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The Role of Iron in Hashimoto's Disease: Benefits and Sources

Updated: Jul 10, 2023



Hashimoto's disease, also known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid gland. It is characterized by chronic inflammation of the thyroid, leading to reduced hormone production and various symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, depression, and impaired cognitive function.


While the exact cause of Hashimoto's disease is unknown, research suggests that certain nutrients, such as iron, play a crucial role in thyroid management.


Let’s explore the benefits of iron in Hashimoto's disease and discuss some food sources that can help you incorporate this essential mineral into your diet.


Before delving into the role of iron, let's briefly understand the basics of Hashimoto's disease. The thyroid gland, located in the front of the neck, produces hormones that regulate metabolism and play a crucial role in the body's overall well-being. In Hashimoto's disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid gland, leading to inflammation and damage over time. This autoimmune response can result in an underactive thyroid, known as hypothyroidism and your thyroid’s ability to produce hormones is impaired.


The Role of Iron:

Iron is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in various bodily functions. It is involved in the production of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body. Iron also participates in energy production and supports a healthy immune system. In the context of Hashimoto's disease, iron plays a significant role in thyroid function and thyroid hormone production.


Benefits of Iron in Hashimoto's Disease:

  1. Thyroid Hormone Production: Iron is necessary for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Adequate iron levels support the conversion of inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to its active form (T3) in the body. This conversion is essential for maintaining proper thyroid function and alleviating symptoms associated with Hashimoto's disease.

  2. Energy Production: Iron is involved in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body's primary source of energy. Fatigue is a common symptom of Hashimoto's disease, and ensuring sufficient iron levels can help combat this fatigue by supporting optimal energy production.

  3. Immune Function: Iron plays a vital role in the functioning of the immune system. It supports the production and maturation of immune cells, enhancing their ability to fight off infections and regulate the immune response. Adequate iron levels can help support immune function with Hashimoto's disease.

  4. Oxygen Transport: Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, the protein responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood. By ensuring sufficient iron levels, the body can effectively deliver oxygen to various tissues and organs, promoting proper function, repair, and healing. Anemia is common with Hashimoto’s so it’s a good idea to keep this on your radar.

Food Sources of Iron:

Iron is found in both animal-based and plant-based foods. Here are some excellent food sources of iron:

  1. Red Meat: Beef, lamb, and pork are rich in heme iron, which is highly bioavailable and easily absorbed by the body.

  2. Poultry and Fish: Chicken, turkey, and fish, such as salmon and tuna, provide significant amounts of iron.

  3. Organ Meats: Liver, specifically beef liver, is exceptionally rich in iron. Just make sure it is 100% grass-fed/finished.

  4. Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, and black beans are excellent plant-based sources of iron.

  5. Spinach and Leafy Greens: Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are packed with iron. These vegetables also provide other beneficial nutrients, including vitamins and antioxidants.

  6. Seeds and Nuts: Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and cashews are good sources of iron. Additionally, they offer healthy fats and other essential minerals, making them a nutritious snack option.

  7. Fortified Cereals and Grains: Some cereals and grains are fortified with iron because of phytates found in some grains, legumes, and seeds that can block iron absorption.

  8. Tofu and Soy Products: Tofu, tempeh, and other soy-based products contain iron, making them suitable choices for individuals following a vegetarian or vegan diet.


Different sources of iron supplements

Elemental iron is what you want to look for on supplement labels. Every supplement has different dosages so pay attention to the labels! For example with ferrous sulfate it may say 325mg, but there is only 105mg of elemental iron.


Absorption of elemental iron varies as well. Research assumes the average absorption of iron supplements only about 10%. (4) So that is important to keep in mind!


This chart is from a British Medical Journal article:

Here is another chart with different dosages (3):

  • Ferrous fumarate — 106 mg elemental iron/tablet

  • Ferrous sulfate — 65 mg elemental iron/tablet

  • Ferrous sulfate liquid — 44 mg elemental iron/teaspoon (5 mL)

  • Ferrous gluconate — 28 to 36 mg iron/tablet

  • Polysaccharide-iron complex – various doses available

Iron bisglycinate is not listed but has been shown to be better absorbed at the same doses. (2). This is the form I usually recommend.


The same applies for liquid iron like Floradix. Look for how much elemental iron is in a dose to determine how much you need for the day. These tend to have lower doses of elemental iron so you may need to take more than the label recommends to meet your requirements.


It may take some experimentation to see which supplement works for you. Once you start taking iron supplements for iron deficiency anemia, your labs should start to shift within 4-6 weeks. If they don't improve, then you may be a good candidate for an intravenous (IV) iron infusion.


Tips for Iron Absorption:

To maximize iron absorption from plant-based sources, it is beneficial to consume them alongside vitamin C-rich foods. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of non-heme iron found in plant-based foods. For example, pairing spinach (iron source) with strawberries (vitamin C source) in a salad can boost iron absorption.


Avoid iron supplements that are "enteric-coated" or slow-release because they can inhibit absorption. Also taking iron with food can decrease absorption by up to 75%! (1).


Additionally, it is important to note that certain substances and conditions can inhibit iron absorption. For example, tannins found in tea and coffee, low stomach acid (from medications, autoimmunity, infections, etc), celiac disease, gastritis, and phytates may hinder iron absorption.


It is important to consult with a health professional to test your iron levels to make sure this is not blocking the healing of Hashimoto’s. These are very common lab tests and if your doctor won’t test it, then you can order it yourself HERE.*


Iron plays a vital role in supporting thyroid function, energy production, and immune function with Hashimoto's disease. Adequate iron levels are crucial for optimal thyroid hormone synthesis and combating fatigue, a common symptom of Hashimoto’s. By incorporating iron-rich foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, legumes, leafy greens into your diet it can support your thyroid health.. However, it is essential to rule out iron deficiency with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism so consult healthcare professionals when necessary.


If you are ready to get started to reverse your Hashimoto’s symptoms, then start HERE.



*This is an affiliate link and I do receive a small commission with purchase.


REFERENCES:

  1. PMID: 34497146

  2. PMID: 25023784

  3. Uptodate

  4. PMID: 18954837

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