion of beta-carotene from your plant foods into the fat-soluble vitamin A ~ necessary for proper immune, inflammatory, genetic and reproductive health
  • your thyroid affects your cholesterol levels, your blood pressure, your appetite, your mental sharpness, your libido and so much more

You want that baby working for you!

All those distinct functions are why your thyroid concerns may look different than mine. Thyroid imbalances may manifest with any number of symptoms related to those functions. Ultimately, it’s not a flick of a switch that takes the thyroid from functional to non-functional.

Stress, toxins, autoimmune conditions, infections, certain medication, fluoride and deficiency in specific nutrients can all inhibit the necessary production of thyroid hormones. (Oh my.) The dysfunction will creep up on you like the first day of school after summer break.

For me, the problem with my thyroid came as a surprise. This may be true for you too.

I was not aware that I harbored any infections or that I had food sensitivities and leaky gut – all connected to the root causes of my Hashimoto’s. And I had little understanding of my genetic predisposition in the face of these hidden imbalances. Yes, I had suffered a tremendous amount of chronic stress when my husband was diagnosed with fatal brain cancer while I was pregnant, and through the navigation of his illness and then his death, two years later. Yet I wasn’t aware of the role of either stress or pregnancy as triggers for thyroid issues. During that time I was shoring my body for the birth of my son and the potential loss of my soul mate. I was not thinking about the impact these traumas, in the face of already fluctuating hormones, would have on my own health down the line.

My self-diagnosis with Hashimoto’s came after years of research and experimentation to determine why I was all of a sudden facing a number of symptoms that just wouldn’t resolve. Fatigue. Severe hunger in the mid-afternoon, (enough that I could eat a small jar of nut butter and then lose my appetite for dinner). A thickening around my mid-section that didn’t make sense for my food intake (I didn’t eat the whole jar of that nut butter, even though I could have!). As a nutritionist, eating a near nutritionally “perfect” diet, it was hard for me to swallow that nutrient deficiencies could be an underlying cause of my suffering.

Since that time I’ve had the opportunity to refine my own thyroid and immune management (a constant evolution), and have the opportunity to work with thousands of others aiming to do the same. One thing that’s true for all of us enduring health issues stemming from our thyroids is the presence of certain nutrient deficiencies.

These deficiencies can be particular to you, your physiological make-up and your diet (past and present), and there are also a few key nutrients to consider for thyroid health in general – ones that may impact all of us. Today I’d like to focus in on one of those common deficiencies that’s often overlooked for thyroid health and beyond.

This key nutrient is selenium.

 Selenium is an antioxidant, a critical constituent in the production of thyroid hormones, and plays a vital role in the conversion of the primary thyroid hormone (T4) to the more bio-active thyroid hormone (T3). Selenium also counteracts the oxidative stress and inflammation that can come from excesses of iodine (and its by-products) surrounding the thyroid tissue, or as a result of the immune overdrive present in Hashimoto’s.

When I co-taught a ‘Eat to Beat Breast Cancer’ class many years ago, foods high in selenium were at the top of my list of natural immune supportive agents. Selenium has several important functions in the body beyond the thyroid, and in today’s stressful climate, too many of us are deficient in this important nutrient to ignore it’s impact.

In it’s prevention against oxidative stress, we can think of this key mineral as useful in thwarting heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and, as I noted, cancer, among other things. It’s a precursor to the production of glutathione, the “mother” of all antioxidants. It’s depleted in our soil, due to a number of environmental factors, and blood levels of selenium have been shown to plummet as we age, leading to increased cognitive decline.

For years now I’ve recommend that people add Brazil nuts to their diet.

If we’re talking about the top of the list, Brazil nuts are at the tip-top of the inventory of selenium-rich foods. Now I know full well that we can’t control the amount of a mineral consumed in our food sources, and that there are many who cannot tolerate nuts of any sort (or are avoiding them for what should be only a temporary healing protocol if allergies, sensitivities or identifiable reactivity are not an issue), but I always like to consider where the foods we eat can have an impact on our health – good or bad. In functional medicine we call this a “mediator”, and your ability to identify those mediators is key to your self-care.

Brazil nuts can serve as a mediator in your thyroid health because of their selenium score!

Perhaps you try two or three Brazil nuts to start the day, thrown in your green smoothie or chopped atop your grain-free porridge or gut-healing oats. Or you consume the same quantity carried in your purse or pocket for a mid-day snack to do the trick.

You may be thinking of the old, dry rancid Brazil nuts that you purposefully snacked around from the nut mix at your grandma’s house. But I’m talking about fresh succulent Brazil nuts, crispy and buttery. (Look for raw and organic brands online.)

Now be forewarned: When armed with the best Brazil nuts, the recipient of my advice will inevitably come back to tell me that they love the Brazil nuts so much that they can’t stop eating them.

My response: take two!

Two to four of these fine nuggets should do the trick, and more on occasion certainly won’t hurt.

If selenium is so great, why not eat a whole bag of Brazil nuts?

While there are many lifestyle and environmental factors that lead to unwanted selenium deficiency, selenium toxicity is not desirable either. It’s not a danger that many of us need to worry about, but regular consumption of mass quantities of Brazil nuts could, overtime, lead to adverse symptoms due to their high mineral stores. (Not to mention that a large quantity may deliver more calories than most of us want or need.)

Enjoy a recipe such as the tapenade below that incorporates the flavor and texture of these unique nuts. Otherwise, take two! Note: Brazil nuts should be eaten raw, sprouted (soaked in water for an hour or two), or dry-roasted without salt.

If you make one change to your diet today… take two! (Brazil nuts that is.)

brazil nut tapenade

This is a very rich tapenade that can be served atop gluten-free crostini, mixed with gluten-free pasta like a pesto, or massaged into hearty greens. The richness depends on the intensity of the olives ~ use a milder olive for a more mellow taste.

ingredients (all organic)

  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked about 2 hours in advance of preparation (or use oil-packed and drain) – (replace with artichoke hearts, if following a strict AIP protocol)
  • 3/4 cup pitted black olives
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup packed flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup raw Brazil nuts
  • 1/2 cup cold-pressed olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, squeezed
  • sea salt to taste


Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the tapenade is chunky.

yields approximately 1-1/2 cups

buying brazils

Note: If your Brazil nuts taste rancid, they probably are. Most people have never experienced these nuts before they go bad. What a shame! A Brazil nut should taste creamy, sweet and sometimes even a little smoky.

Talk to the buyer at your local health food store or co-op and find out how their Brazil nuts are being sourced, stored and how long they sit on the shelf. I like to buy mine from a trusted source and keep them in the freezer. Popping two or three Brazil nuts from the freezer is one of my favorite treats!

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About Andrea Nakayama

Andrea is a functional nutritionist and the founder of Replenish PDX and Holistic Nutrition Lab. Based on her personal experience with Hashimoto’s, she helps women manage the ill effects of Hashimoto’s through a deeper understanding of their physiology and a strong commitment to self-care. Andrea is the co-author of Living Candida-Free with chef and blogger Ricki Heller.

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About Dana Trentini

Who knew that little butterfly-shaped thyroid gland at the base of my neck could affect my life so completely? I founded Hypothyroid Mom in memory of the unborn baby I lost to hypothyroidism. Winner of two 2014 WEGO Health Activist Awards: Health Activist Hero & Best In Show Twitter. *Hypothyroid Mom includes Affiliate links. Connect with me on Google+

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