Thyroid Health: How to Support T4 to T3 Conversion
In order to truly support your health as it relates to thyroid function, it's important to understand one key element: thyroid conversion, and how to support this essential bodily function. What is thyroid hormone conversion? Thyroid hormone conversion is when inactive T4 (thyroxine) converts into T3 (triiodothyronine), so the active form can be used by every cell in the body. Conversion happens in the liver, and in order to support conversion, we must take a look at not only the health of the liver, but what we can do to intentionally support the liver.
When I work with women 1:1, oftentimes, I will review existing lab work from the past few months, or order new labs for them that show me free T4, free T3, TSH, and other panels that indicate liver function, like bilirubin. Based upon these factors, I am able to see if the are properly converting, and if not, why that is so. Many times in conventional medicine, an individual is told that their labs are "normal" because their TSH is "normal", but a TSH reading alone is absolutely not all that we need to be looking at. Look at it this way: inactive T4 is the substance, the "plans", the "blueprint", but T3 is the action, the implementation, and the actual hormone that is "sent off" by the body to "get the job done". T4 might come first and call the shots in a way, but without conversion, the hormone that actually goes to work will not be able to show up and be present for the cells of your body.
Now that we know that conversion happens in the liver, let's take a deeper look at this and talk about how to support conversion. In order to understand what I am about to mention, it's also important to note that there is always a reason why T4 is not converting into T3. Another factor to be aware of is low T4, which is typically caused by nutrient deficiencies (like iodine - this is a tricky subject though because supplementation can cause things to worsen at times), or pituitary issues can also be a contributing factor. Without further adieu, let's talk about how you can start supporting your T4 to T3 conversion today.
How to Support T4 to T3 Conversion
Aim to Get These Nutrients:
- zinc (my favorite sources: oysters [the most dense food source], grass fed red meat, pastured chicken, and organic dairy)
- selenium (my favorite sources: beef kidney [I take in a glandular form, but you can add to ground beef to save $], red meat, turkey, pork [be sure to cook well], tuna, sardines, and shrimp)
- iodine (I do not suggest supplementing unless the situation calls for it, but my favorite source to suggest is organic dried seaweed - I suggest the GimMe brand)
- b-vitamins (my favorite sources: bee pollen, brewers yeast, liver, heart, eggs, salmon, milk, and well-cooked leafy greens are incredible, and should be prioritized over supplementation when possible)
- vitamin A (by prioritizing retinol [already converted vitamin A] over beta-carotene [still needs to be converted to retinol], you allow your body to access vitamin A in a more functional way. My favorite sources include beef liver (surprise!), bison and lamb liver, cod liver oil [or whole cod livers], and wild salmon)
Remember These Nutritional Principles:
- Aim to get at least (at minimum) 25% of your daily caloric intake from carbohydrates. A higher ratio around 30-40% is more ideal for most, but at minimum, if you choose to eat more calories from protein and carbs, aim to never go below having 25% of your daily intake coming from carbs (hint: this is typically going to be 125 grams of carbs minimum)
- Eat your protein with carbs, and if you are eating a low fat protein (like shrimp or fat free yogurt), add fat to help blood sugar stay stable
- Eat regularly, around every 3-4 hours if possible, and have a bedtime snack, especially if you ate an earlier dinner
Implement These Daily/Weekly Habits:
- Exercise: add in metabolically supportive workouts to support conversion, rather than suppress conversion. For workout ideas, check the functional movement section of Worthy Womanhood
- Castor oil packs: aim to use castor oil packs 3x a week (alternating nights), but start slow and avoid the gastric region of your abdominal region if you are just beginning
- Although food comes first, supplements can be incredibly helpful. Some of my favorites for supporting liver health include: milk thistle, NAC, inositol, Oregon grape root, burdock root, and dandelion root.
Avoid These Conversion Suppressing Factors:
- Low carb diets, intermittent fasting, skipping meals, excessive high intensity workouts, under sleeping, overburdening the liver with things like: synthetic fragrance, birth control, & NSAIDS, and emotional stress, tension and unresolved trauma.